Communicating to foreign students
International students must be considered in every form of student communication. But is translating texts into English enough or should we do more?
There are around 370 international students in the degree programmes of Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences (Mamk) and approximately 150 exchange students this year.
In official matters, such as application and exams, they are served well in English, but there is obviously a lot we could do to serve them better in terms of student communication during their studies.
Everyone belongs to our community
In general, almost all written student communication in our UAS should and could be provided in English as well. It would be much easier, if we would remember this right from the beginning – when planning the content and communication channels. Usually the instructions, forms, pieces of news, event advertisements etc. at our UAS are produced in Finnish.
It is considered only after that if the information is also needed in English. For example, can a non-Finnish speaker participate in the event we are organizing?
Our UAS finds it important that everyone belongs to our community and no one is left outside. Therefore, it is important to inform and invite everyone to our activities, let it be a soccer tournament or a visit by the Finnish prime minister.
The needs are various
People often tend to think that foreign students need less information than Finnish students. Often the truth is vice versa. Finnish students can easily find information about housing, public transport etc. on the internet, but this is not the case with foreign students.
Many pieces of news, guides etc. that are published by another party but involve our students are only in Finnish. In order to get the students to feel welcome and to join the local community the information needs to be translated and adapted to their needs.
For example, in the degree programme of business management almost all students come from abroad. The staff wants to give a cosy feeling for everyone and there is a special person, a study councellor, who ensures that they get all the information they need – in English and precisely explained.
This is one of the improvements the business management degree programme has made on the basis of the feedback given by previous students. Therefore, it is important that also international students can give feedback and this way improve the quality of both studies and support services. The system was also praised by the Finnish Education Evaluation Centre (FINEEC) in the audit made in 2013.
Social media can be a powerful tool
Also the activities for international alumni need to be adjusted according to their needs. Bachelor of Business Administration, Meri Honkaniemi, explored this in her bachelor’s thesis in 2014 and found that social media is a powerful tool to reach alumni who live around the world. But the services and channels have to be studied and carefully chosen – Facebook is not enough, though it is popular among Finns.
Honkaniemi suggests that Mamk could provide communication in English also on YouTube, LinkedIn and Pinterest. Also for those members of the alumni network who still live in Finland, the topics of interest are different from those of the originally Finnish alumni. For example, they want to hear fellow stories about what is it like to find a job and work in Finland as a foreigner.
Students are involved in improving student communication at Mamk and Kyamk
At the moment we have a year-long project in improving student communication at Mamk and Kymenlaakso University of Applied Sciences (Kyamk). All the first year student had a possibility to answer an enquiry about their experiences so far, and the results gave us important information on the viewpoint of international students.
In addition, there is a project group of international students helping us. They collect feedback and suggestions for our student intranet service from both the international degree programmes and exchange students. The fact is that the intranet in English is more limited than in Finnish.
Still, the international students have rated it better than the Finnish students in the previous enquiries. Could this be due to different expectations of students coming from different cultures? In any case, it is valuable to get more concrete feedback from international students. It will form the basis for developing our daily work and also a common language and translation guidelines for our new, common university of applied sciences in 2017.
The audit report of Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences (in Finnish) http://karvi.fi/publication/mikkelin-ammattikorkeakoulun-auditointi-2013/
Meri Honkaniemi: Developing international alumni activities in Mikkeli University of Applied Sciences : Case Business Management degree programme. http://urn.fi/URN:NBN:fi:amk-201402192444