Liberal Arts Council initiative supports international students in government classes

Stephanie Adeline

All UT undergraduates are required to take U.S. and Texas government classes. But for international students, this requirement can be a challenge.

“I could be studying for, like, the weekly quiz for five days, and I would still get a bad grade,” said Diana Ayoub, an international student from Egypt. “(Other students) will be studying for, like, 30 minutes before, and they would be getting a perfect score.”

Like Ayoub, many international students feel disadvantaged when taking their core government classes, which expect students to have a basic knowledge of U.S. government. To address this issue, the Liberal Arts Council is currently working with Liberal Arts Information Technology Services to create supplemental materials for international students in the form of videos, written notes or podcasts.

“The pace of the class and the content of the class were not designed for students like them,” said Michaela Lavelle, LAC academic affairs co-chair. “It presupposed a knowledge of U.S. government that, to be fair, most students have because they have been schooled domestically.”

LAC plans for the supplemental materials to be available in the upcoming fall semester through the International Students and Scholar Services website.

Ayoub, a finance and economics senior, said she took a government class during her first semester at UT, and it turned out to be the hardest class she took that year. 

“Professors (need to be) aware of the fact that they do have international students in their classrooms,” Ayoub said. “The readings that the American students might not be doing, probably international students are doing it for, like, a whole week.”

In addition to the difficulty level of the class, Ayoub said she felt disadvantaged in the class because the materials were irrelevant to her. Although having a basic knowledge of the U.S. government is important, Ayoub said she wishes her government class included more topics on foreign policy and comparative government, so the materials would be more applicable for international students.

Daqin Fu, an international student from China, expressed a similar concern. Fu, a management information systems junior, said government classes have no impact on him because international students cannot vote in U.S. elections.

“I’m an international student, so I don’t have the right to vote,” Fu said. “I don’t think I’m going to use the knowledge from what I learn in government class and apply it to my daily life.”

Fu said government classes often contain jargon which is not typically used in daily conversations, so it would be helpful if international students were given a sheet or a booklet to explain these government terms.

Lavelle, a psychology and humanities junior, said some of the materials international students find difficult to understand are the three branches of government, civil rights court cases and the election process. Lavelle said she hopes this initiative will help to solve the problem of access to education for international students.

“A lot of (U.S.) institutions are like, ‘We have a really high international students rate,’ which is great,” Lavelle said. “But if the U.S. is trying to be an international power, the fact that international students are not able to understand how our government works is a flaw.”