The Challenge of Fostering Cross-Cultural Interactions: A Case Study of International Graduate Students' Perceptions of Diversity Initiatives

Article excerpt

During the post-World War II era, most U.S. colleges and universities began to promote diversity and internationalization ideals. However, the extent to which U.S. higher education institutions have been successful in achieving diversity, especially in relation to stimulating diverse social interactions between the international and American student body, is an area of study that requires further investigation. The purpose of this study was to examine international graduate students' perceptions of diversity efforts at a specific U.S. higher education institution, and how these perceptions influenced their social interaction choices and practices while pursuing their degrees at the institution. A qualitative methodology was conducted with 60 participants from 26 different countries. Based upon the data that was analyzed, international graduate students identified five major areas at the University that require improvement if diverse social interactions are to take place. Policy recommendations for improvements are also presented which may be useful to higher education faculty, administrators and policy-makers interested in improving international relations and campus diversity initiatives.

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After World War II, the achievement of global goodwill, friendship and tolerance through cross-cultural education became the principal goal of having international students study in the United States. Since then, the international student population has grown considerably at U.S. higher education institutions. In fact, the United States hosts the largest number of international students globally (Marcus & Hartigan, 2000). Today, there are over half a million international students attending U.S. colleges and universities. For over half a century, international undergraduates have exceeded the international graduate student population. However, beginning in 2001, the number of international graduate students surpassed international undergraduate enrollments (Bhandari & Chow, 2009). This growth in international graduate students, therefore, calls for further research that examines this particular group of international students' social experiences while attending U.S. higher education institutions.

Additionally, current global economic trends and increasing interconnectedness across regions around the world have led many universities to recognize that having international students on their campuses is essential in fostering cross-cultural exchanges. Several scholars have commented that international students contribute greatly in terms of making U.S. college campuses more ethnically and culturally diverse (Furnham & Alibhai, 1985; Zhao, Kuh, & Carini, 2005). U.S. colleges and universities have begun to initiate cross-cultural themes as part of campus diversity initiatives by hosting and sponsoring a variety of ethnic events at student unions. Most universities also have an international student office and nationality clubs that welcome and assist international students in becoming acclimated to an American university's academic structure and procedures.

The presence of international students at U.S. higher education institutions is clearly perceived as enhancing the diversity of college campuses across the country. Over the years, these students have become embedded as part of the structural diversity of universities. Scholars that write about international students generally focus on themes such as student adjustment, satisfaction, achievement, attitude, behavior and psychological stress while attending American universities (Klineberg & Hull, 1979). Prior research documents international students' perceptions of Americans and their overall educational experiences. However, few studies provide an in-depth understanding of how international students view American universities' diversity efforts, and how diversity initiatives affect their social interaction practices while studying at a U. …

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