4 Tips for Surviving Group Work as an International Student

Students across the globe often dread group projects. Concern about not being in control of the final outcome of the project may surface, or you may be more comfortable with classes in which the professor gives a lecture, and you individually work on assignments. You may be nervous about being able to express yourself in a group of people from different cultures, in a language that is not your strength. No matter your particular issue, there are some things to keep in mind to help you navigate the group work experience:

1. Find your voice—now
You may be tempted to passively agree with the majority of your group, in the hopes that you will not be called upon or noticed overly much. But this is a grave mistake. Offer your opinion, provide suggestions, and assert yourself when necessary. Introduce your thoughts with phrases like, “I think that…” or, “I see your point, but…” Overcoming your nervousness to become an active and valued participant in your group will decrease the chances that you are taken advantage of. It will also increase the likelihood that you do well on the assignment. Keep the common purpose of a high grade in mind. 

2. Ask for clarification of concepts or phrases that you do not understand
If a member of your group makes a cultural reference that you are not familiar with, or if he or she incorporates slang into informal conversations, it is perfectly fine to admit that you do not understand. Your classmates can serve as a great source of information. As you learn these new ways of speaking, it might be helpful to write them down so that you can use this language in future conversations (when appropriate).

3. Check in with your professor
If there are issues that cannot be solved among the group, it is best to inform your professor. He or she can help the group refocus and return to the task at hand. In the event that there is a serious issue, you can enlist your professor’s help in order to be reassigned to another group or offered an alternate assignment. You may also have additional concerns regarding cultural norms and language barriers. Your professor may be able to direct you to resources that can help you adjust. 

4. Get to know your group members
Chances are that you will be assigned to a team with people you do not know well. When the professor first assigns groups, it is important to have an initial meeting where everyone exchanges contact information, decides on the best way to communicate, determines the frequency of meetings, and recognizes other commitments that may impact the amount of time that group members can spend on the assignment. If you feel uncomfortable with heading part of an assignment by yourself, you can ask to form a sub-group with another person to help you tackle the task.  

As an international student, group assignments can be challenging. Being partnered with unfamiliar people whose culture may be very different from your own may make you feel reluctant to express yourself. Self-confidence, open-mindedness, and a genuine interest in people will go a long way towards building mastery in group settings.

Niki Bridges is a contributing writer for UniversityTutor.com, the world’s largest global marketplace for finding independent tutors.