Academic journal article Journal of International Students

A Phenomenological Study on International Doctoral Students' Acculturation Experiences at a U.S. University

Academic journal article Journal of International Students

A Phenomenological Study on International Doctoral Students' Acculturation Experiences at a U.S. University

Article excerpt

The increasing presence of international graduate students at American universities is making these higher education institutions more culturally diverse. In the academic year 2012-13, about 311, 204 international graduate students enrolled at U.S. universities, an increase of 3.4% from the previous year of 2011-12 (Institute of International Education, 2013). These students were from Asia (69.4 %), Europe (9.4%), Middle East and North Africa (7.9%), Latin America and the Caribbean (6.4%), North America (3.5%), and Sub-Saharan Africa and Oceania (3.4%). About 117,779 international graduate students were enrolled in doctoral programs, which represented a 13% increase since the academic year 2004-05(Institute of International Education, 2013). This diverse student group brings global perspectives and knowledge background, particularly in science fields to United States' (U.S.) doctoral programs (Knox et al., 2013; Sato & Hodge, 2009). In addition, they contribute to America's economic strength through scholarly research, patenting, and creation of knowledge-based products and services (Chellaraj & Maskus, 2008; National Science Board, 2014).

Although international students enrich American doctoral programs, previous studies show that they face certain acculturation challenges that affect their social wellbeing and academic success. Acculturation challenges refer to the cultural and psychological adjustments that an individual or cultural group endures within a new environment (Berry, Phinney, Sam, & Vedder 2006). International students at all degree levels encounter unfamiliar teaching practices, communication barriers, and identity issues (Jackson, Ray, & Bybell, 2013; Kim, 2012; Kuo, 2011; Sherry, Thomas, & Chui, 2010; Young, 2011; Sue & Rawlings, 2013; Telbis, Helgeson, & Kingsbury, 2014). Furthermore, studies on doctoral students highlight: cultural insensitivity by academic advisors and research supervisors (Sato &Hodge, 2009); indifferent mentoring relationships, and inadequate career guidance (Knox et al., 2013).

Given the contributions that international doctoral students make to America's higher education institutions (scholarly research) and economy (knowledge-based products and services), this paper provides further understanding of doctoral students' experiences at a particular U.S. university.

Literature Review

Experiences of Undergraduate and Master's Students

Undergraduate and master's degree students at U.S. colleges report various cultural and social issues. These include differences with the norms and social practices of American society (Jackson, Ray, & Bybell, 2013; McLachlan & Justice, 2009; Sherry, Thomas & Chui, 2010); identity complications due to race and ethnicity (Kim, 2012); and disruptions of family relationships due to academic demands and distance from home (Poyrazli & Kavanaugh, 2006; Zhang, Smith, Swisher, Fu, & Forgarty, 2011). These issues are common to both domestic and international students who travel away from home to different college locations. However, there are certain significant challenges that directly affect the international student population, particularly, the lack of English language proficiency and adjustments to differences in teaching approaches (Kim, 2011; Kuo, 2011; Sherry, Thomas, & Chui, 2010; Telbis, Helgeson, & Kingsbury, 2014). Within the American academic culture, students contribute to each other's learning experiences through group discussions and projects. This level of interaction among students is difficult during the early stages of the international students' tenure as they are of diverse educational backgrounds with different teaching methods and student values (Kim, 2011; Young, 2011). Furthermore, those who speak English as a second language have difficulties interrelating with peers and instructors, and feel challenged by the expectations of academic writing and oral presentations (Kim, 2012; Sue & Rawlings, 2013). …

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