The authors believe that international students, increasingly visible on U.S. campuses, tend to confront unique career development challenges and often experience heightened vocational difficulty. In this article, the authors present 3 themes regarding international students' career needs derived from the current literature: career placement needs, individual factors mediating international student career needs and barriers, and help-seeking behaviors. Implications for college counseling professionals and suggested future research directions are discussed.
Over the past 3 decades, U.S. higher educational institutions have experienced a notable growth in enrollment numbers of international students. In fact, U.S. colleges and universities have experienced a 3% increase in international student enrollment for the 2006-2007 academic year I Institute of International Education [IIE], 2007). Although this growth in international student enrollment appears to reflect international learners' motivation to enhance their vocational opportunities and achieve personal career aspirations that are more readily available in the United States (F. T. L. Leong & Chou, 2002; Pedersen, 1991; Wadsworth, Hecht, & Jung, 2008), on-campus student counseling and other services addressing student career needs remain primarily designed for effectiveness with domestic learners (Davis, 1999; Mari, 2000). As a result, college counseling professionals face several challenges in responding effectively to the vocational needs of international students (Shen & Herr, 2004). In response, the authors provide an overview of international student characteristics and dynamics associated with their pursuit of a U.S. degree, identify limitations of the current investigative literature and suggests future research directions, and present practical implications for college counselors when working with international students.
International Student Profile
The number of international students enrolled in U.S. colleges and universities totaled 582,984 in 2007 (IIE, 2007). These students are located in more than 2,500 U.S. institutions of higher education and represent more than 186 nationalities (Brinson & Kottler, 1995). India is the leading country sending students, accounting for 14% of all international students enrolled in U.S. higher education, followed by China, South Korea, and Japan (IIE, 2007). The top fields of study for international students in the United States include business and management--18% of total, engineering--15%, physical and life sciences--9%, social sciences 8%, and mathematics and computer sciences--8% (IIE, 2007). Most seek a bachelor's degree, representing 2.7% of all undergraduate enrollments (Koh, 2001) and 11% of all graduate enrollments (Davis, 1999). The U.S. Department of Education (Knapp et al., 2005) estimates that international students account for approximately 3% of all conferred bachelor's degrees, 12% of master's degrees, and 25% of doctoral degrees. The majority of foreign scholars are self-financed; approximately 61.5% pay for their education with personal and family funds (IIE, 2007),
Despite their desire to study in the United States, the pursuit of a U.S. degree and improved vocational opportunities can present many challenges for international students. Many find their familiar ways of functioning are disrupted when exposed to U.S. norms and behaviors that contrast with their culture. Earlier on, F. T. Leong and Sedlacek (1986) reported that the transition to U.S. culture may create additional stressors for international students, causing them to experience more adjustment problems than domestic students experience. More specifically, across 3 decades, previous authors (Pedersen, 1991; Sodowsky & Lai, 1997; Yi, Lin, & Kishimoto, 2003) have reported that the primary adjustment concerns of this population include language barriers, academic difficulties, discrimination, inadequate financial resources, social adjustment difficulties, homesickness, and vocational worries. The stress associated with adjusting to U.S. culture manifests in a myriad of symptoms. High stress levels can increase susceptibility to physical illnesses (Winkelman, 1994) and induce chronic somatic complaints that have no organic basis (Khoo, Abu-rasain, & Hornby, 1994; Mori, 2000). Consequently, it is not unusual for international students to experience loss of appetite and sleep, low stamina, headaches, muscle tension, gastrointestinal problems, and ulcers (Winkelman, 1994). Exposure to an unfamiliar environment can also produce psychological symptoms, such as anxiety, cognitive impairment, depression, disorientation, inferiority, irritability, mood swings, grief, and social withdrawal (Sandhu, 1994; Sandhu & Asrabadi, 1994).
The majority of international students eventually return to their countries of origin. As with adjusting to a host country, reentering the home country is difficult for returning students. Returnees often expect to quickly locate a well-paying job, but gaining employment in a workforce that is different from the host country is difficult (Butcher, 2002). Most students believe family ties and friendships will continue as they had prior to the sojourn experience; however, many find that they must renegotiate these relationships. International students have further expressed concerns regarding the loss of the host culture; transfer of educational, technical, and language expertise; career mobility; conditions in their homeland; and fitting back into existing family, educational, or employment roles (Brabant, Palmer, & Gramling, 1990; Pedersen, 1991). These reentry issues take a psychological toll on returning international students. They often go through a grieving process, struggling to cope with the loss of host country experiences and friends, as well as face the disappointing realities of relationships and employment in their home country (Butcher, 2002). Therefore, it is common for the return home to elicit feelings of anger, guilt, sadness, depression, loneliness, homesickness, and numbness.
Vocational Themes for International Students
As the extant literature suggests, international students sometimes confront significant academic, social, and adjustment difficulties. In one early landmark study, F. T. Leong and Sedlacek (1989) found that international students were likely to encounter considerable career challenges and experience greater vocational difficulty than their domestic peers experience. In another very early study, Lee, Abd-Ella, and Burks (1981) also reported that international students often had career needs that significantly differed from their American counterparts and expressed a greater need for career counseling than domestic learners. Given the vocational difficulties described by these early studies, a critical analysis of the vocational situation of international students as described in the recent and current literature--seemed warranted. In turn, to describe the contemporary vocational condition of international students, we performed a content …