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International students' psychological and sociocultural adaptation in the United States

ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 2009
Dissertation
Author: Seda Sumer
Abstract:
International students constitute an important cohort in the United States (U.S.) colleges and universities. In order for the U.S. colleges and universities to better accommodate the significant number of international students and to recruit them in the future, it is critical to identify factors that influence these students' acculturation and adjustment processes and provide professionals with guidelines for creating culturally appropriate services and programs for them. Therefore the current study examined international students' adaptation to the U.S. in relation to their acculturation levels, coping processes, and intent to stay in the U.S. after their graduation. Center for Epidemiologic Studies - Depression scale was used as a measure of psychological adaptation. In addition, Sociocultural Adaptation Scale, Acculturation Index, and Ways of Coping Questionnaire, were used to measure sociocultural adaptation, acculturation dimensions, and coping processes, respectively. A total of 204 F1 visa holding international students participated in the current study. This project was a cross-sectional, exploratory study that measured depression and sociocultural adaptation among international students. Cronbach's alpha for each instrument was calculated to determine the internal reliability for the current sample. Pearson product moment correlational analyses were performed to examine the relations between interval variables. Analysis of variance was utilized to examine gender differences in coping processes. Multiple regression analyses were conducted in order to explore the predictors of international students' psychological and sociocultural adaptations. Results showed that in females identification with the host culture was associated with lower levels of depression, and Escape-Avoidance was associated with higher levels of depression. Identification with the host culture and Escape-Avoidance were predictors of sociocultural adaptation for both genders. Specifically, students who identified more strongly with the American culture were less likely to experience difficulty functioning in the U.S. In addition, these students were more likely to report higher levels of English proficiency, higher likelihood of staying in the U.S. after graduation, and lower levels of depression. The study identified important gender differences with regards to acculturation dimensions and coping processes. Implications and suggestions for future research were discussed.

TABLE OF CONTENTS Page List of Tables................................................................................................................... v Chapter 1 ACCULTURATION, INTERCULTURAL CONTACT, AND ADAPTATION AMONG INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS IN THE UNITED STATES ........ 1 Introduction ..................................................................................................... 1 Models of Acculturation, Intercultural Contact, and Adaptation ....................... 4 References ..................................................................................................... 20 2 INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS’ PSYCHOLOGICAL AND SOCIOCULTURAL ADAPTATION IN THE UNITED STATES ................ 28 Introduction ................................................................................................... 28 Method .......................................................................................................... 37 Results ........................................................................................................... 44 Discussion ..................................................................................................... 52 Implications ................................................................................................... 54 Limitations and Suggestions for Further Research.......................................... 55 References ..................................................................................................... 57

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LIST OF TABLES

Table Page

1 Bivariate Correlations, Means, Standard Deviations, and Range of Scores ........ 46 2 Summary of Multiple Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting Depression for Females ....................................................................................................... 50 3 Summary of Multiple Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting Sociocultural Adaptation for Females ...................................................................................... 51 4 Summary of Multiple Regression Analysis for Variables Predicting Sociocultural Adaptation for Males ......................................................................................... 51

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CHAPTER 1

ACCULTURATION, INTERCULTURAL CONTACT, AND ADAPTATION AMONG INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS IN THE UNITED STATES Introduction History shows that people brought up in one culture have always traveled to other cultures with the purpose of trading, learning, teaching, or converting others. Although, in ancient times the ability to travel more than a few miles from one’s place of birth was rare and considered a privilege, over the centuries this has changed (Bochner, 2006). Technological developments, changes in legal regulations, and increase in natural and human-made disasters have led to a steady increase in the prevalence and the ability for individuals to move across their national and ethnic boundaries (Bochner). Hence, today, intercultural contact is a worldwide experience. In our modern society, individuals are exposed to various levels of cultural influence either through sojourners or being members of a society that receives sojourners. However, although intercultural contact is prevalent in today’s society, it is nowhere close to being easier to deal with. In any society, culture provides individuals with normative information about its values and offers guides for behavior and thoughts. Sojourners, such as tourists, refugees, immigrants, and international students, at first, experience a lack of such normative information and guidance regarding how to think and behave in that culture. This information vacuum often leads to a significant amount of life stress. It is suggested that

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the level of stress might even increase depending on the dissimilarity between the culture of an individual and the new culture (Yang & Clum, 1994). Bochner (2006) suggests international students make up an important group of sojourners, and culture contact is an essential part of their sojourn. International students also constitute an important cohort in U.S. colleges and universities. The number had lowered over a two year period as a result of the stringent security measures imposed by the U.S. government in reaction to the September 11, 2001 tragedy (Singaravelu, 2007). However, the number stabilized in 2006 at roughly 564,766, representing several nations, and increased to a record high of 623,805 in 2008 (Institute of International Education; IIE, 2008). These students brought into the U.S. economy more than $15.5 billion in living experiences, tuition, and fees (IIE). In spite of the differences in language and cultural backgrounds, international students share the challenges of acculturation (Thomas & Althen, 1989). Therefore, in our understanding of international students, it is important to recognize that “being an international student” represents a common minority identity in the U.S. (Schmitt, Spears, & Branscombe, 2003). They differ in their experiences from those of refugees, immigrants, and ethnic minorities within the U.S., largely as a result of immigration issues, the temporary nature of their stay in the U.S., the need to succeed in the U.S. academic system, and the need rapidly to learn to negotiate the demands of everyday living, communication, and behavior (Johnson & Sandhu, 2007; Misra & Castillo, 2004; Mori, 2000). International students experience unique adjustment issues and a sense of isolation as a result of studying in the U.S. (Singaravelu, 2007). Hence, it is expected that some international students will experience psychological distress (Berry, 1997).

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Literature shows that the interaction of several factors influence the amount of psychological distress they experience and the way they cope with this stress. Researchers suggest that these factors can be grouped into three categories, namely macrosocial influences (e.g., legal constraints, discrimination, degree of tolerance for diversity, academic pressure), factors related to an individual’s background (e.g., worldview, cultural distance from the U.S. culture), and individual factors (e.g., age, gender, English language proficiency, coping skills, personality; Aponte &Johnson, 2000; Berry, 1997). Consequently, these students present a somewhat different set of needs for counseling services. In terms of providing mental health services, professional organizations such as the American Counseling Association (2005) and the American Psychological Association (2002) have made rigorous efforts to encourage the promotion and application of multiculturally competent practices among counselor trainees, counselors (Pope-Davis & Coleman, 1996), and psychologists. However, as Fouad (1991) argues, training programs for counselors and psychologists have not expanded these competencies to the provision of mental health services to this population. This is particularly grievous inasmuch as international students are thought to experience more psychological distress than U.S. students, and, in spite of this, the adjustment of these students are usually overlooked (Mori, 2000). Therefore, in order for the U.S. colleges and universities to better accommodate the significant number of international students and to recruit them in the future, it is critical to identify factors that influence these students’ adjustment. This information

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would provide professionals with guidelines for creating culturally appropriate services and programs for them. Models of Acculturation, Intercultural Contact, and Adaptation Acculturation Literature shows that studies of acculturation initially were directed at changes in the social structure, economic status, and political organization of groups (Berry, 1990; Redfield, Linton, Herskovits, 1936; Sam, 2006). Acculturation has been defined differently by different authors. Early on Redfiel and colleagues (1936) suggested that acculturation is a phenomenon that occurs “when groups of individuals having different cultures come into continuous first-hand contact, with subsequent changes in the original culture patterns of either or both groups” (pp. 149). More recently the International Organization for Migration (IOM; 2004) identified acculturation as “The progressive adoption of elements of a foreign culture (ideas, words, values, norms, behavior, institutions) by persons, groups or classes of a given culture.” Sam (2006) argued that the IOM definition ignores the fact that acculturation might also involve “rejection of” or “resistance to” cultural aspects, and that it cannot be simply defined as the “adoption of foreign cultural elements” (Sam). However, with psychology’s attention to individual differences, focus of acculturation research expanded to include changes at the individual level; changes in identity, values, attitudes, and behavior (Berry, 1990; Sam, 2006). Johnson & Sandhu (2007) defined acculturation as “changes in values, and behaviors that result from sustained contact with a second culture” (pp. 13). Graves (1967) referred to individual-

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level changes as “psychological acculturation”. For the purpose of this paper the use of the term acculturation will refer to psychological acculturation. As previous studies in psychological acculturation reveal, there are two main theoretical approaches for studying acculturation on individual-level. These approaches are uni-dimensional and bi-dimensional models (Castro, 2003). Uni-dimensional models. Uni-dimensional models assume that acculturation is a gradual and inevitable process of assimilation into the host-culture. Cultural adjustment occurs on a continuum; that is, as individuals adopt the cultural aspects of the host- culture, they lose some of the aspects of their home-culture (Gordon, 1964). For instance, it is expected that immigrants’ proficiency in their first language will diminish as they become more fluent in the host-culture’s language (Arends-Toth & van de Vijver, 2006). In other words, this model predicts that individuals’ psychological adaptation in the host- culture will increase as they give up their home-cultures, and fully assimilate to the new culture (Grossman, Wirt, & Davis, 1985). Bi-dimensional models. Bi-dimensional models of acculturation, in contrast to uni-dimensional models, posit that maintaining one’s original culture and adoption of the mainstream culture are two independent dimensions (LaFromboise, Coleman & Gerton, 1993; Sanchez & Fernandez, 1993). For instance, immigrants’ proficiency in speaking their first language is not assumed to influence their ability to speak the language of the host-culture. Berry (1997) has developed the most widely researched bi-dimensional acculturation model. His conceptualization of acculturation includes four acculturation strategies that are based on the dichotomization of the two fundamental dimensions of

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acculturation: maintenance of original cultural identity, and maintenance of relations with other groups. The four acculturation strategies are assimilation, integration, separation, and marginalization. The assimilation strategy refers to a preference for relinquishing one’s home-culture to more fully participate in the new culture. The integration strategy involves to a preference for both maintaining one’s home-culture and participating in the new culture. The separation strategy refers a preference for maintaining one’s home- culture without participating in the new culture, and the marginalization strategy involves non-adherence to neither of the two cultures (Berry). Berry (1997) argues that the particular acculturation strategy that individuals use might significantly influence the success or failure of their adaptation efforts. In support of his argument, research findings demonstrated that the integration strategy was associated with the best psychological adjustment; the marginalization strategy was associated with worst; and the assimilation and separation strategies were associated with an intermediate level of adjustment (Berry, 1997; Dona & Berry, 1994; Phinney, 1991; Ward & Rana-Deuba, 1999). Similar results were found in a study that examined the acculturation and adaptation of immigrant youth from 13 countries (Berry, Phinney, Sam, and Vedder, 2006). Specifically, those youth with an integration profile reported the best psychological and sociocultural adaptation outcomes, while those with a diffuse profile had the worst; in this study diffuse profile referred to the lack of commitment to a direction or purpose in these young people’s lives. Ward & Rana-Deuba (1999) examined the two dimensions and four strategies of acculturation and their relationship to international aid workers’ adjustment in Nepal, and found that strong home-culture identification predicted enhanced psychological well-

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being, whereas strong host- culture identification was associated with better sociocultural adaptation. In addition, acculturation strategies were related to psychological adjustment outcomes. Specifically, international aid workers who utilized an integration strategy reported better psychological adjustment than others, whereas those who utilized an assimilation strategy reported fewer social difficulties. In addition, a study that investigated the acculturation dimensions and psychological adjustment among Vietnamese youths living in a primarily Anglo- American community found that involvement in the U.S. culture predicted positive functioning across personal (distress, depression, self-esteem), interpersonal (family relationships), and achievement (school GPA) domains, and involvement in Vietnamese culture predicted positive family relationships (Nguyen, Messe, & Stollak, 1999). Intercultural Contact The core concept that underlies the process of acculturation is intercultural contact. Researchers suggest that social identification, culture learning, and stress and coping frameworks represent broad and comprehensive conceptual bases for the study of intercultural contact and change (Ward, Bochner, & Furnham, 2001). Specifically, stress and coping framework emphasizes the affective component of intercultural contact and change; social identity framework offers a cognitive perspective; and cultural learning framework offers a behavioral analysis of intercultural contact and change. Social identification framework. Social identification theories mainly focus on internal mental processes such as perceptions, attributions, expectations, attitudes, and values held, rather than external behaviors (Ward, Bochner, & Furnham, 2001), and they are concerned with the way people view themselves, and others. An important element of

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intercultural contact and change based on social identification theories involves changes in cultural/ethnic identity. Broadly cultural/ethnic identity includes the recognition, categorization or identification of oneself as a member of an ethnic/cultural group. Social identification theories suggest that various dynamic and complex factors influence individuals’ definition, redefinition, and construction of their ethnic identity. At an individual level these factors might include age, gender, class and education; at a group level they might include permanence of cross-cultural relocation, motivation for immigration; at a social context level, these factors might include existence of prejudice and discrimination, and cultural diversity in a society (Ward, Buchnam, & Furnham). Social identification theories argue that, identity change consequently might influence individuals’ cross-cultural adaptation through self-esteem, psychological well-being, and acquisition of social skills Culture learning framework. The culture learning approach has its foundations in social and experimental psychology and Argyle’s (1969) work on social skills and interpersonal behaviors (Masgoret & Ward, 2006). Over the decades, culture learning has developed into two trends. The first trend revolves around the framework of communication styles or communication competence (Bochner, 1982). The second trend is more of a broadened perspective on cultural differences in communication styles, norms, and values. It focuses on the definition and prediction of sociocultural adaptation, which refers to the ability to negotiate social demands in a new cultural environment (Masgoret & Ward). The culture learning framework stresses the significance of social skills and social interactions. It is based on the assumption that cross-cultural difficulties occur because

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individuals have difficulties handling daily social interactions. Culture learning approaches intercultural contact and change by first identifying the cross-cultural differences in verbal and nonverbal communication, rules, norms and practices that contribute to misunderstandings between cultures (Masgoret & Ward, 2006). It then focuses on exploring ways to minimize confusing and frustrating interactions due to intercultural misunderstandings. The culture learning approach suggests that intercultural effectiveness is attained as any other desirable skill or behavioral goal (Masgoret & Ward), in that, adaptation can be achieved through learning the culture-specific skills and behaviors that are required to negotiate a new cultural environment (Bochner, 1972). Stress and coping framework. The stress and coping framework of intercultural contact and change begins with some type of causal agent placing a load or demand on the organism (Aldwin, 1994; Lazarus, 1990). In the case of acculturation, these demands refer to experiences of having to deal with two cultures in contact, and having to participate in these two cultures at different levels (Berry, 2006). The stress and coping model suggests that under these circumstances, individuals consider the meaning of their experiences; they evaluate and appraise them as either a source of difficulty or as a source of opportunity. Therefore, the outcome of these appraisals might vary among individuals. Acculturation experiences may be viewed either as providing opportunities and interesting experiences or as limiting opportunities and diminishing experiences that provide meaning to life. In other words, when individuals appraise acculturation experiences as not being problematic, adaptive changes take place in the acculturating individuals with minimal difficulty, and these adaptive changes may be described as adjustment (Ward, 1996; Ward & Kennedy, 1993).

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However, if the individual experiences greater levels of conflict, and appraises these experiences as problematic, then acculturative stress results. The stress and coping model suggests that acculturative stress is simply a stress reaction that occurs when individuals face problems rooted in the experience of acculturation and recognize that these conflicts cannot be handled simply by adjusting or assimilating to the new culture (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). In an attempt to cope with these problematic experiences, individuals utilize various types of coping strategies. Within the general stress and coping approach, Lazarus & Folkman (1984) identified two main ways of coping: (1) problem-focused coping that refers to the attempt to change or solve the problem; (2) emotion-focused coping that refers to the attempt to regulate the emotions associated with the problem. In addition to these coping strategies, Endler and Parker (1990) identified a third strategy, avoidance-oriented coping, which encompasses behavioral disengagement, denial, venting of emotions, the inability to see the potentially positive aspects of change, and mental disengagement. Another key distinction regarding coping strategies was made by Diaz-Guerrero (1979). He identified two ways of coping: active and passive coping. Similar to problem- focused coping, active coping seeks to alter the situation that is appraised as problematic. It is suggested that these types of coping might have limited success if the problematic situation appraised by the acculturating individual lies within the host-culture, and when the host-culture is not willing to accommodate the needs of these individuals. Diaz- Guerrero defined passive coping as utilizing patience and self-modification, which is similar to the assimilation acculturation strategy. Berry (2006) argued that these strategies

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can be effective if the host-culture has positive attitudes towards, and is willing to accept, acculturating individuals; otherwise, the passive coping strategies might lead to exclusion or domination. Literature shows that there are significant relationships between ways of coping, acculturative strategies, and psychosocial adjustment. For instance, Schmitz (1992) found among immigrants in Germany that integration is positively correlated with task oriented coping, segregation is positively correlated with emotion and avoidance oriented coping, and assimilation is positively correlated with both task and emotion oriented coping. Ward & Kennedy (2001) examined the relationship between coping styles and psychological adjustment among British expatriates living in Singapore. Authors found that three coping styles were associated with psychological adjustment (i.e., fewer depression symptoms). The avoidant coping style was negatively correlated with psychological adjustment. Use of humor in coping with stress, and utilizing the coping styles of planning, active coping, and suppression of competing activities, predicted more positive psychological adjustment. Another study that examined the relationship between coping style, academic satisfaction, and psychological adjustment among Hong Kong Chinese undergraduates studying at a Canadian university showed that students who indulged in self-blame, wishful thinking, and withdrawal reported lower levels of academic satisfaction and that those who employed a detached coping style experienced greater psychological distress (Chataway and Berry, 1989). Cross (1995) studied stress and coping among international students in the U.S., and found that direct coping strategies such as active coping and planning in dealing with academic demands were associated with lower levels of perceived stress. Also, a study

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that focused on the coping styles of African, Asian, and Latin international students in the U.S. (Moore & Constantine, 2005), found that the primary types of coping styles used were social support and forbearance. It is suggested that individuals from interdependent and collectivistic cultures such as African, Asian, and Latin American international college students, are more likely to value interpersonal connections, possess high interdependent self-conceptions, and therefore place greater importance on relational coping strategies when faced with problematic situations (Cross, 1995; Mori, 2000). In contrast, many individuals from independent cultures such as the U.S., Canada, Germany, and Australia, are more likely to value uniqueness and regard themselves as separate individuals (Constantine, Gainor, Ahluwalia, & Berkel, 2003). Therefore, it is suggested that these individuals might be more likely to utilize more direct coping strategies that are commonly used in Western cultures such as assertive self-disclosure, expression one’s own thoughts, and confronting others (Lucas, 2002; Ptacek, Pierce, Eberhardt, & Dodge, 1999). Adaptation Adaptation refers to the process of adjustment to the existing conditions in the environment (Castro, 2003). In this paper the two terms, adaptation and adjustment will be used interchangeably. Within the framework of acculturation research, adaptation is commonly referred to as the level of “fit” between the acculturating individual and the mainstream cultural environment (Berry & Sam, 1997), and it is an ongoing process. Therefore, adaptation can be understood as the continuing psychological outcomes of acculturation processes.

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Adaptation refers to the development of cultural and social skills, sensibility to the beliefs, values, and norms of the new culture and the acquisition of adequate communication skills for interacting effectively with the host-culture (Castro, 2003). It is suggested that when individuals are culturally and socially competent, they can maintain active social relations and perform successfully within the new society (LaFromboise, Coleman, & Gerton, 1993). Consequently, the development of effective cultural and social skills is reflected in a positive personal and ethnic identity, personal satisfaction, and good mental health (Castro). Adaptation of international students is influenced by many challenges they face such as decline in their social and economic status, separation from their family and friends, lack of English proficiency, and isolation from their cultural backgrounds (Pedersen, 1991; Sandhu, 1995; Sandhu & Asrabadi, 1998). In the 1960s and 70s, research conceptualizing international students’ adaptation in the U.S. mostly focused on academic performance (Halamandaris & Power, 1999). During this period, the goal of research was to better understand the factors contributing to international students’ academic success, with the expectation that academic success was related to positive adaptation outcomes. In later years, research suggested that a more comprehensive definition of adaptation was necessary. Hence, definition of adaptation in current literature includes psychosocial aspects of adaptation, such as satisfaction with social and academic life, lack of loneliness, psychological well-being, and depression (Halamandaris & Power). Tseng (2002) differentiated four major categories in explaining the adaptation of international students in the U.S.: general living, academic, socio-cultural, and personal-

Full document contains 75 pages
Abstract: International students constitute an important cohort in the United States (U.S.) colleges and universities. In order for the U.S. colleges and universities to better accommodate the significant number of international students and to recruit them in the future, it is critical to identify factors that influence these students' acculturation and adjustment processes and provide professionals with guidelines for creating culturally appropriate services and programs for them. Therefore the current study examined international students' adaptation to the U.S. in relation to their acculturation levels, coping processes, and intent to stay in the U.S. after their graduation. Center for Epidemiologic Studies - Depression scale was used as a measure of psychological adaptation. In addition, Sociocultural Adaptation Scale, Acculturation Index, and Ways of Coping Questionnaire, were used to measure sociocultural adaptation, acculturation dimensions, and coping processes, respectively. A total of 204 F1 visa holding international students participated in the current study. This project was a cross-sectional, exploratory study that measured depression and sociocultural adaptation among international students. Cronbach's alpha for each instrument was calculated to determine the internal reliability for the current sample. Pearson product moment correlational analyses were performed to examine the relations between interval variables. Analysis of variance was utilized to examine gender differences in coping processes. Multiple regression analyses were conducted in order to explore the predictors of international students' psychological and sociocultural adaptations. Results showed that in females identification with the host culture was associated with lower levels of depression, and Escape-Avoidance was associated with higher levels of depression. Identification with the host culture and Escape-Avoidance were predictors of sociocultural adaptation for both genders. Specifically, students who identified more strongly with the American culture were less likely to experience difficulty functioning in the U.S. In addition, these students were more likely to report higher levels of English proficiency, higher likelihood of staying in the U.S. after graduation, and lower levels of depression. The study identified important gender differences with regards to acculturation dimensions and coping processes. Implications and suggestions for future research were discussed.