Academic journal article Journal of International Students

The Interplay of International Students' Acculturative Stress, Social Support, and Acculturation Modes

Academic journal article Journal of International Students

The Interplay of International Students' Acculturative Stress, Social Support, and Acculturation Modes

Article excerpt


This study examined the relationship between acculturation modes (assimilation, integration, separation and marginalization), social support, and acculturative stress in undergraduate and graduate international students (N=104) at a medium-sized public university in the Midwestern United States. The study found that international students with broad-based social support and an Integration approach to acculturation experienced lower levels of acculturative stress. Implications for more effective counseling with international students are addressed.

Keywords: international students, acculturation, acculturative stress, social support

University-level study is fraught with stress and difficulties (Sharkin, 2006). For many undergraduate students, going away to college is the first of many important changes: life away from the security of home and family, independence, and growing responsibility. Graduate study is, in turn, another change requiring yet better time management skills with additional academic requirements and pressure. These common stresses and challenges associated with university study are substantially increased for the 820,000 international students currently in the United States (IIE, 2013). In addition to having to deal with all of the challenges and changes their U.S. classmates do, international students are also confronted with a wide variety of potential new challenges: language barriers, lack of familiarity with the academic system, immersion in a new culture, and the loss of closeness to family and friends (Misra, Crist, & Bur ant, 2003; Searle & Ward, 1990; Wilton & Constantine, 2003).

International students in the U.S. have long been the subject of studies. Much of the research done in recent years has investigated international student distress associated with culture shock (e.g., Fumham, 2004; Ward, Bochner, & Fumham, 2001), psychological difficulties associated with their arrival in the US (e.g., Clark Oropeza, Fitzgibbon, & Baron, 1991; Sandhu, 1994), and help seeking behaviors (e.g., Hayes & Lin, 1994; Komiya & Eelss, 2001). Acculturative stress is another prominent factor for international students and has also been of interest to a number of researchers (Yeh & Inose, 2003; Poyzrali, Kavanaugh, Baker, & Al-Timimi, 2004; Constantine, Okazaki, & Utsey, 2004; Olaniran, 1993). Acculturative stress has been defined as "one kind of stress, in which the stressors are identified as having their source in the process of acculturation; [with] a particular set of stress behaviors that occur during acculturation, such as lowered mental health status (especially confusion, anxiety, depression), feelings of marginality and alienation, heightened psychosomatic symptoms, and identity confusion" (Berry, 1995, p. 479). While these symptoms of distress are similar to other stress responses, acculturative stress has been identified as resulting from and arising out of the act of moving to and living in a new culture, including somatic manifestations, depression, anxiety and decreased self-esteem. In addition to the difficulties international students experience with cultural change, several researchers have explored how academic demands and perfectionism are also associated with elevated levels of acculturative stress (Nilsson, Butler, Shouse, & Joshi, 2008; Rice, Choi, Zhang, Morero, & Anderson, 2012).

Closely associated with the formulation of acculturative stress is the larger matter of how individuals adapt to a new culture, a process referred to in the literature as acculturation, with Berry's (1980) bidirectional model the most widely referred to and used (Berry, 1995). The acculturation mode is identified as an individual's level of desired contact with the host culture as well as the home culture. The four resulting categories are related to the attitude or perspective acculturating individuals take with regards to the host culture and people (host nationals) as well as toward the individual's home culture and people (co-nationals). …

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