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Understanding And Relating To Your International Students

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2008 Annual Conference & Exposition


Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Publication Date

June 22, 2008

Start Date

June 22, 2008

End Date

June 25, 2008



Conference Session

Off the Beaten Path

Tagged Division

New Engineering Educators

Page Count


Page Numbers

13.1309.1 - 13.1309.10



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Paper Authors

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Edward Gehringer North Carolina State University

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Understanding and Relating to Your International Students

Edward F. Gehringer North Carolina State University


In most engineering programs, international students constitute the majority of the graduate population, and a rising percentage of the undergraduate population. It is important for engineering faculty to understand these students’ expectations of their professors, and make it clear what is expected of them so they will not erroneously assume that educational practices are the same as in their home countries. The educational systems they come from are very diverse, although some are adopting elements of the American educational model. In other countries, there is less emphasis on project work and other homework, and more on exams. While it seems to be rare for final grades to be based entirely on the final exam, it is not unusual for them to be based entirely on finals plus midterm exams. Homework counts for less, perhaps because the few teaching assistants that do exist are responsible for lab sections, so there is no support for grading of homework. In many places, a variety of homework is assigned. It may be collected, but it counts for nothing, or almost nothing. Seemingly because of this, cheating on homework is often tolerated. But cheating on exams may be punished severely. Practices seem to vary widely among institutions, but the penalties are generally similar: zeros, failure in course, suspension from school.

1. Introduction

International students now constitute a majority in most engineering programs. We as faculty are familiar with them as individuals. Although we discuss research and course material with them, we rarely ask them about their expectations of the educational system, and if we do, it is only after they have been here awhile and we have gotten to know them. Yet coming to America is culture shock for almost all internationals. What they find in our educational system is different from anything they have encountered in their school career. Surprisingly, there is very little literature on the differences between American engineering education and engineering education overseas. To be sure, there are many articles on the experiences of foreign graduate students in the U.S. [2, 3, 5] and comparing the experience of American and international students [6]. There are also studies of how to relate to international students [1, 4]. These are very useful, but it is this author’s belief that we cannot understand their expectations unless we know something about the educational systems from which they come.

2. Methodology

The author surveyed his own international students from 2005 to present. These were students in computer science and computer engineering. He also posted on e-mail lists read by international

Proceedings of the 2008 American Society for Engineering Education Annual Conference & Exposition 1 Copyright 1 2008, American Society for Engineering Education

Gehringer, E. (2008, June), Understanding And Relating To Your International Students Paper presented at 2008 Annual Conference & Exposition, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 10.18260/1-2--3889

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