English language proficiency does not eliminate all the special challenges that international students face. Cultural differences—particularly among students from non-Western countries—can create additional burdens. For example, international students may experience difficulty understanding spoken English or an instructor’s use of humor, slang, or cultural references; they may experience a type of “academic culture shock” in which the instructor’s expectations are unclear or significantly different from what the students are used to. All these factors can negatively affect academic performance and increase the likelihood that these students will cheat.

“A lot of faculty and administrators assume that if a student passes a language proficiency exam, then the student is prepared to be in the classroom, and that’s not the case. These exams do not test for how to use the language,” says Rory Senerchia, associate professor and chair of the ESL department at Johnson & Wales University Providence, who has conducted surveys of international students to better understand how faculty and institutions can better support these students.