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Don’t Laugh at Me: 5 Ways to Help Out International Students

5 Ways to Help Out International Students

5 Ways to Help Out International StudentsStarting university or college is a huge learning curve for everyone. Some students are adjusting to living the post-secondary lifestyle while commuting to school and living at home with their parents; some are just getting settled into their new dorm rooms; and some have traveled great distances to attend school. Everyone is just a little bit unsure about how to manage the year ahead. But, regardless of the kinds of adjustments you find yourself making as you begin your post-secondary journey, you need to remember that others are experiencing new things as well. For instance, international students who have just left their home countries to study abroad might have even bigger adjustments to make than you do. If everyone tries to help each other out, things will go much more smoothly for the whole group. So what can you do to help the international students you meet during your studies?

Tip #1: Offer Assistance

To some international students, even the simplest activities can seem overwhelming. Not knowing or understanding social and cultural norms—or even conventions that might seem incredibly natural to others, like meeting with a professor during office hours or hanging out in the student lounge—can be overwhelming and even embarrassing. Depending on their proficiency in English and their exposure to North American culture, international students might avoid many activities that would ultimately prove helpful or enjoyable to them simply because they’re anxious about participating in these activities.

As a person who is familiar with your own country’s cultural norms, you can be a great help to international students in these types of situations. All it takes is a friendly inquiry to see if there is anything you can do to help a foreign classmate who is struggling. If you can clearly see that someone is having a hard time, offer to help. Be a real Canadian about it: be nice. Remember that a small and simple act of courtesy on your part might make a huge difference to someone else.

Tip #2: Be Patient

If you are having a conversation with an international student whose first language isn’t English, you might have to speak a bit more slowly than you’re used to. You both might have a hard time understanding each other’s accents, and it might take the person you’re speaking to some extra time to plan sentences before saying them.

The fact that language barriers can be frustrating is no excuse for avoiding them. This goes for international and native students alike. International students should make a point of talking to native speakers to improve their speaking and listening skills, and native speakers should engage in these conversations just as they would with any other conversation. You should also keep in mind that people who are learning a second language often have better listening than speaking skills. This means that, while international students might need a moment to organize their response to your question, they very likely did understand the question. Being patient and making friends with international students is well worth it, as you’ll likely learn as much from them as they will from you.

Tip #3: Be Willing to Learn

Depending on where you come from and what experiences you’ve had, your time at university might be your first real exposure to different cultures, and that in itself can be intimidating. Remember that university is not the time to stick to your comfort zone—you’re there to learn, after all! Becoming friends with international students means that you get to teach each other about your respective cultures. Even if you haven’t traveled to another country to study, you can still learn about and appreciate them. Be open to learning about your new friends’ families, religious beliefs, favorite foods, and languages. They get to learn about your life; you get to learn about their lives. This will help you appreciate each other on both a personal and cultural level. Of course, this will work out only if you’re willing not just to teach others about your own culture but to learn about theirs in return.

Tip #4: Be Inclusive

Be InclusiveMaking friends during university can be a bit of a process. When you start school, you’ll likely find yourself hanging out with large groups of people. This will be especially true if you are living in a dorm. Over time, that group will probably either dissolve or break into smaller subgroups. This is completely normal, as it takes some time for everyone to figure out whom they get along with best and whom they would like to be friends with.

Unfortunately, international students are sometimes left out of these large groups, and as such, they never get to establish themselves within the smaller subgroups. The solution here is simple: be sure to invite the international students from your residence to take part in the large group’s activities. Invite them to parties, outings, or even just casual hangouts that don’t really require invitations. Though not all students will accept your offers, they most certainly can’t accept them if they’re never extended. Make it a point to make international students feel welcome, as many of them will likely feel isolated from you and from other students if you don’t.

Tip #5: Don’t Laugh—Literally

Just like everyone else, international students are bound to make mistakes from time to time. They might do something that is socially unusual; they might use an English phrase incorrectly. Perhaps they might do or say something else that seems funny. No matter how funny these mistakes might seem to you, remember that they can be terribly embarrassing for the people making them. Instead of laughing at international students for the mistakes they make, then, try to help them avoid making the same mistakes in the future. If you end up being friends with an international student for a long time, you might be able to bring up this mistake at a point when the other person will also find it funny. Until such a time arrives, be nice—don’t laugh!


Helping international students feel welcome is really quite simple: be nice, and treat others the way you would want to be treated. There’s no reason for our differences to divide us; indeed, if we want them to, they can work to bring us together.

Image sources: Minerva Studio/,

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Avoiding Gender Bias in Academic Writing

Avoiding Gender Bias in Academic WritingAcademic writing and research is becoming an increasingly globalized practice, and because of the Internet, journals are able to quickly and easily accept papers and studies from researchers around the world.

A challenge for English as a Second Language (ESL) writers is that it is standard for many academic journals to publish in English, meaning that the original research must be revised and sometimes even translated into natural-sounding English. With research arriving from such a diverse range of cultures and backgrounds, keeping the language in these studies free from gender bias has become an important part of the academic writing process.

What is gender bias?

Gender bias is a form of sexism that indicates that one gender is superior to another—most often that men are superior to women. Often, writing with gender bias is unintentional; using gender-neutral wording may require some extra thought or attention to detail for academic authors who aren’t accustomed to thinking in such terms.

Awareness of gender bias in writing is relatively recent, and it logically stands to increase as the number of female academics continues to climb in many countries.

Why does gender neutrality matter?

In the broadest sense, language is an integral part of human society and interaction, and how we use language both subtly and pervasively influences the way people perceive and understand the world.

In terms of gender, women in research-driven online communities, such as Wikipedia, have indicated that the use of male-centered language leads to feelings of inadequacy and experiences of misogyny and harassment. It can foster non-inclusive environments in which women may feel that their point of view is not perceived to be as valid as their male counterparts’.

In turn, this can lead to fewer women contributing to research in various fields, and whether or not people realize it, female authorship still has an effect on how content is received. It’s common knowledge that even famous female fiction writers, such as J.K. Rowling, have been asked to use a gender-neutral pen name to increase readership among both males and females.

One area of academic writing in which gender bias and inequality is pervasive is the sciences. A study by the journal Nature analyzed over 5,000,000 academic articles published from 2008 to 2012 to determine the ratio of female to male authorship. Despite the fact that female enrollment in the sciences is higher than male enrollment in many countries, this was not reflected in research output. Nature found that, for every article published with primary authorship attributed to a woman, there were two attributed to men. A female’s academic writing was also less likely to be cited in other works if the author’s name was obviously that of a woman.

What this means is that, despite the fact that women are becoming a dominant force in many scientific fields, a lot of their contributions are unrecognized by the wider scientific community, which still favors inequality and male perspectives.

Politically, gender equality in language is backed by legislation in many countries and by the United Nations, who insist that gender-neutral language is a professional responsibility. In Canada, all laws must be drafted using gender-neutral language whenever both genders are being referred to, because laws that do not reference the female gender do not support equality.

How to avoid gender-biased language in your academic writing

1. Swap out gender-specific terms for gender-neutral terms.

The most prevalent form of gender bias in academic writing is the use of gender-specific words when both genders are involved. Many of these words can easily be made neutral:

2. Don’t use male pronouns when talking about individuals in mixed-gender groups.

Both native English-speaking and ESL writers, when referring to groups that contain both genders or when referring to someone whose gender is unknown, commonly use male pronouns. The important thing to remember is that he, him, his, or himself are not all-encompassing terms for individual group members, who may be either female or male. To write in this way is disrespectful, inaccurate, and dismissive toward women, regardless of whether the author consciously realized this while he or she was writing. Instead of saying something like, “The student may bring his own books to class,” say, “The student may bring her or his own books to class.”

3. Restructure singular pronouns, and make them plural: they, them, their, or themselves.

To avoid the repetitiveness of using him or her constantly, the sentence can also be restructured to make the pronouns plural, using they, their, them, or themselves. The important thing to remember when using this method of gender-neutral writing is that the entire sentence should agree with the plural form of the pronoun. For example:

Each of the players had their picture taken with the gold medals.

This sentence is incorrect because each is singular and does not agree with their. Instead, the sentence should be written as follows:

All of the players had their pictures taken with the gold medals.

Here, the sentence is restructured using the plural term all and now agrees grammatically.

4. Replace a pronoun with a definite article.

To avoid the use of gendered terms altogether, many times the pronoun can be replaced with the indefinite or definite articles a(n) or the. An example would be:

The employee complained in his report that the chairs in the office were not ergonomically correct.

The employee complained in a report that the chairs in the office were not ergonomically correct.

5. Repeat the noun instead of using a pronoun.

This method can be repetitive and sound formal, but both problems are better than promoting gender bias in your academic writing. Instead of using a pronoun, rewrite the noun phrase:

The professor can revoke the grade, but he cannot expel a student from the class.

The professor can revoke the grade, but the professor cannot expel a student from the class.


As you can see, gender bias in academic writing is an important issue that deserves every writer’s attention. The best way to avoid gender bias in your writing is to put effort into being intentional about your words. Yes, striving to be “politically correct” can be a hassle, but the root of this goal is thoughtfulness and sensitivity to others—an objective that is worth spending your time pursuing.

Image source: David Marcu/