Understanding Stressors of International Students in Higher Education: What College Counselors and Personnel Need to Know

By Olivas, Monique; Li, Chi-Sing | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2006 | Go to article overview

Understanding Stressors of International Students in Higher Education: What College Counselors and Personnel Need to Know


Olivas, Monique, Li, Chi-Sing, Journal of Instructional Psychology


This paper reviews literature related to the international student population found in universities and colleges in the United States (U.S.). More specifically, adjustment issues, common stressors, and coping strategies of international students are explored. Multicultural counseling issues and the help-seeking behavior of international students are addressed. Methods in which college counselors and personnel can assist international students in achieving a positive experience are also discussed. Finally, suggestions for further research are made.

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Multicultural Challenge of College Counselors

College counselors often need to modify traditional counseling theories and techniques to meet the particular needs of individual clients. Traditionally, psychology and counseling theories have included cultural specific assumptions that contain universal definitions of what constitutes normal behavior. They typically favor individualism over the ideals of collectivism (Sadeghi, Fischer, & House, 2003). Counseling strictly from these theoretical frameworks may not be suitable for those clients who do not hold the beliefs and values espoused by these theories. The notion of universality of counseling theories and techniques has been questioned by many. There may be a need to modify these traditional approaches to include culturally inclusive or specific considerations.

While a need for modification of traditional counseling approaches and a mastery of multicultural competencies may exist, mastering the basic premises of traditional counseling competencies may be needed in order to successfully utilize multicultural competencies (Fuertes & Bartolomeo, 2001). With the diversification of the United States (U.S.), college counselors will inevitably be faced with counseling culturally diverse clients. In order to effectively meet the needs of these clients, college counselors need to step out of the traditional role of a counselor.

Becoming competent in multicultural issues, values, and beliefs of diverse clients may aid college counselors when working with a diverse population. Vinson and Neimeyer (2000) suggested an increase in racial identity development may consequently lead to an increase in multicultural counseling competency. Sue and Sue (2003) discussed the notion of what it means to be a culturally competent counselor. These components included possessing awareness of one's own cultural biases, pursuing knowledge about a client's culture, and actively seeking out skills and techniques that are culturally sensitive. Competency, according to Pedersen (1987), can also include the avoidance of reductionism in the counseling process. In other words, attempts should be made not to substitute cultural stereotypes for the phemenological perspective of each client. The pursuit of cultural competency is an active and indefinite one. College counselors who do not challenge, explore, or become aware of their own culturally learned assumptions may not be practicing within the principles of suitable counseling (Pedersen, 1990).

The Presence of International Students in Higher Education

It is reported that in the 2003-2004 school year international students made up 4.3% of U.S. higher education enrollment. That is a total of 572,509 international students enrolled in colleges or universities across the United States. This was a slight decline from the following year where the international student population accounted for 4.6% of higher education enrollment, totaling 586,323 international students (Open Doors, 2004). Nonetheless, the presence of international students in U.S. institutions is prevalent. These students bring both cultural diversity and economic advantages to the U.S. Open Doors reported that many colleges and universities are called to meet the needs of and provide for a successful and beneficial experience for these students.

International Students Adapting to a New Culture

Adjustment Issues

When coming to the U. …

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