Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)

Degree Granting Department

Curriculum and Instruction

Major Professor

Eugenia Vomvoridi-Ivanovic, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Janet C. Richards, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Amber Dumford, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Sarah van Ingen, Ph.D.


challenges, English language learners, mathematics placement, pathway programs, supports


The number of students who choose to pursue higher education outside their home country has continued to grow, and one of the most popular international destinations is the United States. International students, whose home language is not English, can find this educational opportunity to be academically challenging. Institutions of higher learning can admit international students and expect them to adjust to the linguistic, cultural, and social differences in a new educational system without appropriate support. To better support international students in undergraduate mathematics, researchers have focused on how language and culture affect mathematical understanding (Barton & Neville-Barton, 2003; Durand-Guerrier et al., 2016; Ferrari, 2004; Lesser & Winsor, 2009; Oudshoorn et al., 2019; Prendergast et al., 2016; Sharma, 2018; Zevenbergen, 2001). To date, few researchers have focused on understanding language learners’ transition to learn undergraduate mathematics in English from a student perspective.

In this qualitative study, I explored two Arab undergraduate students’ perceptions of their transition to learn mathematics in English at a large, public research university in the southeast region of the United States. I collected data through three virtual in-depth interviews with each participant and utilized a researcher reflexive journal to record my ideas, opinions, and personal experiences. I framed my study within Schlossberg’s (1981) adult learning theory coupled with a sociocultural perspective of language and learning mathematics through the lens of Moschkovich (2002) and Brenner (1998). I applied Braun and Clark’s (2012) thematic analysis to systematically identify, organize, and offer insight of numerous patterns across the data set. I identified three themes relating to participants’ challenges: overcoming initial shock, adjusting to differences, and lacking formal interactive opportunities. I also distinguished three themes regarding participants’ supports: using multiple resources, learning mathematics as a discursive activity, and developing independence. I discuss implications for practice to provide an equitable learning environment for all international students in undergraduate mathematics courses. Recommendations for practice include an early intervention in tutorials that introduce vocabulary and other meaning-making practices, an enhancement of undergraduate mathematics teacher education programs to bring awareness of cultural contexts in the curriculum, and the need for professional development to train university instructors regarding best practices for teaching language learners.