Career Counselling with International Students

Sarah Flynn & Dr. Nancy Arthur
The University of Calgary
[email protected], [email protected]
Advanced Organizer
The pre-transition phase
Phase 1: Cross cultural transition
Phase 2: Cross cultural learning
Phase 3: Transferring acquired skills
Phase 4: Post graduation
International students in Canada
In 2006, there were more than 70,000 full-time and
13,000 part-time international students enrolled in
higher education in Canada.
In 2000, an estimated 1.8 million international students
were enrolled in educational institutions around the
world, and those numbers are expected to quadruple
by 2025.
Canadian universities attract international students from
more than 200 countries; the top 10 source countries are
China, the United States, France, India, South Korea,
Iran, Japan, Hong Kong, Mexico, and Pakistan.
(Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada, 2007)
The student breakdown in Canadian
Why do student study abroad?
To build international relations:
∙This encourages an increasingly stable and uniform work world that
promotes interdependence among nations
To diffuse knowledge among cultures
∙International study encourages a respect for individual and cultural
differences, promoting a broadening of perspectives
To develop foreign-based skill sets
∙Knowledge of foreign economy, technologies, culture is marketable
To foster independence, open-mindedness, and selfreflection
(Sumer, Poyrazli, & Grahame, 2008; Pedersen, 1991).
What is appealing to international
students about studying in Canada?
The high quality of education offered at our
institutions (i.e., diverse and internationally
recognized degrees)
The safety and political stability this country offers
The opportunity to become proficient in either
English or French
The opportunity to stay and work in this country
after degree completion.
(Zheng & Berry, 1991)
Studying abroad and career
Studying abroad enhances career opportunities and
the acquisition of specific marketable skills.
International students’ career decisions are
influenced by:
◊ familial pressures ◊ sponsorship ◊ immigration status
◊ background preparation , and ◊ personal expectations.
Differences in values, languages, and religious and
political loyalties must be considered in the decisionmaking processes.
Counselling international students
International students + Career counselling = Skill
development → Management of the myriad of
influences and challenges they face.
Counselling involves:
Academic and occupational planning and decisionmaking + Cross-cultural transition
It involves addressing personal issues with culturally
relevant interventions!
(Leong & Sedlacek, 1989; Shen & Herr, 2004; Shih & Brown, 2000; Yi, Lin, & Kishimoto, 2003)
Imagine what would it be like to…
Move to a
foreign country?
Be unfamiliar
with the cultural
norms, language
and decorum?
intense pressure
to excel
Have few or no
Be unsure of how
or where to seek
help or guidance?
Phase 1: Managing the initial demands faced
during the cross-cultural transition
Acculturation to the host culture impacts vocational
identity- the development of a stable understanding
of aspirations, interests, and abilities
International students must cope with various
interpersonal and academic challenges upon
entering a foreign academic environment.
(Shih & Brown, 2000)
Adjustment Issues:
Interpersonal difficulties include:
Adjustments to living in a new culture:
◊ new language, customs, and norms
◊ differences in values and religious and political loyalties
◊ changes in social status, roles
 Pressures/expectations from family
 Lack of social support networks and low frequency of
social interaction with domestic students
 Racial discrimination and homesickness
(Pan, Wong, Joubert, Chan, 2008; Pedersen, 1991; Sandhu & Asrabadi, 1994)
Adjustment Issues
Academic difficulties include:
Exposure to a new curriculum and classroom
communication styles.
 Disappointment about educational experiences
◊ non-challenging/overly challenging
 Changes in academic interests, programs, or majors.
 Feeling stalled in pursuing their career goals.
(Pedersen, 1991; Sandhu & Asrabadi, 1994)
Vignette discussion questions
What are the presenting issues?
How are the issues connected to career
What strategies might the career counsellor
What competencies would support the career
Vignette #1
Mai was a 23-year old student from Taiwan who was studying in a
business administration program. On the counselling intake card she
listed “study skills” as the main reason for seeking help.
When she met with the counsellor, they began talking about her
academic program and the counsellor noted that Mai appeared to
be very anxious. When the counsellor asked Mai to tell her a little bit
about her experience of studying at the college, Mai’s level of
anxiety seemed to increase.
“It is like walking around in the dark- I am not sure what it is I am
supposed to do here. The ways of teaching are very different than
what I am used to at home. The teachers tell us things are important, I
study those things, but these are not always the questions on the
exam. I can’t seem to figure it out. I try to participate in class but feel
that I am asking too many questions and the instructor seems
impatient. It is hard for me to do everything to get ready for class so
I am always trying to catch up. “
Vignette #1 Cond’t
After exploring her feelings of anxiety about her academic program,
the counsellor asked Mai what is was like for her to seek help and
come to see a counselor. Mai averted eye contact and said,
“I am ashamed to have to be here. My parents don’t understand
what I am going through here. They keep saying that this is my future
in front of me. They would be upset to know that I needed extra help.
I remembered you from our student orientation and what you said
about services on campus. That is why I came to you for help.”
The counsellor complimented Mai for seeking resources to help with
her program success. The next three sessions were spent exploring
Mai’s motives and expectations for studying abroad and the
counselor helped Mai to access workshops on strategies for student
Managing the initial demands of
transition: Career counselling
This vignette illustrates how academic issues may be
confounded with family expectations, leading to debilitating
culture shock.
In this counselling scenario, it was important to acknowledge
that strong family values that Mai held as a priority in her
career-planning and decision-making.
Counsellors who have been trained in Western models of
career counselling may be challenged to suspend their
beliefs about individual choices to honor the importance of
family influences and collectivist decision-making. However,
an overemphasis on the individual can add to the distress
experienced by international students who are trying to live
up to perceived family expectations while managing new
academic demands.
(Williams, 2003)
Phase 2: Leaning in a new cultural
International students often experience extreme stress
associated with academic concerns.
 Exposure to local curriculum may lead students to:
◊ recognize new academic opportunities and career
choices that they wish to pursue
◊ change academic programs
 Engaging in a career decision-making process can be
helpful for students to consider the implications that
changing majors may have for their immediate and
long-term career goals.
(Singaravelu et al., 2005 ; Wan, Chapman, & Biggs 1992)
Phase 2: Cont’d
Many international students feel conflicted about
making choices that are more compatible with personal
needs in light of expectations from family and sponsors.
If sponsorship is tied to a particular academic
program, students may feel “locked into” a path that
has not met their personal expectations and is no longer
Even when choices appear to be more flexible,
international students may feel considerable pressure
about explaining changes that might be perceived by
others as personal failure.
Vignette #2
Abir was a 28-year old male from a country in the Middle East and one of
20 students sponsored to study an engineering technology program. He was
referred to the counselling centre by the international student advisor who
called the counsellor to say that Abir was very unhappy with the quality of
his academic program.
Program quality issues disclosed in counselling are complex due to
relationships with academic faculty in the educational institution and
pressure to appease program sponsors of international education
In turn, when the quality of academic instruction is challenged, managers in
academic institutions need to be prepared to take immediate action to hear
students’ concerns and mediate a suitable resolution with academic faculty.
In this case, the international student advisor noted that it was very
important that nobody else discover Abir’s true feelings about his academic
program, emphasizing confidentiality.
Vignette #2 Cont’d
The counsellor met with Abir and asked him to describe his situation. His opening
statement was that he felt his academic program was “a waste of time”. When
the counsellor responded with probes about the quality of the program, Abir
interrupted and said, “That is not it. I don’t want to work as a technologist in this
field. I want to work at something that is more interesting to me.” The counsellor
immediately sought clarification about the terms of his academic sponsorship.
Abir was aware that the terms of his international education were tied to this
particular academic program and that if he discontinued studies, he would be
forced to return to his country immediately.
The counsellor attempted to explore the pressure that Abir must be under to
satisfy the terms of his sponsorship by completing the technology program. Abir
looked puzzled and said, “I was told by the international student advisor that I
could get help here to change careers. What help can you give me?” The
counsellor felt in quite a dilemma about how to proceed when changing majors
was not an immediate option. She offered Abir the opportunity to explore what
his current career path might mean for him and his family, how he might
incorporate different interests in his life outside of work, and how he might
examine other academic options from his home country.
Learning in a new cultural context:
Career Counselling
This scenario highlights the importance of orienting international students to the
purpose and functions of counselling. It is likely that this student left the
counselling appointment with the feeling that it was not helpful.
Counselling services may provide an orientation to students about counselling
(i.e., a written description that is reviewed during the first session).
The counsellor subsequently met with the international student advisor to discuss
how counselling could be described to international students in order to set
realistic expectancies.
Counselling across cultures also requires a strong working alliance. In this case, a
better match between the communication style of the client and the counsellor
may have helped the client to feel that the counsellor was more responsive to his
concerns. (Collins & Arthur, 2005)
Phase 3: Transferring international expertise to the
work setting (host or home country)
Students may decide to reside in the host country or
return to their home countries.
The cultural values of the host culture and the student’s
level of acculturation to the host culture need to be
carefully considered in light of:
the process of making important career decisions and
how career decisions are related to a student’s support
system in both home and host cultures.
International students are more likely to require
specialized services to help them to develop
appropriate job search strategies and to develop
contacts with local employers.
(Arthur, 2003a)
Phase 3 Cont’d
For those students who decide to return home, the
transition from studying in a wealthy country to working
in an impoverished one is not often an easy one.
Students who have studied abroad may have difficulty
securing work in their country of origin due to
inadequate infrastructure.
Students may lose positive affiliation with their home
country while studying in countries with different
political structures, opportunities, and values and may
come to resent their home country (Pedersen, 1991).
Vignette #3
Manuel was in his early twenties when his parents decided to send
him from Jamaica to Canada to pursue a degree in science. He said
that the decision was “more theirs than mine” and he was living under
close scrutiny from an uncle in the house where he was living. Manuel
originally sought career counselling because he was not sure if the
science program was what he wanted to pursue as a major.
However, during the first session, he quickly turned the conversation
over to issues of missing his homeland, friends, and his girlfriend.
After four sessions focusing on a career choice assessment process,
Manuel decided to remain in his academic program for one year and
then review his situation.
With his outgoing nature, he soon made friends, and became
involved with the university student association. He made an
appointment with the counsellor every month to “chat about how
things are going.”
Vignette #3
As the year progressed, he felt more integrated into his life
in Canada and found that he was enjoying the challenge of
his academic program.
As he was completing his degree, Manuel sought counselling
again to discuss his career options. He said that he never
imagined that he would face the dilemma of choosing
between his home country and staying in the U.S.
Career counselling then focused on the decision-making to
stay in Canada, the implications for his family relationships,
and his perceived career opportunities. The counsellor also
connected Manuel with the appropriate campus resources to
pursue an employment visa.
His positive experience with a work-term placement with an
engineering firm resulted in a job offer from an employer.
Transferring to the work setting:
Career counselling
This vignette illustrates how the decision to pursue
employment in Canada was connected to a variety of
personal considerations within the home and host cultures.
Manuel’s success with adapting to the social, academic, and
employment demands in the local culture was highly
influential in his changing perspective about career
opportunities after graduation.
The career counsellor helped Manuel pursue multiple options
in his career planning, accesses necessary resources (i.e., a
visa), and cope with the uncertainty about returning home.
(Shen & Herr, 2004; Spencer-Rogers, 2000; Yang et al., 2002).
Phase 3: Transferring international expertise to the
work setting (host or home country)
Students may decide to reside in the host country or
return to their home countries.
The cultural values of the host culture and the student’s
level of acculturation to the host culture need to be
carefully considered in light of:
the process of making important career decisions and
how career decisions are related to a student’s support
system in both home and host cultures.
International students are more likely to require
specialized services to help them to develop
appropriate job search strategies and to develop
contacts with local employers.
(Arthur, 2003a)
Phase 4: Staying in Canada
Increased immigration opportunities
International students as preferred immigrants
30-45% of international students do not return to
their homeland upon completion of their studies,
becoming permanent citizens of the US (brain drain).
Interestingly, 70% of the ISs surveyed in her study
indicated the intention to reside permanently in the
US! (Spencer-Rogers)
Decision is more than about work
Phase 4 (cont’d)
Values clarification
Qualifications and marketing
Implications for relationships
Trial and error practices versus strategy
Programs and services to support career transitions
from temporary to permanent workers
Education and workplace interface
Preparation of career counsellors
Vignette #5
Ling was a 30 year old engineering student who was in his last year of studies at
university. He had studied in Canada for 5 years. Although the initial transition was
very difficult for him, he found that he really began to enjoy his life in Canada,
especially when he began to make friends here. He still called home every week and
was in touch with family by e-mail. However, he noticed that the last time he went
home, he had an uneasy feeling that he didn’t really fit in anymore. He found that he
had less to talk about with his friends and family, despite really caring about them.
His work experience with an engineering company was a highlight for him.
He enjoyed the work and learned a lot about the systems of the company. In the last
month of his work placement, his supervisor approached him, asking him about his
plans to go home after he finished school. Ling was not sure how to approach the
supervisor about his interest in staying on with the company. He felt pretty guilty
about even considering it, especially when he knew that his parents were counting
on him returning home after graduation.
Ling decided to speak with the international student advisor who had helped
him when he first came to Canada. The international student advisor suggested that
he meet with one of the career counsellors on campus. Ling was not sure how that
would be helpful but he agreed to go anyway. In the first appointment, Ling told the
career counselor that he was interested in learning about how to find a job in
The realities of increased diversity
Perspective of students and faculty that "different is
deficit" (Dei, 1996).
The fear of diversity, partially resulting from a lack of
knowledge and readiness to approach diversity (Palmer,
Teaching is a political act. The current curriculum in
higher education in North America is characterized by
its Eurocentric perspectives, standards and values, it
does not reflect the knowledge and experiences of our
culturally diverse student population.
(Dei, 1996; Kitano, 1997; Tisdell, 1995).
Points of interest
Career is a foreign concept
Making services accessible
Translating international experience
Working with employers
Supporting policies with practices
Multicultural competencies
Research notes
Points of Interest:
What do you see as the role of career counsellors
with international students?
How can career counsellors help international
students with the transitions to Canada, to returning
home, to staying in Canada?
What areas of competency development would
help you feel more prepared for working with
international students?
Funding acknowledgements:
 Prairie Metropolis Centre
 Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of
 University of Calgary
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