Academic and Social Challenges Faced by African International Students in Collegiate Institutions in America

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2017

40 Pages, Grade: 3.9



Chapter 1: Defintion of the Problem

Chapter 2: Literature Review

Chapter 3: Methodology Participant Observation

Chapter 4: Data Analysis and Interpretation
Immigration and Visa
Academic Requirements and Expectations
Financial Pressure
Climatic Change and Living Condition
Teaching-learning culture
Social Challenges
Stereotyping and Segregation
Racial discrimination
Separation and Detachment
Politics and Policies

Chapter 5: Summary, Conclusion and Recommendation
Family pressure and Transitioning process
Financial Problem
Cultural Difference




International students’ enrollment in higher education in the U.S has expanded considerably in the last decades. In 2015, the United States hosted more of the world’s 4.1 million international students than any other country (Institute for International Education, 2015). With the number of foreign students that come to study in the U.S, 14.5% of international students are African students with the majority of the population coming from Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana (Harvard Review, 2015). The U.S. is often described as the land of opportunity abroad, but this research intends to explore that perception for international students, especially African students. Many consider African international students as the gateway to local business owners in the U.S seeking to expand a wider global horizon, especially in Africa. This research explored the different types of academic and social challenges faced by African international students in collegiate institutions in America through auto-ethnographic research, and to find possible solutions to those challenges faced by African students. This is a qualitative research approach that used the sequential auto-ethnographic experience of the author as the research tool in identifying and categorizing some of the challenges faced by African international students. It is the researcher’s intention that the findings in this research will be used as a guide for the next group of African international students aspiring to come to the U.S to study.


Dedicated to God, my parent and to the African international student community.


This work would not have been possible without the financial, moral and parental support of my father; Mr. Solomon Okusolubo who saw the little light of mine at my young age and guided my feet towards academic and career achievement. I would also like to acknowledge to my mother; Mrs. Juliana Okusolubo who always support me in prayers towards my spiritual growth.

I offer my sincerest gratitude to my thesis advisor Dr. Dale Ferguson who was always open to guide me whenever I ran into a trouble spot and he never seize to drill me with questions about my research and writing. He consistently allowed this paper to be my own work, but steered me in the right the direction whenever he thought I needed it. You are more than a mentor to me, you are my academic shepherd. My deep appreciation goes to Dr. Hector Ortiz who effortlessly see to the smooth running of my graduate program from start to finish through his words of encouragement, and for equipping me with the ability to think critically.

I would also like to acknowledge Mr. Romeo Azondekon, the Chief Diversity Officer at Central Penn College who stood by me during my trial times. I am grateful for numerous advice and support towards the completion of my program.

Finally, I must express my loving gratitude to my siblings; Abosede Mercy Okusolubo, Bolanle Grace Okusolubo, Femi Emmanuel Okusolubo, and Pamilerin David Okusolubo. I acknowledge my dearest friend Samson Ogunleye, and my dearest Timilehin “Oyinade” Oladipo for numerous supports and care. I also appreciate the passionate support of Temitayo Alabi and the host of Winners Chapel International for providing me with unfailing support and continuous encouragement throughout my years of study and through the process of researching and writing this thesis. This accomplishment would not have been possible without you all. Thank you.

Chapter 1

“Education is a human right with immense power to transform. On its foundation rest the cornerstones of freedom, democracy and sustainable human development” (Kofi Annan, 1997).

“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” (Nelson Mandela, 2007).

My journey in search of academic knowledge and literacy started as a dream. In fact, it seems like every African icon that I know started their journey to excellence with a dream. Much has been said about Nelson Mandela. His dream to free South Africans from the apartheid colonial masters started from prison. Kofi Annan; the first black African to become United Nations secretary general, Trevor Noah; the first African immigrant to host a major talk show program in America, Wole Shoyinka; first black African person to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, all have dreaming in common. As a kid, I always joked with my mother that God made a mistake of sending me to Africa. She would laugh and ask me, “Son, where do you think God intended to send you to in the first place?”. With joy, unspeakable, I would always respond by saying, “to the white man land”. Like every African child raised on the dusty streets and stinky swamps of Africa, we dream big and usually, those dreams are quite bigger than who we are as an individual. When I told my parents that I wanted to go to America to study, it sparked mixed feelings in them. I could see the happiness in my father about his son aspiring to be great in life and almost immediately, I could see his worst nightmare and fear of how to afford the cost of transitioning from Nigeria to America; and paying for my tuition. I graduated secondary school and applied to as many universities in the U.S. as possible. Eventually, I had to come to the reality that the only way I could travel abroad to study was if my family sold everything we worked for over the years. I could not come to accept the idea of seeing my family go back to abject poverty after years of struggles to be an average income earning family. I was left with no other option than to go for the universities we had in my country, where I eventually achieved my bachelor’s degree. After years of obtaining academic knowledge at the undergraduate level, I finally decide to proceed for my graduate degree program in America.

Upon my arrival in America as an international student from Africa, I realized that universities and colleges rely heavily on international students for income and as resources in the form of cultural diversity, intellectual diversity and academic diversity (Ward, 2002). Since the beginning of civilization, man has traveled to far-flung places to quench his thirst for knowledge and comprehension. With the invention of planes and high-speed trains, traveling has become so easy that the number of international students seeking education in foreign countries, like America, has grown significantly. The main goal of international students is the attainment of higher education in a foreign country, which often provides a higher quality education compared to what can be obtained in their country of origin (Hayes & Lin, 1994; Marcketti, Mhango & Gregoire, 2006). In America, international students are regarded as academic and knowledge seeking nationals who cross borders for the purpose of studying at any American collegiate institution, with a 'student' visa, as defined by the Immigration Control and Refugee Recognition Act. In 2015, the continued growth in international students coming to the U.S. for higher education had a significant positive economic impact on the United States. International students contributed more than $30.5 billion to the U.S. economy, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce (2015).

The number of international students coming to study in the U.S has increased over the years. Presently, most international students in America are Asian (61%), while African students are said to be 14.5 percent (Harvard Review, 2015). According to the Open Doors Report published by the Institute of International Education (2015), the 2014-2015 school year in the U.S. saw a 7 percent increase in African international students. The United States is considered by many international students as the land of opportunity flowing with milk and honey. According to the survey conducted by the Institute of International Education (IIE 2016), the majority of African international students come from the sub-Saharan region of the continent, which includes: Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana, Cameroon and South Africa. NAFSA’s latest analysis shows that 48,000 jobs added to the U.S economy between 2015-2016 were credited to African international students. With the increased numbers of African students trooping to America like myself, their story for survival and keeping their academic dreams alive, supports that it’s never been an easy task. Many African students journey to America in search of academic knowledge and a better life and as an African international student from a remote town in Nigeria and one of the dusty streets in Africa, I realize that there are lots of challenges African international students are facing and a series of hurdles that needed to be jumped. Regardless of the struggles and challenges faced by African international students, studies and research have shown that African international students are some of the most highly educated immigrants in the United States.

This purpose of this research is to explore and identify the different types of social and academic challenges faced by this unique group of African international students. Another aim of this research study is to identify and provide possible recommendations and solutions to both social and academic challenges faced by African international students in collegiate institutions in America. While much research has been done concerning international students, major challenges faced by African international students is not common in academic literature and therefore, little or no effort has been made to provide concrete and substantial solutions to these challenges. The social and academic challenges faced by African international students in America range from stereotyping, racism, culture shock, difference in academic curriculum, language and many more. This research study attempts to provide solutions that can help African international students integrate into their new American environment both socially and academically.

Chapter 2

“To read without reflecting is to cram the intellect and paralyze the mind”

(Honor Books, 2005, p. 40).

Most academic and social challenges every African international student faces, or are currently facing, are unique and more intense because of the added pressure of adjusting to a new culture, language, and different academic environment. In spite of these challenges, African students increase the diversity of student populations, add new perspectives to classroom discussions, increase awareness and appreciation for other countries and cultures, and arrive with knowledge and skills, especially in the sciences (Klomegah, 2006; Lee & Rice, 2007). Colonization is one of the major factors why African international students are now having major challenges in their academics. (Evivie, 2015). In a study on the effects of colonization on the career choices of African students in the United States, Bessong & Traore (2000) found that colonization has a negative effect on the career choices and occupational decisions of these students. Language is a vital tool in passing information or commands from an instructor to the learner. The language of instruction and academic structures in most African academic institutions are usually the language of the colonizer, which are often not English. This has a major effect on African international students in America where they have to deal with English as a second language and require added academic support. However, this disadvantage is offset by the several advantages to having African students in the American universities and colleges.

“Over the past decades, the population of international students enrolled in universities of the United States has been increasing, deserving special attention to meet their academic and social needs” says Contreras-Aguirre & Gonzalez (2015). As the numbers of international students continues to increase, so does the number of African international students coming to America to study. Because of the unique characteristics international students and African students bring along with them to America, these student’s population enriches colleges and universities environment, adds value in terms of diversity, and asks for a better understanding from American students, staff, and faculty (Ericson & Bolliger, 2011; Lee & Rice, 2007; Liu, 2011; Ozturgut & Murphy, 2009; Contreras-Aguirre & Gonzalez 2015). In addition, international students are valuable economic and financial assets to the American collegiate institutions and to the U.S. economy. African international students have proven over the years to have contributed positively to the U.S. economy in the form of intellectual diversity. According to the latest analysis published by the Institute of International Education (2015), African international students are considered to be the most highly educated immigrants in the United States. NAFSA (2015) statistical analysis also shows that more than 43% of African immigrants, which includes African immigrant and refugee students, have at least a Bachelor’s degree or higher. This indicates that African international students are both intellectual and cultural assets to American universities and colleges.

As an African international student in America, academic and social difficulties have been two major concerns for any African international students. Academic challenges faced by international students originate from differences in educational systems, language proficiency, and cultural differences relative to classroom atmosphere and faculty-student rapport (Evivie, 2015). Academically, most African students have been trained to listen rather than talk or participate in classroom discussion without permission. African international students grow up learning through commands and imitation compared to the academic learning style in America that embraces questioning and classroom participation. In my African educational experience, most of the academic tests and exams I have taken are usually essay questions at the end of the semester compared to the system of education in America, where frequent multiple-choice, class participation, online discussion board and short-essay examinations are used to test a student’s critical thinking ability in a short period of time. These differences in test-taking techniques, course structure, course content, and academic standards have resulted in stressful academic difficulties for African international students (Selvadurai, 1991).

Cultural differences present very real personal and professional challenges in academics for African international students. Because of the language limitations, it is not easy for an African international student to fully understand what the professors say or what the professors want in assignments from each student, not to mention participating in class discussions. The language problem could also indirectly increase the workload burden of international students (Contreras-Aguirre & Gonzalez 2015). In my experience, if an American student can finish a book in an hour, an African international student who does not speak English at home may have to consume three hours to finish the same reading. Some African international students are academic stars in their home country, and it becomes a challenge when they are no longer the superior student in a foreign university. In fact, it is easy for international students to get depressed when they are no longer keeping the grades they are used to achieving.

Socially, African international students have trouble adapting to their new environment and culture. African students often arrive in the United States with certain expectations and hopes about their social life but quickly discover upon arrival the difference between their social expectations and the social reality of life (Klomegah, 2006; Evivie, 2015). The difference in an African international student’s social expectation and reality upon arrival in America often results in a profound sense of loss, isolation, alienation, and loneliness that, in turn, results in losing self-confidence, gaining tension, working harder than usual, and taking little time off for leisure (Hayes & Lin, 1994; Marcketti et al, 2006; Evivie, 2015). In many situations, African international students are prone to facing a series of social barriers. Intellectually, African international students often face discrimination as one of the social challenges in the way Americans perceive themselves to be intellectually superior to people from other countries, especially Africa. African international students are treated as uninvited guests by some local students who are resentful because they believe international students are taking away their opportunities (Lee & Rice, 2007; Myburgh et al., 2006). On many occasions, African international students are subjected to racism, discrimination, and stereotyping which is a social concern for them to face in small numbers. Most African international students are members of a majority group in their countries; adapting to minority status is difficult upon their arrival to America. Evivie (2015) noted that African international students also experience verbal discrimination and segregation when faculty, advisors, or local community members make negative comments about their home countries or culture.

According to Traoré (2006), "…negative stereotypes about Africa abound in American schools and in the media, making it virtually impossible for newly arrived African students, whether immigrants or refugees, to accomplish their goals of getting a quality education”. On arrival, African international students immediately confront social barriers and difficulties that take the form of negative myths, stereotypes, and misperceptions that Americans have about Africans (Traoré & Lukens, 2006). In some cases, local students stereotype African international students based on the information they get from their local news channel or media. Familiar images such as the Lion King and Tarzan swinging from one tree to the other in the jungle start with children. Wild animal poaching, wars, disease and starving people with AIDS are some of the media images shaping American students’ understanding and conception of African international students. Evivie (2015) noted the media (e.g., televised charities such as Save the Children and Christian Children’s Fund as well as the Discovery Channel and National Geographic), and the curriculum in school, and the home environment of their fellow students perpetuate these myths, stereotypes, and misperceptions. Furthermore, these African immigrant and refugee students, due to the color of their skin, are faced with the same legacy of prejudice endured by African Americans (Basford, 2008; Constantine, et al., 2005; Njue, 2004; Takougang, n.d; Traoré & Lukens, 2006).


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Academic and Social Challenges Faced by African International Students in Collegiate Institutions in America
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academic, social, challenges, faced, african, international, students, collegiate, institutions, america
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Gbenga Okusolubo (Author), 2017, Academic and Social Challenges Faced by African International Students in Collegiate Institutions in America, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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