Pursuing Cross-Cultural Graduate Education: A Multifaceted Investigation

Article excerpt

In conjunction with the expanding international enrollment in U. S. higher education is a proliferation of research with a focus on international students. A study of this research literature revealed several characteristics that indicate the general trend and limitations in current investigations.

A significant interest in international students pursuing education in the U. S. is oriented toward adjustment problems, as reflected in the volume of research with this focus. Multiple ways of categorizing adjustment have been used to describe dimensions of these problems-academic, social-cultural, interpersonal, financial, linguistic, psychological, and practical (such as food, housing, and transportation). Language difficulty and financial needs have received the most attention (Zhu, 1996). Some studies attempt both to identify areas of adjustment problems and to search for underlying causal factors, especially those arising from the social-cultural background of the students. Other studies have explored coping strategies employed by the students in the adjustment process toward adaptation.

Although current research has yielded rich information on international students' experiences pursuing U. S. education, this examination has been made mostly on discrete elements: adjustment issues, coping strategies, social-cultural factors, and university support services. The studies concentrate on one or more of these elements without a meaningful integration. Coping strategies have been typically studied as personally evolved and constructed ways of adapting rather than as an integral part of a coping mechanism that connects to the larger support system of the department and/or the university. The student experiences have also been examined as a static state accompanied by problems and concerns, rather than a process composed of stages or phases. A typical methodological feature of research in this area is that either students' or academic advisors' perspectives alone constitute the data source. An integrative perspective of international students' U. S. experience is lacking in the extant literature.

OBJECTIVES OF THE STUDY

This study investigated multiple aspects of the international student experiences in pursuing graduate education in the United States as a multi-phase process consisting of pre-arrival motives, experience within academic programs, and impact of U. S. education. Coping strategies were explored as part of an adaptive mechanism that encompassed various resources at different institutional levels. This study examined data from multiple sources to provide an integrated description of international students' undertaking graduate education in the United States. The objectives of the study were to derive a more comprehensive and in-depth understanding of learning in cross-cultural settings than is found in previous research, and to provide information that could be used as a basis for educational and administrative change.

METHOD

The data relevant to this study were derived from a research project of a broader scope that was conducted in the spring of 2001 at a Midwestern university with an overall student population of over 20,000 including 378 international students. That larger study was intended to investigate the quality of the educational experience provided for international students and the availability and use of institutional support mechanisms for these students.

Seven departments from three colleges, Applied Science and Technology, Arts and Science, and Business, were involved in the study. The distribution of international students across different departments of the university was extremely skewed. For instance, 41 such students were found in the Computer Science Department in contrast with 1 in the Department of History. The seven departments were chosen to represent diverse fields of study within the limitations of the distribution. A pool of 21 students was selected, with 3 from each department, based on the best possible balance of gender, age, and country of origin, and the length of stay in their programs (minimum two semesters by the time of the study). …

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