Academic journal article Journal of International Students

International Students' Cultural and Social Experiences in a British University: "Such a Hard Life [It] Is Here"

Academic journal article Journal of International Students

International Students' Cultural and Social Experiences in a British University: "Such a Hard Life [It] Is Here"

Article excerpt

The United Kingdom (UK) is a global leader in international education, the second largest destination for international students. The numbers of international students accessing higher education in the UK appear to be increasing (Higher Education Statistics Agency, 2012) despite the global financial crisis and the challenges of a post 9/11 world. This contributes to the UK's economy and profile (BIS, 2011).

The impetus of this small-scale qualitative exploratory study is to find the extent to which a particular higher education institution is successful in meeting international students' cultural and social-emotional needs. Unlike other studies that examine the discourses of international students based largely on theoretical frameworks and the global market paradigm, this study explores the lived experience of a specific group of international students, living and studying in the UK, through their own first-hand accounts about how they make sense of their overseas university experiences and incorporate these into their lives and identities. The students' personal journeys are traced through a three-stage process that moves from (1) high initial expectations, through (2) culture shock, to (3) various eventual patterns of accommodation.

Data was gathered by interviewing 18 international students, mainly postgraduate, from Asian and Far Eastern countries studying at a highranking British University, Middle University (MU), in three phases over a period of six months between 2007 and 2008. Given that the study took place in the post 911 world, the geopolitical climate provides the back drop of the study and the ways in which the macro geopolitical events and the micro implications of the geopolitical climate are experienced by international students.

LITERATURE REVIEW

Culture and Culture Shock

It has been argued (Tarry, 2011) that the practice of travelling overseas for higher education could have the effect of transforming cultures. There are various discussions as to what international students gain by studying abroad. Scholars argue that the purpose of studying abroad is to gain experience in the host country rather than to abandon cultural heritage and adopt the culture in which international students live for a relatively short period (Forbes-Mewett & Nyland, 2008; Kingston & Forland, 2008). Language is an important part of this process.

However, in addition to being required to learn in the medium of a foreign language, these students are sometimes challenged at the level of deeply ingrained cultural and religious taboos, such as in relation to lifestyles, social rules, social behaviours (e.g., the consumption of alcohol), gender relations and sexual mores. Clearly there is potential for disruption and conflict in this situation. And this is one of the main issues for this current paper.

Sometimes, being confronted by a new culture can be a positive and enlightening experience, which leads to a deepened awareness of self and the appreciation of different cultures. On the other hand, this confrontation can also be experienced as 'culture shock' (Zhou, Jindal-Snape, Topping, & Todman, 2008), whereby individuals find themselves faced with challenges to their deeply held beliefs and understandings which in turn pose potential threats to their sense of identity and sense of well-being (Forbes-Mewett & Nyland, 2008).

Culture shock may be the first step in a longer and sometimes positive process of development of beliefs and understandings, which may on the one hand strengthen individuals' commitment to their cultural heritage, and, at the same time, provide them with a perspective which enables the harmonious assimilation of new cultural experiences with their existing culture through stages of crisis, recovery and adjustment (Devito, 2004).

Alternatively, culture shock may lead a more visceral 'flight or fight' response, whereby individuals feel the need, above all, to protect themselves from cultural and psychic harm. …

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