Tag Archives: cultural competence

3 Min Research Intro: New Pre-departure Course for International Students which also Recruits and Retains

Interested in learning why U.S. higher education is now offering pre-departure academic and cultural college prep courses to international students in foreign countries? Student success, international recruitment, and retention rates are definitely some benefits.

This video provides a 3 minute introduction to the research that led to today’s revolutionary international study abroad prep-classes.

First tested at a U.S. research university, then applied to HLSL Institute’s 2014 International Education Tour in South Korea and China, and now offered at U.S. schools, “U.S. Academics and Culture”, is an online or hybrid pre-departure school readiness class that strengthens academic performance, communication skills, and cultural adjustment. This student support effort also helps international students be healthier, safer, happier, and more professionally prepared in the U.S.

Because this classes teaches international students more accurate expectations about study, life, language, and work during first year experiences in the USA, high schools and universities can provide it simultaneously address recruitment, integration, and retention issues. Research findings indicated that international students are more confident (less stressed) to leave home and study in the USA, gain U.S. cultural knowledge and U.S. academic skills, better communicate with US natives and build more U.S. friendships, gain networking and small-talk skills, and better understand the importance for campus engagement and support resources.

U.S. institutions are now offering and/or requiring this class to prospective and newly admitted international students and domestic students before study abroad.  Sierra Nevada College was the first private college who made the online class available to any international student in efforts to welcome and encourage them to the USA.

P.s.  This class can also be effective for first-year international students who are already in the U.S. to aid with their transition, adjustment, and integration.

Contact me to learn how your U.S. high school or university can offer a pre-departure class like “U.S. Academics and Culture”.


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Filed under Higher Education, International Education, U.S. Culture

Preparing East Asian Undergraduates for the Cultural Challenges of U.S. Study

One of my publications, “Preparing East Asian Undergraduates for the Cultural Challenges of Study in the U.S.”, is a policy white paper discussing how a pre-departure cultural preparation treatment influenced a group of international students’ experiences before, during, and after their first semester at a western U.S. research university.  This topic is key to 21st century international education and I see it becoming the next wave of expected coursework for international students.

In this research study, although all participants wished they had taken a formal course about U.S. culture and academic systems while they lived in their home country, not one participant had received or even heard about organized cultural training or U.S. college preparation classes for study abroad before they arrived in the U.S.!  This is significant since research indicates that cultural knowledge, realistic expectations, and adjustment management skills speed up cross-cultural adaptation, increases student success, and fosters student engagement (increases student retention rates).

Dr. Dent Team DI found that eastern Asian students are eager to learn about the U.S. culture and academic systems prior to leaving home for U.S. study during my 2014 International Education Tour in South Korea and China last fall.  Many parents, schools, businesses, and government organizations have asked me to return this year… so I am!


In addition to teaching eastern Asian students about U.S. culture and academic systems, this year’s 2015 International Education tour will also share the research findings from my forthcoming publication entitled, “International Student Support Services Index” (ISSSI).

ISSSI organizes internationally related services by school and ranks institutions in relationship to other U.S. campuses. The index is grounded on five key research indicators that make up cross-cultural adjustment best practices to foster international (inbound and outbound) student success from pre-departure to repatriation/re-entry stages. 

Teaching U.S. College Preparation Skills in Seoul, South Korea, 2014

ISSSI’s research findings are made available through a free internationally circulated online publication used by domestic and international students, parents, study abroad organizations/placement services, recruiters, government organizations, secondary schools, and post-secondary international programs to better understand the U.S. international climate and individual campus internationalization efforts.


For more information, contact:

www.hlslinstitute.org or see www.taramaddendent.com

HLSL Institute provides educational services to international students, expatriates, international programs, and government organizations that bridge cultural gaps and connect the world, one person at a time. 



Filed under International Education

Can a hug discriminate?

Students at the University gave free hugs to strangers throughout Reno


Hugs on campusStudents from the University’s College of Education dispersed throughout Reno with “Free Hugs” signs to study preconceived prejudices and confront their fears. More than 700 voluntary hugs were given to strangers.What if a stranger offered you a free hug simply as a gesture of love, connection and comfort? What factors would impact your decision to accept or deny the embrace? Would it make a difference if the hug came from someone who looks like you instead of being a different race, age, weight, social class or culture? If so, why does it matter?

Students at the University of Nevada, Reno set out to personally experience this interaction through a Free Hugs activity that investigated the demographics and reactions of random strangers who accepted or denied a free hug. Students held a sign that stated “Free Hugs”, and waited for volunteering strangers to participate at various Reno locations.

The purpose of the assignment was two-fold.  First, students observed the behaviors of strangers’ who participated in the hug, avoided or dodged the hug, and those who only watched curiously from afar. Second, students reflected and analyzed their personal experiences before, during and after the activity including any concerns, prejudices or feelings.

The analysis resulted in several conclusions, including the acknowledgement of apprehension and identification of prejudices.

“There was a man that came up to me who wore a turban,” one student who conducted her activity at Truckee Meadows Community College said. “He asked if he could get a hug with his arms stretched out wide. I was nervous, but pushed that aside and said yes. The hug was normal like if I had hugged a friend. That surprised me. My rush of nervousness left as he walked away, but that’s when I felt bad.  That was the first time I had ever hugged someone wearing a turban and it was then, I was aware of my bias.  Seeing the turban made me think of September 11th and terrorism, because that’s all I’ve seen portrayed on the news.”

All students who participated experienced fear, anxiety or prejudice. As strangers approached for a free hug, students became aware of their apprehensions connected with certain groups of people, took note of how they felt and what they thought, and then reflected on why they experienced those effects. Students identified that most of their ingrained fears stemmed from ignorance about the stranger’s culture. Additionally, students mentioned that their prejudiced thoughts linked back to negative images they had seen on television news stories and movies. These unwarranted fears contributed to why students may have been divided from the strangers their whole life.

“I thought he might be a homeless guy,” another student recounted. “He got up and started to walk toward me.  My heart started to pound because I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Would he smell bad or say something inappropriate? Surprisingly, both answers were no.”

Free Hugs

This activity also required students to identify their own prejudices and make a choice: allow their fear to control their actions before denying the stranger’s hug, or decide to expand their cultural awareness by “embracing” the moment and experiencing a heightened sense of vulnerability and inclusiveness.

“As a visitor from Pakistan, this may have been the only hug I would ever receive my entire life from a stranger, especially a female stranger, since it is not allowed where I’m from,” a man who chose to accept a student’s hug said.

All students reported feeling excitement, joy, connection and/or accomplishment by the end of the activity.

“I’m going to save my Free Hugs sign and use it again, not for an assignment, but just because it made a difference in my life and many other lives,” one student said.

“Even after I had more than enough hugs to write about my experience, I wanted to stay out longer because it felt good,” another student said. “I could tell by strangers’ hugs, smiles and words of encouragement that others were feeling good too.”

By the end of the exercise, 700 – 800 hugs were exchanged around Reno.

This College of Education multicultural capstone course taught by Tara Madden-Dent is highly innovative and effective to incorporate empirical research with personal reflection. Students reported they had never taken a cultural studies course with such personal conviction and enlightenment as they studied similarities and differences between cultures. Tara Madden-Dent teaches Human Development & Family Studies and Education courses at the University of Nevada, Reno. Her educational blog can be found at https://taramaddendent.com/.

Original Article posted on UNR’s news website Nevada Today.


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Filed under Higher Education, International Education

Study Abroad in the U.S. with HLSL Institute

Did you know that the United States continues to be a top study abroad destination for international students?  There have been significant enrollment increases of international students in the U.S. higher education system over the past six years.  In fact, there was a 6.5% increase in 2012 from the previous year reaching a record high of 764,495 international students studying in the United States.  Overall, by 2025, more than 8 million students are projected to be studying outside their home country.  The largest international student population studying in the U.S. is Chinese students. Twenty-five percent of all international students studying in the U.S. are from Mainland China and Taiwan.  Research suggests that this increasing trend will continue.

Middle school

But does this matter and is it this trend a good thing?  Yes and yes.  International students heighten global diversity awareness on campuses helping colleges and universities achieve their diversity missions, contribute to high quality research, and provide significant financing to institutions and to the U.S. economy.  Did you know that international students are a foreign policy asset contributing almost $22 billion annually to the U.S. economy?  Yes, I said $22 billion.  

But in order to maintain status as a top study abroad destination, the U.S. needs to begin investing in intercultural and cross-cultural research as well as specialized cultural services to address international student needs.


You see, there’s a large array of transitional difficulties  impacting international students’ academic, social, and  professional success.  These students often struggle with language barriers, transportation challenges, social relationships, cultural differences, healthcare options, work (or lack thereof), life planning skills, new living conditions, and other cultural stresses. Many international students have described their campus’s services as limited and often inconsistent in helping with their cultural adaptation.  In fact, most cross-cultural competency training only begins after international students arrive to their U.S. campus during their stressful first semester.

Cultural competence training does contribute to greater intercultural sensitivity and cross-cultural adaptation. In fact, cultural preparation and training supports student academic success and their overall wellness. 
In addition, earlier cross-cultural preparation and more experience with or knowledge about a foreign culture, can help international students transition into the U.S. culture faster.  So, we know what needs to be done, what are some ways to implement earlier and more effective cultural preparation for this emerging student population?


There is one academic pedagogical model, grounded on cross-cultural adaptation theory and student development theories, that prepares international students for successful cross-cultural adjustment and academic success: How Leaders Should Lead Institute (HLSL Institute).  HLSL Institute has studied the unique needs of international students as well as campus best practices to address their unique transitional needs.  Its programs are organized in three cross-cultural phases to meet this demographics unique academic adjustment needs:

  1. Predeparture cross-cultural training before international students come to the U.S.
  2. Post-arrival cross-cultural training during their studies abroad
  3. Repatriation preparation and/or professional development


 Becoming a significant resource to improve study abroad, HLSL  Institute works with public or private, two-year or four-year,  traditional or online institutions to attract, recruit, retain, and  graduate successful international students.  As study abroad  enrollment steadily increases, so too will the demand for higher quality cross-cultural student services.


In addition to students, HLSL Institute serves all  new international travelers, expatriates, or persons relocating to  a new culture in the U.S.  To contact a program director or learn  more information about HLSL Institute, visit www.hlslinstitute.org.


Filed under Higher Education, International Education

Cross-cultural Adaptation


A couple days ago I bumped into a previous international student in front of my office. After exchanging pleasantries, my next question startled her, “how much longer do you have before graduation and how are you liking your study abroad so far?” It must have been a sensitive issue based on her squeamish hesitation.

Sighing with exhaustion, she admitted to having another two years of college before returning to her home country. She described that she was enjoying her time in America but that it was a challenge coping with the academic and social adjustments. “I have a friend now who helps me practice speak English. There aren’t any school services that I know of to practice speaking English and American students don’t have time to help.”

I then asked if she had made many American friends. “Not really. Americans pretty much keep to themselves. It would be nice to connect with a group of friends who were patient with me. It would also be helpful if they corrected my language skills instead of letting my misunderstandings pass by. How are my communication skills going to improve if I don’t know when I’m saying something wrong?”

Of course I offered to help and reminded her that my office door (and email) were always open but this topic begs the question: “Are colleges and universities providing sufficient support services for international students and can cultural adjustment be made fun, educational, and affordable?”

I think so but it presupposes that a new investment is made in this student body and new campus services. As globalization continues to reshape higher education, we’ll all feel the impact of a new international society. Employers are hiring culturally competent applicants and educational leaders are responsible for fostering those cultural competencies. In order to generate a diverse, internationally prepared workforce, we must first address how we introduce cultural sensitivities and facilitate cross-cultural adaptation. What international student support services do you use, do you need, or would recommend trying?


Filed under Higher Education, Leadership