Following an ecological framework, the primary purpose of this study was to examine the adjustment needs of international students within their academic and social communities. Focus group interviews revealed that students are more in need during their initial transition after arrival to the U.S. and that they experience a number of barriers in their attempts to adjust. Some of these barriers were related to academic life, health insurance, living on or off campus, social interactions, transportation, and discrimination. The implications of these findings are discussed. Recommendations are made for how higher education institutions can help facilitate these students' integration into their communities.
International students have become the focus of media and a research interest for many social scientists following the changes in American society after the September 11 attacks. Shortly after the attacks, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) became part of the Department of Homeland Security and changed the regulations for international students. Some of these regulations include tougher visa rules to get into the country and a close follow-up of the student through a computerized system (Chapman, 2003). Higher education institutions feared that they would financially suffer from these new regulations and that students would choose to study in other English speaking countries such as Canada, England, and Australia. Despite these concerns, the U.S. continues to host the highest number of international students in the world. A total of 586,323 international students were enrolled in different U.S. colleges during the 2002-2003 academic year, an increase from the academic years since before September 11, 2001. International student enrollment continues to increase at a steady pace and currently 4.6% of all college students in the U.S. are international students (Institute of International Education, 2004).
Prior research has demonstrated that these students face many challenges in adjusting to their new environment and that this may have an impact on students' academic success and psychological well-being, and educational institutions' effectiveness in retaining these students (Barratt & Huba, 1994; Charles & Stewart, 1991; Pedersen, 1991). In the wake of 9/11, it may well be that the challenges these students confront have intensified because of the increased scrutiny to which they are subjected by the state and because of the suspicion with which foreigners are perceived in the broader community. Since societies and communities are dynamic, it continues to be important to examine the adjustment issues that international students encounter in different social and institutional contexts. This study examines the needs of international students in a semi-urban university situated in a relatively racially and culturally homogeneous community. It looks at how the students interact with and participate in their academic and social communities and how well these communities provide the necessary support to promote a healthy adjustment for these students. It also suggests ways for higher education institutions to better serve international students in their efforts to integrate into their new community.
The study utilizes an ecological framework (Bronfenbrenner, 1979, 1995; Kelly, 1990; Kelly et al., 2000) in interpreting and analyzing the data. It argues that institutions of higher education need to constantly evaluate the entire context into which they recruit and educate international students. It is insufficient to focus on the concerns they have as merely an expression of individual problems. Rather, attention must be given to the different parts of the social system that foster or inhibit these students' adjustment.
In the sections that follow, we review the research literature on the adjustment experiences of international students. We then discuss the framework for analysis and the parameters of the present study. …