Adapting To Students’ Time Constraints

A new culture and language, a demanding advisor at a prestigious university, family pressure to succeed-such demands often overwhelm international students.   Many work 70, 80 or 90 hours per week on research and/or studies.  Given their incredibly busy schedules, how can we effectively minister to internationals?

  • Make sure to clearly schedule the beginning and ending of your meetings and appointments. When we make assumptions, we often end up with miscommunication or misunderstanding. When arranging for Bible studies or personal appointments, it’s always best to state the beginning and ending time–and stick to both. If students want to hang around after the official end of your time, that’s fine. Just make to honor your promises.
  • Be satisfied with short, regular appointments. It’s usually more beneficial to see someone often for short visits than to have few that are lengthier. This is especially true in discipleship and also true in “pre-evangelism.” Sometimes the material or topic you want to discuss can be divided in half and covered over two appointments.
  • Drop in on your friends, but do so with sensitivity. Many internationals come from cultures that are more spontaneous than ours. “Dropping in” at a student’s apartment can be a sign of friendship. But, obviously, these unplanned visits should be brief, and you should be sensitive to your friend’s situation.
  • Make one-to-one appointments as convenient as possible. If possible, meet on campus, in the student’s office or near to their lab or classroom building. Try not to waste time in traffic or struggle to concentrate in a noisy restaurant. Meet in locations that are easy to reach and where it is easy to talk.
  • Take advantage of university holidays to provide short trips or retreats. There’s no doubt about it–spending unrushed time with your disciples is crucial to building relationships and facilitating life-change. For a busy student, holidays provide the opportunity. Getting away from campus for a night or two can also help relieve students’ stress and allow better focus on spiritual things.
  • Teach your students about time management. Some of your students need to learn how to prioritize, how to respectfully set boundaries with advisors and how to live a balanced life. Even though they may be experts in microbiology or linguistics, there is no guarantee that they understand and apply time-management principles. Offer to study weekly schedules with your friends. Together, brainstorm ways to keep the priority of their walks with God and to handle pressures and deadlines.
  • Have fun with students so they’ll want to be with you. As the old saying goes, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” Ultimately, your impact on students’ lives will be largely determined by the quality of your relationships with them. Recreation, relaxation, and laughter are important. You may be one of the only people in their lives who help them have wholesome fun.