Academic journal article College Student Journal

International Students' Strategies for Well-Being

Academic journal article College Student Journal

International Students' Strategies for Well-Being

Article excerpt

How and why some international students experience their study abroad lives in positive ways is largely ignored in existing research. In this study, two international students were interviewed for their perception of the sources of well-being during their study abroad experience. A grounded theory analysis showed that they related strategies for well-being most strongly to tactics for gaining general well-being and coping skills for adjusting to study abroad life from the perspective of their study abroad goals. This study built a model of how international students exercise possible ways to maintain well-being through their study abroad experience. Furthermore, the process of the qualitative approach itself provided for a better understanding of international students and an implication for future research.


The international student population has increased dramatically over the past fifty years. Today, the United States has the highest number of international students in the world. In the 2000-01 academic year, there were 547,867 international students studying in the United States (American Council on Education, 2000; Institute of International Education, 2001).

Educators in higher education display a great interest in developing a better understanding of how international students differ from their American counterparts and in determining ways to assist these students in adjusting to the host culture. Researchers have devoted a great deal of effort to the study of adjustment problems and issues of international students (Cheng, 1999; Han, 1996; Kaczmarek, Matlock, Merta, Ames, & Ross, 1994; Lin & Yi, 1997; Ying & Liese, 1994). Specifically, the key adjustment problems faced by international students include the following four major categories: (1) general living adjustment, such as adjusting to American food, living/housing environment and transportation, adaptation to a new climate (weather), dealing with financial problems and health care concerns; (2) academic adjustment, such as lack of proficiency in the English language, lack of understanding of the American educational system, and lack of effective learning skills for gaining academic success; (3) socio-cultural adjustment, for example, experiencing culture shock, cultural fatigue, or racial discrimination, having difficulties in adjusting to new social/cultural customs, norms and regulations, differences in intercultural contacts/social activities, and encountering conflicts between American host standards (or values, world views, life styles) and those of home country; and (4) personal psychological adjustment, such as experiencing homesickness, loneliness, depression, frustration, or feeling alienation, isolation, the loss of status or identity, and feelings of worthlessness.

The research, previously noted, has focused on problems that impact international student adjustment. What is largely ignored in these studies is an explanation of how and why some international students experience their study abroad life in positive ways. Although numerous theories of well-being have been conducted with domestic students, these studies seldom select international students as research participants. From the perspective of international students, it leaves gaps at two levels: what constitutes and determines their well-being and how they understand and manage their well-being. The goal of this present study was to examine the determinants of international students' well-being, and discern their strategies for attaining well-being.

A qualitative design of grounded theory was used as a framework to explore international students' definition of well-being and then to discern their strategies for enhancing their well-being while studying abroad. Grounded theory, first discussed by Glaser and Strauss (1967), utilizes techniques to analyze and interpret actions and experience of the respondent, develop and refine analytic interpretations of empirical data, and, finally, construct a representative theoretical model of respondent's experience. …

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