Je Ne Speak Francais

The first day of my high school French II class, the teacher turned to me and said, “Comment allez-vous?” (Translation: How are you?)

“J’em appelle Lauren,” I replied. (Translation: My name is Lauren.)

The teacher seemed confused—most likely because I couldn’t understand the most basic French after a full year—and shook her head. “Comment allez-vous?” she repeated.

“J’EM APPELLE LAUREN.”

Cue widespread laughter.

Suffice it to say language barriers can be frustrating—just one of the many challenges student housing providers encounter when working with international students, along with the benefits.

At the 2014 NAA Student Housing Conference & Exposition in March, attendees gathered to share their insights on this unique population during an UNSESSION. The experimental educational experience was offered this year as a way for student housing providers to share ideas with one another in a collaborative and interactive environment that tapped into their collective wisdom. Think of it as one giant brainstorm—a “safe space.”

Following are highlights from the discussion:

1. Advertising. Some universities don’t allow students to live on campus during the two-week holiday break—a real problem for many international students who have nowhere to go during this time. Consider mentioning this when trying to attract international students. 

Similarly, many international students come halfway across the world and don’t factor in a third, summer semester of additional finances, meal plans, etc. when their on-campus housing ends. Off-campus housing that offers a 12-month lease is a great sales pitch.

2. Working With University Partners. Partner with every on-campus international association and club you can find, in addition to the university’s international office. They’re invaluable resources that can help you overcome language barriers and offer insight into how you can best serve and support these students.

Also consider hiring student employees who speak another language. They’ll be your go-to resource when trying to communicate with international students. Worst case scenario: use Google translator.

3. Bridging the Gap Between Regular and International Students. A typical pool party isn’t going to attract many international students. Instead, consider hosting a multi-cultural event that enables international and American students to mingle with one another. You can start by reaching out to the individual international students and telling them you want to share their culture with your American students. They’ll give you an idea of what sort of food and activities should be included. 

4. Make Them Feel at Home. If there is a Taiwanese International Association on campus, for example, and they want to throw a party for their 20 members, offer to provide the space (and even pizza) in one of your community club houses. You’ll get a lot of free traffic in the process.

5. Pay Attention to What Matters. International students consider different factors than most American students when selecting their housing. A state-of-the-art fitness center may not be as pressing of a need as accessibility to nearby bus routes, for example.

6. Collections. There’s no easy—or single—answer here. Some student housing providers require an in-country guarantor. If students don’t have one, ask for additional months of rent upfront. Others advise student housing providers to be very cautious if an international student says they don’t have necessary documentation, as most have to have the forms to even enter the country in the first place and prove that they have someone sponsoring their schooling. 

But first things first: Learn the difference between “how are you” and what’s your name?”

For more on housing international students, check out “A World of Difference” in the December 2012 issue of units Magazine.

For a full recap of the 2014 NAA Student Housing Conference & Exposition, check out the April issue of units Magazine, which mails April 10.

Lauren Boston is NAA’s Staff Writer and Manager of Public Relations. Unsurprisingly, she writes a lot—most often for units Magazine and as a weekly blogger for APTly Spoken. She enjoys making people laugh, sharing embarrassing childhood stories and being the (self-proclaimed) Voice of the Apartment Industry. She welcomes feedback, unless it’s negative (in which case, please keep it to yourself).