Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Uneven Experiences: The Impact of Student-Faculty Interactions on International Students' Sense of Belonging

Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Uneven Experiences: The Impact of Student-Faculty Interactions on International Students' Sense of Belonging

Article excerpt


This study examines student-faculty interactions in which U.S. professors signal social inclusion or exclusion, facilitating-or inhibiting-international students' academic goal pursuits. It compares narratives of 40 international students from four purposefully sampled subgroups - academic preparedness (low, high) and financial resources (low, high). Overall, international students' interactions with professors were marked by joy, trust, anticipation, and surprise. Nonetheless, the narratives exhibit two significant sources of variation: narratives from the low financial resources, high academic preparedness subgroup reflected widely-varied experiences interacting with professors, and narratives from the low financial, low academic preparedness subgroup lacked any descriptions of positive student-faculty interactions.

Keywords: international students; belonging; professors; faculty-student interactions; student success

Academic goals are among the most prominent motivational factors shaping international students' desire to study abroad (Choudaha & Chang, 2012; Institute of International Education [IIE], 2011). Professors are likely among the most influential persons shaping an international student's academic trajectory, and student-faculty relationships have been found to significantly affect students' learning and motivation (Cole, 2010; O'Meara, Knudsen, & Jones, 2013). The effects of academic goals on interpersonal relationship formation and development - like all goal pursuits - is well-established in empirical research (Reis & Sprecher, 2009). The presence of friends, colleagues, romantic partners, and family members elicit strong and influential motivations - shaping a person's goal achievement, as well as which goals the person pursues (Fitzsimons & Shah, 2008; Reis & Sprecher, 2009).

Research on international students' academic and social adjustment has primarily focused on international students' relationships with co-national, international, and host country peers (Kashima & Loh, 2006); less is known about the motivational dynamics by which professors facilitate-or inhibit-international students' academic goal pursuits. Two recent major reviews of research on international students' psychosocial adjustment to life in the U.S. included no studies examining student-faculty relational processes (Smith & Khawaja, 2011; Zhang & Goodson, 2011). In this study, we examine the motivational dynamics of interactions between professors and international students that facilitate an international student's academic goal pursuits. We take an in-depth, qualitative approach to illuminate the process by which international students make meaning of personal dispositions, attitudes, and behaviors of professors. Specifically, we explore interactions that international students perceive as having an educational and developmental impact on their sense of belonging.

Our study aims to extend a growing body of research that uses resilience-based models of acculturation to explore the lives of international students for whom academic success and positive cross-cultural interaction have been documented (Glass & Westmont-Campbell, 2014; Moores & Popadiuk, 2011; Pan, Wong, & Chan, 2007, Pan, Wong, Chan, & Joubert, 2008). Resilience-based models place particular emphasis on identifying factors that support international students' resilience (Pan, 2011), including a student's sense of belonging (Glass & Westmont-Campbell, 2014). Resilience is invariably affected by the social contexts (e.g., interactions with professors) and ecological contexts (e.g., classroom environments), which create opportunities for interpersonal relationship formation. Thus, resilience is not only an individual process, but also a dyadic process, context-bound, and mediated by student identities.

Theoretical Framework

In this study, we use sense of belonging (Baumeister & Leary, 1995), as a theoretical framework to understand the motivational dynamics of interpersonal relationships between professors and international students. …

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