International Students‟ interactions with staff 1 Abstract With increasing numbers of International students studying in Australia, it is becoming more and more important to understand their satisfaction with the local university experience. Research has shown that frequent informal interactions with staff enhance student satisfaction. The aim of this study is to examine the International students‟ perceptions of interactions with staff by measuring the nature and frequency of their interactions with staff, their expectations and perception of the role of academic staff and incorporate their suggestions for future interactions with staff. A 172 International undergraduate students from The University of Western Australia (hereafter referred to as UWA) participated in the study. Results indicate very infrequent interactions with staff, with a majority of interactions being academic in nature and initiated by students through face-to-face contact. Student recommendations to improve staff availability and initiatives to incorporate cultural awareness within staff training are suggested. Introduction Australia is currently the third largest tertiary education provider for International students in the English-speaking world (Australian Education International, 2009). The number of overseas students has increased exponentially from just 188,277 in 2000 to more than 436,895 in 2009, with students now contributing to 26.5 % of all tertiary enrolments in Australia (Australian Education International, 2000; Australian Education International, 2009; Banks, Olsen & Pearce, 2007). At UWA alone, a total of 2984 International undergraduate students from across 80 different countries are currently enrolled (Unistats, 2009). The majority of Undergraduate International students originate from Asia (2573) followed by Africa (168), Britain (120) and North America (91). With the numbers of overseas student enrolments predicted to grow (Banks, Olsen & Pearce, 2007), it is becoming more and more important to understand International student satisfaction with the local university experience. Past literature has linked student satisfaction to the frequency of staff-student interactions, with more frequent interactions associated with higher levels of student satisfaction and enhanced self-worth (Astin, 1999; Endo & Harpel, 1982; Kuh, 1995; Pascerella & Terenzini, 1976). International students, however, are found to engage in higher levels of interactions with staff than local students, but report surprisingly lower levels of satisfaction in comparison. This observation is common across International Students in Canada, Australia and even locally at UWA (Grayson, 2007; Department of Education, Workplace and Employment, 2008; UWA, 2008). These findings contrast with previous research (Astin, 1999; Endo & Harpel, 1982; Kuh, 1995; Pascerella & Terenzini, 1976) where the frequent informal interactions predicted enhanced student self-worth and satisfaction; thus suggesting that there may be other dynamic factors involved in the process of International student-staff interactions which may influence their perceptions of overall satisfaction. In investigating the factors that affect International Student-staff interactions, previous research has focussed on language barriers and student expectations in relation to the role of academic staff. Studies have found that language weakness and sensitivity to one‟s ability may play a significant role in the quality of International students‟ interactions with staff (Robertson, Line, Jones & Thomas, 2000; Brunton & Zhang, 2007). Insensitivity of the faculty to the emotional and psychological problems experienced by International students may also contribute to the problems encountered in interacting with staff (Robertson et al., 2000). International Students‟ interactions with staff 2 Students‟ expectations of the role of academic staff also affect their satisfaction with interactions outside of class. Studies at the Queensland University of Technology (QUT) suggest that students expect higher levels of support from faculty during their initial period of adjustment than provided (Khawaja & Dempsey, 2008). However, in other studies, students believe co-nationals to be a more appropriate source of help than faculty (Gillette, 2005). With conflicting suggestions, it has not been clearly established whether International students expect personal support from the faculty during the initial period of adjustment. Similarly, perceptions of the role of academic staff may also affect International student-staff interactions. Campbell and Li (2008) state that International students expect staff to play a nurturing role and push them to achieve. However, Hee and Woodrow (2008), state that Korean students are reluctant to engage with lecturers in class, assuming that it would be disrespectful and annoying. It is unclear, however, whether this attitude translates into the out-of-class interactions for all international students. In focussing primarily on the differences between International and local students, some studies have tended to stereotype international students, without systematically investigating the nature and frequency of International student-staff interaction and their expectations and perceptions regarding the role of academic staff (Biggs, 1999). In addition, very few studies have incorporated suggestions from International students in order cater for their needs. In addressing these limitations, the aim of this study is to systematically investigate: (1) the nature and frequency of interactions, in particular; the frequency of interactions, the time-frame of interaction, who initiates the interactions, purpose of interactions, the preferred medium of interaction and any problems encountered in the interactions. The study will also investigate (2) students‟ perceptions and expectations regarding the role of academic staff due to the inconsistency in past literature; and, (3) student suggestions for future interactions. The findings of this study help to inform a growing body of literature on the university experience of International students. Literature Review Research into student engagement (Tinto, 1997; Astin, 1999) has found student involvement in the academic and social aspects of the college experience to be associated with higher levels of student persistence at the first-year undergraduate levels. In particular, frequent interactions with staff outside the classroom is associated with higher levels of achievement of desired goals (Endo and Harpel, 1982), perceptions of enhanced self-worth, (Kuh, 1995), and greater commitment to the institution (Pascellera & Terenzini, 1976; Strauss and Volkwein, 2004). In a qualitative study of out-of-class experiences, Kuh (1995) found that informal student–faculty interactions impact aspects of students‟ self-concept, such as self-worth and confidence, as well as academic skills. However, research assessing the frequency of student-staff interactions has found a disappointingly low number of staff-student interactions. The AUSSE which was administered to total of 67,379 students at 25 Australasian universities found that the average score for the Student-Staff Interactions scale was just 21.1 for first year Australian undergraduates, compared to 32.8 for North American students. These interactions are mostly academic in nature, with only 20% of interactions being personal or social in nature (Ananya & Cole, 2001). It is still unknown what medium of communication International students prefer in interacting with staff, although Hee and Woodrow (2008) reveal that Korean students prefer face-to-face interactions with peers. At UWA, the Student Survey of Engagement (UWA - SSE) which is based on the American National Student Survey of Engagement (NSSE), found that more than 75% of International Students‟ interactions with staff 3 the students failed to engage in key out-of-class interactions with staff (UWA, 2007). It was similarly found that International students engage in higher student-staff interactions than local students, though being less satisfied in comparison. For 2008, 24 percent of International students engaged in interactions with staff compared to 19 percent of local students, but only 69 percent of the International students were satisfied compared to 75 percent of the local students (UWA, 2008). However, there is very little information on who initiates the interactions, the preferred medium of communication and whether the interactions serve to be formal or informal. In a similar study in Canada, Grayson (2007) found that although International students had significantly more contacts with faculty outside of the classroom (0.7) than local students (0.5), only 70% of International students were satisfied compared to 75% of the domestic students. These findings are contrary to that of previous research (Astin, 1999; Endo & Harpel, 1982; Kuh, 1995; Pascerella & Terenzini, 1976) where frequent contact with staff outside the classroom resulted in higher student satisfaction; pointing to the suggestion that other dynamic factors may influence the quality of International student-staff interactions outside the classroom. Past research (Robertson et al., 2000; Sawir, Marginson, Deumert, Nyland and Ramia, 2008; Brunton and Zhang, 2007; Campbell & Li, 2008) in Australia and New Zealand has focussed on the difficulties that International students face in adjusting to their new surroundings. Robertson et al. (2000), found that isolation in the new surrounds, unfriendly staff and dealing with language barriers were some of the major problems faced by International students in Australia. Loneliness and lack of social network were major factors that decreased student enjoyment of their course (Sawir et al., 2008). Other studies (Andrade, 2006; Brunton and Zhang, 2007; Robertson et al., 2000) have found language barrier as a major impediment in the process of adjustment for International students. Brunton and Zhang (2007) found that incompetency in English prevented Asian students from effectively forming friendships and communicating with lecturers and other students. These students attributed their lack of participation to language weaknesses and sensitivity to their ability (Robertson et al., 2000). Andrade (2006) attests that without linguistic ability or sociocultural adjustment, there is an increased probability of stress-related mental illnesses and disruption to study in the initial stage of acclimatization. Students‟ expectations of the level of support from faculty also impacts on the degree of successful adjustment, though studies (Eland, 2001; Hodgons & Simoni, 1995; Mallinckrodt & Leong, 1992; Gillette, 2005) are inconsistent in reporting whether International students prefer social support from faculty in the initial stage of adjustment. Some studies (Eland, 2001; Hodgons & Simoni, 1995; Mallinckrodt & Leong, 1992; Ramsay, 1999) show that perceived social support from faculty predicted psychological well-being of students. However, the actual level of support offered by universities seems to fall short of student expectations, with International students from the QUT being dissatisfied with the quality of social support afforded by the university in comparison to local students (Khawaja & Dempsey, 2008). In another survey from New Zealand (Campbell & Li, 2008), Chinese students felt a general lack of empathy from the faculty in the initial stage of adjustment. In other cases, (Gillette, 2005) students preferred to interact with co-nationals, feeling that it was not appropriate to approach faculty or staff with questions (Gillette, 2005). The inconsistency in the literature needs to be resolved to inform policy makers whether to invest in staff training or organise more social support networks for International students. International Students‟ interactions with staff 4 In addition, examining students‟ perceptions of the role of academic staff may also reveal International students‟ expectations. For example, Hee and Woodrow (2008) , report that Korean students are reluctant to question or debate topics with professors, assuming that it is disrespectful and annoying to the teachers. Whether this attitude is persistent in out-of-class interactions with staff has not yet been investigated. International students also consign the responsibility of teaching to lecturers rather than the institution and expect staff to be nurturing and push them to achieve (Campbell & Li, 2008), though it is still unclear if International students expect staff to support them in the process of adjustment to new surroundings. However, in focussing only on the differences between International and local students, Biggs (1999) suggests that there is an institutional stereotyping of students from Asian backgrounds and that the issues and problems faced by International students are no different from mainstream students undergoing the transition to an academic university culture (Levy, Osborn, and Plunkett, 2003; McInnes, 2001). For example, Hellstén and Prescott (2004) found unavailability of suitable consultation times to be an extensive source of complaint amongst International students. This suggests that in investigating the problems faced by International students, researchers must not lose sight of the common barriers that affect all student-staff interactions. By investigating a sample of the International student community at UWA, this study hopes to provide a platform for international students to voice their concerns and allow individuals of the sample to express their opinions without being stereotyped in contrast to local students. Thus, the review of literature reveals some significant gaps in our understanding of staff-student interactions outside the classroom as a factor in the university experience of International students. In addressing this shortfall, the paper investigates (1) the nature and frequency of interactions, in particular, the frequency of interactions, the time-frame of interaction, who initiates the interactions, the purpose of interactions, the preferred medium of interaction and any problems and issues encountered in these interactions. The study will also investigate (2) students‟ perceptions and expectations regarding the role of academic staff due to the inconsistency in past literature; and, (3) student suggestions for future interactions. Method All students registered as International students at UWA for 2009 were sent an email request to participate in an on-line survey. The email informed them of the anonymity of the survey and provided a link to access the survey website. Participants filled in demographic information followed by 22 questions on their perceptions of staff- student interactions at UWA. The questions were both quantitative, e.g., “Approximately how many times in the past semester have you interacted with staff other than during formal class times?” and qualitative in nature, e.g. “For what reason did you mainly interact with staff?”. The questions addressed 3 main fields: (1) nature and frequency of student interactions; (2) students‟ perceptions and expectations of the role of academic staff due to the inconsistency in past literature; and, (3) suggestions for future interactions. The demographic and quantitative questions were analysed using frequency tables. The qualitative questions were analysed for common themes. International Students‟ interactions with staff 5 Results The participants (60% male, 40% female) were mainly from Singapore (38%), Malaysia (19%) and China (12%), with their first languages being English (54%), Mandarin (12%) and Chinese (11%). Forty-three percent of students reported that they had been in Australia for 1 year or less. Fifty-seven percent of students had been at UWA for a year or less. Although not ascertained in this study, a number of them may have arrived in Australia earlier, prior to commencing university for language bridging courses. Fifty-seven percent of the students were in the process of adjusting to the environment at UWA. Adapting to the lifestyle, language and the educational system at UWA were the three major concerns expressed. Adjusting to the new culture and operating in a new environment were some of the issues in adapting to the lifestyle. Students also experienced stress in living alone, paying the rent and establishing contacts with co- nationals outside of university. Students experienced language barriers, such as a lack of confidence in their language ability, anxiety in making mistakes and offending others as a result. One student stated: …in the first days, I didn't have enough confidence even sending emails to my lecturers ….sometimes I feel shy because of my accent or mistakes I make during our talk, so sometimes I prefer not to interact with them but I think this problem will be solved in the near future. Students had to adapt their learning to the western pedagogical approach to education and establish friendships within the new environment. Anxiety over participating in class, learning to interact with staff more informally and gaining confidence in their answers were some of the major adaptations students had to make. As one student expressed: It‟s hard to make friends. I feel a little intimidated because everybody else in tutes are confident and have smart answers, so I feel intimidated to give my answers in tutes because in comparison, my answers are not as good. But I'm slowly adjusting to all these problems so I guess it‟s okay. Students had to adjust to the pace of lectures, find the correct venues and learn to cope with the large workload. As one student remarked, “I felt lost at the beginning with so many activities. And I had trouble finding my way to my lectures during the first weeks”. Another stated, “I am quite comfortable but don't fell like I am informed enough (only just found out there was a common lunch time on Tuesdays!!!).” They had to deal with feelings of isolation both from their family and from the mainstream culture. As one student stated, “….there's still an invisible barrier between Asians and the rest of the cohort”. Another student stated, “it depends on the people you meet…..I'm often the only international student or one of the very few international students in all my units, friendly people will definitely make me feel more”. Students varied in finding time for social interaction and their openness to social events. Some were uncomfortable, being alienated from the university community or feeling that they had not achieved their goals. Others expressed insecurity in walking alone to university and cultural barriers as contributing to their discomfort. It is within this context of adjusting to a new environment that the survey sort responses to questions about staff-student interactions as part of the university experience of International students. International Students‟ interactions with staff 6 Nature and Frequency of Student Interaction Frequency of interaction. The study revealed that most interactions were infrequent, with fifty-two percent of students interacting only once a semester or almost never (see Table 1). Table 1 Everyday 2-3 times About once Once in 2 Once a Almost a week a week weeks semester never Corrected 1.20 9.58 10.77 26.35 23.35 28.74 Percent Time-frame of interaction. Most interactions (47.20%) occurred evenly throughout the semester (see Table 2). Table 2 Beginning Mid End of Evenly of semester semester semester Corrected 22.64 16.35 13.84 47.20% Percent Interactions in the beginning of semester served to help with subject choice and in enrolment issues. As one student said, “The start of the uni is usually very hectic and I tend to re-evaluate the units I've chosen and ask the lecturers for advice on where that unit can take me in my degree”. Midsemester interactions were to clarify issues with the upcoming exams or assessments. Interactions at the end of semester focussed on the upcoming exams and subject selection for the following semester. Who initiates the interactions? Of the interactions initiated, students alone initiated 78% of the interactions (see Figure 1 below). Figure 1. The percentage of times interactions were initiated by students, staff and university programs. Purpose of interaction. Most students (89.95%) engaged with staff for academic reasons (see Table 4). International Students‟ interactions with staff 7 Table 4 To clarify For To discuss For social Other information academic personal interaction on the interests problems subjects being studied Pr Corrected 51.04 38.81 3.49 4.54 2.44 eferred Percent medium of communic ation. Most students (41.66%) preferred face-to-face interactions, followed by email (37.50%) (see Table 3). Table 3 Face-to-face email Webct Facebook I don‟t have any No preference answer Corrected 41.66 37.50 2.38 .60 17.86 .60 Percent Face-to-face interaction was preferred over other forms of communication because it was seen as a clearer form of communication which allowed immediate questions to be answered. It was an informal and a more interactive stream of communication, which allowed students to get to know staff personally. One student also reported that it helped practice her English skills, “This gives me opportunity to communicate with Staff in English so that I can be more confident in my second language. Besides, messages through e-mail, webct, or even notices, sometimes are unclear”. Email was the second most preferred medium of communication since it was more flexible and easier to use. Students used email to overcome their uneasiness and embarrassment over potential mistakes from accent and language barriers inherent to face-to-face communication. Using emails also allowed them to consolidate their thoughts and think carefully about their questions. As one student reported, “I prefer email because if I didn't understand the meaning of a word, I can check that in a dictionary. Also, I haven't got used to OZ accent yet”. Students who were unsure of class consultation times and staff availability also choose to use email, preferring its immediacy to face-to-face consultations, where staff are often-times busy, “It's easier, I don't have to set an appointment with my lecturer just to ask a question. I only approach them face to face when I need to discuss a project/assignment/lab etc”. Problems and issues with interaction. Sixty-eight percent reported that they were satisfied with the amount of interaction with staff. However, 26 percent were dissatisfied with the quality and frequency of interaction and seven percent could not say because they had not interacted with staff. Students reported barriers to communication, with staff availability being a major issue amongst 35 percent of the students. Issues included always having to make an appointment, unavailability of staff after class, too many students wanting to meet face- International Students‟ interactions with staff 8 to-face with the staff and clashes of student engagement with staff availability. As one student stated, “it is very hard to coordinate activities at uni and staff's consult times”. Staff not answering emails was also frustrating. Of those dissatisfied, 32 percent reported language and cultural barriers to interaction. Students reported language barriers, such as accent barriers, sensitivity to language weakness and being afraid to offend. As one student stated, “Sometimes, not always, they tend to ignore what you are trying to ask if they don't understand. They won't ask you to repeat to clarify”. Twenty-five percent of students stated staff approachability as an issue. For example, one student commented that she was reluctant to interact “because of the way some staff portray themself and how bluntly they speak”. Staff seeming uninterested or portraying themselves to very busy impeded interactions. One student was unsure if it is acceptable to approach staff members outside of the classroom. Students’ Perceptions and Expectations of the Role of Academic Staff Sixty nine percent of the students believe that staff have at least a partial responsibility towards assisting International students. Interaction with staff helps them adjust to the new place and makes them feel „welcome‟. As one student reasoned, “these interactions teach me many things about their culture, the English language and generally, boost my self confidence”. Many appreciated such interactions in helping them cope with stress from living independently in a new place. As one student reported: Besides the language barrier for the most of us, being thrown into a foreign land to study for a course that might make or break your future is pretty stressful. and not to mention having to do all the household chores like cooking,washing & cleaning(if you're not staying at one of the colleges). Another reported, “International students may have other needs such as booking flights to return home and it is appreciated if staff could consider such circumstances and reply promptly”. Interaction with staff is also reported to help resolve language and cultural barriers and make them less isolated. As one student reported: …afterall, the International students have traveled away from their country to seek an education and the staff are their only source of help. Plus, some students may encounter language barriers with the staff. Hence, I find that it's the staff and also the student's responsibility to resolve the matter. Others viewed staff as social models, with responsibilities beyond the classroom. One student remarked, “staff should be responsible for not only students' intellectual development, but also their growing. It is because teachers do not only teach, they are the social models”. Staff were viewed as being more equipped to deal with people from different backgrounds, with greater exposure to other educational models. As one student reported, “Lecturers should have more knowledge on other international course‟s syllabus…that when we come to them about a problem they know where to start to help us”. The remainder of students indicated that peers play an equally important role in adapting to the environment. In terms of their expectations for interaction, 53 percent of students state that they expect staff to be available more frequently. However 44 percent reported understanding that staff may not be available due to other commitments. Seventy-five percent also stated that they would like better quality interaction with staff. International Students‟ interactions with staff 9 Student Suggestions Student suggestions focussed on strategies to deal with staff availability such as increasing contact hours, having longer tutorial times or regular face-to-face consultation times with the tutors or the head of departments. Pupils also indicated a frustration over staff not checking their emails and replying promptly even in the initial stage of setting up a consultation time. Students also suggested having more student-staff social events such as sports, faculty dinner, outings or barbeques. Improving the current email network and establishing a communications network between UWA staff and students on the internet was also suggested. One student recommended “a form of messenger network can be set up for the campus, allowing only students and staff of UWA to gain access. From there, students can seek help from staff by "clicking" on them.” Students also stated that staff need to make themselves more approachable. As one student commented, “from the start of the semester staff should encourage interaction to make us feel they are more approachable”. Students suggested linking them with co- national staff who may help them settle in. Students also focussed on improving tolerance and raising cultural and linguistic awareness amongst staff. Students expressed a need for staff to be more patient during interactions and ask to repeat if they do not understand. Students wanted to be treated fairly by staff and not to be discriminated against. One student also mentioned that they need be informed of their expectations from the staff members when interacting with students: That would be better that they speak more slowly with international students and due to different cultures, I've felt sometimes they offend and expect us to treat in other way and in these situations they can let us know what they expect us and how they treat in the same situation in Australia. Discussion Nature and Frequency The study confirmed previous findings (Ananya & Cole, 2001) that students interact very infrequently with staff outside the classroom, with more than 50 percent interacting once a semester or almost never. The study also revealed that most students preferred face-to- face interactions with staff, thus extending the research by Hee and Woodrow (2008) where Korean students preferred face-to-face communication with peers. In contrast to the suggestions of Hee and Woodrow (2008) that International students are reluctant to engage in face-to-face interaction with staff out of respect for authority, this study found that students preferred it because of its personal, informal and immediate nature. One student even reported that such interactions with staff helped her practice her English skills. In the context of the current study, preference for face-to-face communication may not seem surprising, given that 51 percent of students are familiar with English as their first language. These results suggest that university policies must work to ensure staff availability and reasonable consultation times are in place for face-to-face interactions to take place. Email was the second most preferred method of communication since it was an easier, more flexible form of communication. Some students used email to overcome difficulties with staff availability, while others used it to structure their questions and overcome any difficulties that may arise through language and accent barriers from face- to-face communication. Student recommendations advocated establishing a messenger International Students‟ interactions with staff 10 communications network on the internet exclusively for UWA staff and students, so students could be given an opportunity to interact informally with staff. Consistent with previous research (Anaya and Cole, 2001; Fusani, 1994; Nadler & Nadler, 2001), the study found that a majority of interactions (89.95%) with staff were focussed on academic issues, with only seven percent of students engaging in interpersonal or social interactions. This may suggest that students are unsure if it is appropriate and expected of them to socialise with staff outside the classroom and may envision academic interactions as the only form of appropriate interaction. This suggestion helps resolve the discrepancy in past research, where International students are reluctant to use faculty as sources of personal support (Li and Campbell, 2006) but also expect more frequent academic interactions. Reluctance to engage with staff socially is unsurprising given that many students in the study have recently graduated from school, where social interactions with teachers are often not expected. In trying to integrate the social and academic aspects of university life, university staff must inform students of the acceptability of social interaction and make themselves more approachable. Increasing staff availability may also give rise to greater opportunities for social interaction. In relation to the problems and issues students encountered in their interactions, language and cultural issues surprisingly accounted for 32 percent of the responses, given the vast literature dedicated to this issue (Burton & Zhang, 2007; Robertson et al., 2000). A majority of responses focused on staff availability and staff approachability. This suggests that researchers must move beyond classifying the differences between International and local students and focus on common factors such as staff availability and approachability that may affect both groups in different ways. When the language and cultural barriers are considered alongside the absence of the staff availability and approachability, this may contribute to a further sense of isolation for the international students. Coincidently, students who were uncomfortable with their environment at UWA, reported feeling alienated from the institute. While following previous recommendations (Li and Campbell, 2006; Hee and Woodrow, 2008) that university services must help International students in adjusting to the language and culture, the university must also train staff to be more approachable and available to discuss issues with International students, especially given that 69 percent believe that staff have at least partial responsibility in helping them adjust to the new surroundings. This is especially valid when viewed in the context of previous findings (Li & Campbell, 2001) where International students reported a lack of support from academic staff who they expected to be more nurturing. Students’ Expectations and Perceptions of Academic Staff The results of the study indicate that students expect staff to be responsible in helping them adjust to a new environment, thus helping clarify the discrepancy in the literature (Khawaja & Dempsey, 2008; Gillete, 2005). Interactions with staff during the initial stage of sojourn not only inform them of the local culture and language, but also help them cope with the loneliness and stress of living independently. Students‟ dissatisfaction with the level of faculty support at the QUT does not seem surprising, given the obvious benefits of these interactions (Khawaja & Dempsey, 2008). Students‟ mention of staff as „social models‟, further reinforces the idea that staff are expected to guide and nurture students (Campbell & Li, 2008). This contrasts with the suggestions of Hee and Woodrow (2008), where students maintained distance from staff out of respect for their authority, indicating that the perceptions of Korean students cannot be generalised to the International student population. Furthermore, the finding that students expect more International Students‟ interactions with staff 11 frequent interactions of better quality, strongly suggests that students view staff as role models and resources for help, rather than authority figures that must be distanced. Student Suggestions Given that very few students interacted frequently and that a majority of students report a lack of staff availability and approachability as major impediments to interactions; university policies must address these issues by expanding consultation times and training staff to be more approachable. Students expect to interact academically with faculty, believing them to have more exposure to other educational models. Students suggest staff to be more patient and knowledgeable of the cultural and language barriers that International students face, especially, given that these students (78%) alone initiate the interactions. In extending the recommendation of Australian Universities Quality Agency (AUQA) for UWA, it is important to introduce formalised cross-cultural awareness training, for all staff, not just those teaching offshore. Students recommend increasing contact hours, having longer tutorial times or regular face-to-face consultation times with the tutors or the head of departments. Some suggest organising staff-student activities such as sports, faculty dinner, outings or barbeques, although understanding that staff may not be available due to other commitments. Conclusion The findings of this current study extend previous research by incorporating student expectations and suggestions while trying to view International students as integral elements of the university structure. Such a view has allowed the current study to reveal the difficulties and barriers that students face in interacting with staff, such as staff availability and approachability, which may contribute to a sense of isolation amongst International students. Future research must investigate if the lack of opportunities for interaction contributes to a sense of isolation and whether students and staff deem it appropriate to engage in interactions for personal and social purposes, as advocated by Pascerella and Terenzini (1976). If students are informed of the appropriateness of social interaction and staff are trained to be more approachable; then with increased consultation times, the frequency and quality of interaction with staff will look promising. 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