Acculturation Experiences of Taiwanese Students during Exchanges in the United States

By Lee, Annie; Bei, Lienti et al. | Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Acculturation Experiences of Taiwanese Students during Exchanges in the United States


Lee, Annie, Bei, Lienti, DeVaney, Sharon A., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences


This phenomenological study examined the acculturation experience of Taiwanese students who attended universities in the United States as exchange students. Hofstede's four dimensions of culture provided a framework for developing questions. Eight exchange students were interviewed. Taiwanese students realized there was a lower power distance between American professors and students and that American students were more relaxed in uncertain situations, competed on class projects and activities, and expected individualistic behavior. Most exchange students were anxious in the beginning but all said they adjusted to the Socratic learning method and performed well.

University administrators in Taiwan strongly encourage students to study abroad and these efforts have been successful. The number of Taiwanese university students studying in the eight major nations that include the United States, the United Kingdom, Japan, and Canada increased by 25% (from 24,599 to 30,728) between 2003 and 2004 (Chang, 2006). However, experts suggest that many international exchange students encounter difficulty in learning at their host universities (Berry & Sam, 1997; Biggs, 1996; Prue, 2004). The reason for the difficulty is that education in the U. S. is characterized as Socratic with an emphasis on evaluating questions and solving problems (Greenholz, 2003; Pratt, 1992). In contrast, education in Chinese society is based on Confucian traditions that seek knowledge via memorization, rote learning, and repetition (Hammond & Gao, 2002). Table 1 shows important differences between Socratic and Confucian learning (Tweed & Lehman, 2002).

Because little research has been conducted on the acculturation experiences of international exchange students in the U. S., a phenomenological study was developed. The findings are expected to benefit students, educators, and administrators. As both universities and the population of the U. S. become more global, an increased understanding of other cultures is of great importance.

Three central questions were developed for the study:

* How did classes differ between the students' home and host universities?

* What were some of the most important cultural differences between the students' home and host countries?

* How did the students adjust to the exchange and how did they feel about their adjustment?

Additional questions were developed to focus on specific issues relating to cultural dimensions.

Cultural Dimensions

Hofstede's model of cultural dimensions (1980, 1986, 1990, 1994, 2001) is the most well known framework for classifying culture. It was developed through a survey of work-related values of IBM employees in the 1970s. As Dahl (2004) explained, the framework for classifying culture includes four dimensions: power distance, uncertainty avoidance, individualism-collectivism, and masculinity-femininity. Each dimension is described below.

Power Distance

Mulder (1977) developed the theory of power distance to evaluate the unequal relationship between less powerful and more powerful individuals in the same social system. In the survey of IBM employees, power distance was utilized to examine the inequality between a boss and a subordinate (Hofstede, 2001). In high power distance societies, managers are expected to direct subordinates according to their own experience and managers in low power distance societies are expected to consult with subordinates to make decisions. The dimension of power distance can be extended to the teacher-student relationship (Hofstede, 2001). Because most countries in Asia have higher power distance than is the case in the U. S., two questions related to power distance were developed.

* How did the relationship between professors and students influence the learning of exchange students?

* What teaching methods were used in the U. S.?

Uncertainty Avoidance

Uncertainty avoidance is explained as the extent to which the members of a culture feel threatened by uncertain or unknown situations (Hofstede, 1994). …

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