Supporting International Students: Workshops for Faculty & Staff

Beginning in December, Academic Learning Services in The Studio for Teaching and Learning will present a series of interactive workshops about supporting international students.

This series offers research-based intercultural teaching strategies, as well as guidance and support for challenges of sociocultural adaptation and language competency. The sessions will be delivered by Muhammad Elhabibi, an Academic Learning Specialist who facilitates the language learning process for international students at SMU.

Mr. Elhabibi has 35 years of teaching experience in multiple countries and learning contexts, including three Canadian universities.

These workshops are designed for instructors, but may also be of interest to Saint Mary’s University staff who work closely with international students. To register, email

International Students & Academic Acculturation

December 14 ☙ 10:00-11:30 a.m. ☙ Atrium 212

Learn how international students think, and explore strategies to engage and motivate those who seem reluctant to participate in class.

Language proficiency isn’t the only barrier to academic acculturation. International students’ cultural background and prior education influence how they respond to the Canadian learning context. Students who seem silent or passive may be accustomed to very different expectations for academic participation. This session provides knowledge about the impediments that can discourage them from becoming active participants in their own learning and developing their potential.

Conversation Skills & International Students

January 11 ☙ 10:00-11:30 a.m. ☙ Atrium 212

Most international students have learned English as a foreign language in a classroom setting, not as a second language while surrounded by fluent speakers. Therefore, their knowledge of the many structural differences between written and spoken English may still need some work. Exposure to the natural context of spoken English in an immersive environment can create anxiety and discomfort for these students; they may appear to have difficulty grasping classroom discourse, collaborating with domestic students on group work, or understanding the objectives of the class.

This session explores strategies to assess international students’ understanding, reduce their anxiety about being understood by their professors and peers, and help them become fully engaged and more confident about the course material.

Academic Writing & International Students

January 25 ☙ 10:00-11:30 a.m. ☙ Atrium 212

Instructors may see ambiguous phrasing and unfamiliar structures in the writing of international students, because English academic writing has a unique set of conventions. For example, topic sentences and thesis statements may not be used in a student’s first language, and digression is less valued in English academic writing than it is in several other languages. International students may attempt to transfer their own language conventions to writing in English, while their knowledge and practice of English writing conventions continues to develop.

This session identifies common patterns in international students’ writing, and several effective strategies to develop their written communication skills.

Emotional Attunement & International Students

February 8 ☙ 10:00-11:30 a.m. ☙ Atrium 212

Leaving home to study in a new country is an act of immense bravery. However, international students in a new, unfamiliar environment may defensively self-segregate with students who share their background, or become isolated. Fortunately, research has shown that teachers can positively influence the learning, health and well-being of their students.

Openness and inclusiveness from faculty can build safety for international students, encourage them to participate in academic life while in Canada, and model positive behaviours and strategies that both international and domestic students can emulate (e.g. empathy, communication, conflict resolution, willingness to adapt to new knowledge). This session uses a neuroscience lens to examine how mimicry and vicarious learning processes help students learn from what they see.

Cross-cultural Challenges in the Classroom

February 22 ☙ 10:00-11:30 a.m. ☙ Atrium 212

The final session of this series focuses on mutual cultural awareness in the classroom.

Our university is a meeting place for students and faculty from many nations, languages, cultures and ethnicities. Unrecognized differences in culture-based thought systems can affect students’ integration and academic performance. Learn to understand how international students think, and explore strategies to help maintain communication between instructors and students of varying backgrounds.