International students in Masters programs come to the US
optimistic and willing to learn. Upon arrival and entrance into
programs, they often encounter unexpected environments.
Culture shock and language barriers may seem like obvious
hurdles, but work ethic and scope of visual knowledge also pose
unique challenges for both students and design educators.
Although all students share new challenges in graduate school,
international students face tougher impediments in studio
environments where they express themselves both visually and
verbally. Additionally, much of design uses humor, idioms, and
visual clues only understood in English. So how do educators
help international students build on what they already know?
How do educators break barriers between domestic and
international students so they may teach one another through a
In fall 2015, my Conceptual Development and Implementation
class was struggling to exchange ideas in the classroom. We
moved through that struggle by developing a shared language
around each student’s experiences with healthcare clinics in
their country of origin. Students explained what makes
healthcare clinics reputable; how people access information in
India, China, small towns and larger urban areas; and where
people look for trustworthy information. This paper discusses
how one educator used student experience of healthcare clinics
to find a universal language to maximize learning for
international students in design education.