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International students (IS) are known to face communication and cultural challenges during professional placements. Efficacious strategies to support these students have not been identified. The aim of this research was to evaluate a placement preparation program (4 x 90- minute workshops) specifically designed to support IS (n = 15/38) enrolled in an Australian postgraduate Dietetics course in 2017. The program covered communication (interpersonal interactions, humour, colloquial language, accents and health terminology) and provided an orientation to the Australian food context. All first year IS participated in the program. Of these 6/8 students (who had subsequently completed a 6-week public health placement) participated in a personal interview with a researcher from the project team to explore their placement experiences. Ethics approval was obtained (UCHREC 16-74) for this study. Data was audio-recorded, transcribed verbatim, crosschecked for consistency and thematically analysed using a qualitative descriptive approach as described by Braun and Clark (2006). Four themes emerged from the data: (1) The program content was relevant to IS placement experiences but was not sufficiently practical; (2) The program favoured the clinical context; (3) Cultural difference was not seen as valuable; and (4) IS’ placement experiences enable their development of communication and cultural capabilities. This research suggests a placement preparation program is warranted to support IS, however, a more holistic in-depth longitudinal authentic approach is preferred. More emphasis could also be placed on the potential enrichment of the workplace from increased cultural diversity. This study was funded by a University of Canberra research support grant.
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