In Tuesday’s article, we talked about the rising scourge of bullying in schools. Bullying, which most kids report either being a victim of or at least seeing (unsurprisingly, few report being the antagonist), is psychological or physical abuse designed to make the bully feel superior over the bullied. This can have a long-lasting impact on students. Sadly, even though they are guests, the bullying of international students is still a problem. Indeed, there are a number of reasons why they are potentially seen as easy victims. These include:

  • Language Gap
  • Accent
  • Not having an immediate group of friends
  • Worried more about social ramification of telling a teacher or adult

What these all have in common is that they make the student stand out as someone who is alone, who is isolated, who is different; they also provide fuel for the petulant and immature, but still harmful, fire of the teenage bully.

Luckily, it doesn’t have to be this way, and in most cases, isn’t. There are early warning signs that an international student is the victim of bullying, and there are many ways to counteract that. Indeed, you’ll find that the solution is already standing by and eager to help, once they see the problem.

Bullying can be stopped

Students and staff are coming together to put an end to bullying.
Image from Flickr user 2like2love

Identifying the Problem

This can be slightly more difficult with an international student than with an American one. Some of the warning signs– being withdrawn, struggling in school, a pronounced sense of alienation or loneliness- can already be part of the study abroad experience, due to a number of factors. However, most kids who come to America do so with a sense of adventure. If you notice that a student seems more withdrawn and shy than is expected, there might be a problem. Or there might not. Luckily, there is a simple solution to that.

Ask them. The student is going to have a difficult time coming to you, for fear of being labeled a snitch or a tattle, and the fear that doing so will make having friends even more of a longshot. But you can ask them. The international office or advisor is tasked with taking care of the students who come to the school, so it isn’t strange that they would call them into the office or take them aside for a quick talk. This provides a great opportunity to suss out what is going on. And if you are plugged into the school, which you are, it hopefully won’t be that hard to tell.

Everyone knows what is going on

Here is an inspiring thing, though: the recent focus on bullying has made it very difficult for bullies to get away with things. Students want to step up. Nowadays, no one wants their school to be known as a haven for bullies. Encouraging students to take control can be a huge step. They might even do it on their own. Paradoxically, peer pressure may be what stops bullies. But if not, here are a few steps.

Appoint Student Ambassadors: Delegate some of your students to be an outreach committee to international students. The can help welcome them to the school, show them around, and teach them the tricks of the trade. Encourage them to show even the secrets: which hall monitors to avoid, what not to eat in the cafeteria, which lockers are the best, etc. This will make students feel welcome, more so than something official, and even if they won’t all become fast friends, it really helps to instantly identify someone to talk to, someone whose name they know- and, more importantly, who considers them as someone other than the foreign kid.

Create an anonymous bully hotline: This isn’t about getting kids in trouble. Bullies are often just as scared and damaged as their victims. This is in many ways a public health issue, and treating it as something to be talked about can work. But far too many students are scared to come forward, so having an anonymous channel- from a box outside your office to a private message board- can help with the problem. Be careful with anonymity, though- that’s often how bullying starts.

Have an International Day early on: This is similar to the first one, only on a level on which the whole school may participate. Obviously, you only want to do this if you have several international students, so as not to single anyone out, but having a celebration of diversity takes the wind out of a bully’s sails. Don’t underestimate the power of food to unite, either. Having lunch days or after-school celebrations to try out authentic Chinese dishes  or Indian food can serve as a remarkable opportunity to introduce a culture. If everyone is cool, then there is no one to pick on.

These ideas serve as a few guides. There are numerous strategies that can be implemented to combat bullying. But it boils down to this: make sure your students don’t see the international student as some kind of curio. Help to make sure that they are like everyone else in the high school: full of excitement, adventure, nerves, awkwardness, and the readiness to plow headlong into the future. Bullies shouldn’t hold them- or anyone- back.


The international student experience is both challenging and exciting. Whether you are a student considering studying in America, their parent, the host family, the Head of School, an international coordinator, or even a potential classmate, there are as many opportunities for confusion as there are to learn. The ISPA is here to help bridge that gap, to ensure that this opportunity and adventure is met with the highest level of success.