Study Skills That Help International Students Succeed

Last Updated on May 17, 2019 by Estrella

Study Skills That Help International Students Succeed
Study skills that help international students succeed. Photo by Matthew Henry from Burst.

You have just left home for the first time to study abroad. Here you are, in a new culture, using a foreign language everyday. Perhaps even eating food you are not accustomed to. And on top of that, you are going to spend the next few years studying, speaking, and writing in another language. So you apply yourself, as you’ve always done back home. Is this enough? Or are there other elements that can help you feel confident more quickly? There are. Here are some study skills that help international students succeed.

Tips for International Students to Succeed

Know your teachers

Whether you are an international student in high school or university, getting to know your teachers will help you. Especially if you are not feeling very confident with your English, informing your teachers will help them become aware of your language needs.

Help your teacher help you

When there are 30 or more students in a classroom, teachers may not be aware of the individual needs of all their students. That’s why if you make an appointment (or ask to speak with them after class) it will be advantageous to you. Explain to your teachers your English background. Let them know what percentage of the English you understand in class. Tell them you are not familiar with the educational system here. Ask them what you can do to succeed in that class. Teachers appreciate students who are eager to learn and succeed. By you taking the initiative like this, you will stand out in their mind. And they will become more mindful of your language needs.

Advantage of staying in touch with teachers

Many teachers in the American school system are helpful. They want to see you succeed. They will do what they can to help you succeed. In fact, letting your teachers know you better can help you when you graduate. You can ask them for recommendation letters to include for college application or job applications. And after you finish their class, stay in touch and let them know how you are doing in school. Send them a thank you note for their helpfulness. Keeping them on your Christmas card list is also a good idea.

Study with your classmates

Most of your studies will probably be done on your own. The reading, the note-taking. When you are an international student, you are not yet completely familiar with the school system here. It is advantageous to join a study group, or at least find a study buddy from your classes. Especially if you are not completely confident about your English comprehension, having a study partner can help make sure you got all the important points from the lecture.

Advantages of joining study groups

Having a study buddy can help you bounce around ideas when it comes to writing research papers. Your American classmates have been doing this for many years. They know what teachers are looking for, and what kind of writing would get good grades. Well, for the students who are paying attention to these things, that is. 

In addition, forming connections with your classmates will help you when there are group projects. Since you’ve already built a rapport with them through your joint study efforts, working together with them will be effortless. And you are learning the skill of team work through all this.

Participate in class discussions

This skill seems to be missing in some educational systems. But this is an important skill here. Many teachers count class participation as one-third of the grade. And when you enter the work world, this skill transitions well to “speaking up,” which can open doors for you because others notice you.

What if you feel uncomfortable participating?

Most of my university international students do not participate in class discussions. Especially when they are in a class with American students. If this describes you, and if the reason is because you don’t feel confident expressing your thoughts in English, then practice that skill in a different setting. Perhaps in a group you feel comfortable in, and you feel free to share your thoughts in English.

Only some university professors are familiar with diverse cultures. They may not know that you are not used to participating in class discussions. They may just think you don’t have anything to say, or that you are not very interested in the topic, or…or…

An example of how one person joins in a discussion

One Japanese client wants very much to participate in discussions, but does not know how. The Americans were jumping in the discussion one after another. He felt it was impolite to interrupt others. So I suggested that he used his body language to indicate he has something to say. Maybe extend his hand, or lean forward, or start to say something. Others took notice of his attempts, and he got his chance to join the discussion. Little by little, it became easier for him.

Participating in group discussion helps you get noticed. It is a perception thing. You have all seen people who speak a lot who really do not add value to the discussion. What if you have an idea that will add to the group? Wouldn’t it be beneficial for others to gain from your thoughts? Besides, teachers do pay attention to those with interesting thoughts to share. Why not let that be you?

If you find this article helpful, here is one on Tips for a smooth cultural adjustment.

Estrella Chan coaches immigrants and international professionals in English fluency, interview skills, and public speaking.    To schedule a session with her, please email

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