Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Recurring Themes across Fractal Issues Facing International Students: A Thematic Analysis of 2016 Dissertations and Theses

Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Recurring Themes across Fractal Issues Facing International Students: A Thematic Analysis of 2016 Dissertations and Theses

Article excerpt

This section shares recent dissertations and theses with the Journal of International Students readers. There were about 139 graduate dissertations and theses related to the issues and challenges of international students in 2016. The complete versions of these selected dissertations are available in the ProQuest, Michigan-based electronic publisher. ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global is the world's most comprehensive collection of dissertations and theses from around the world, spanning from 1743 to the present day. This database has found 17,164 results from 1922-2018 while searching the keywords "international student" in its search engine.

The leading institutions of higher education in producing dissertations related to international students/international education were as follows: University of Toronto (427), Indiana University (423), University of Southern California (401), University of Minnesota (339), The Ohio State University (304), the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (299), Purdue University (298), Michigan State University (275), Walden University (258), University of California, Los Angeles (210), University of Maryland, College Park (205), University of Florida (203), Florida State University (198), Iowa State University (194), and Texas A&M University (192). This does not mean all dissertations/theses were related to international students as the keywords may appear in many other disciplines.

Written in 1922, The Foreign Student on the American Campus (by Anne Elizabeth Neely, the University of Chicago) was the oldest dissertation related to international student. ProQuest database indicated 1,426 results related to international student with 1,259 full texts since 2016. There were 139 doctoral dissertations and theses directly related to international students published in 2016. These dissertations and theses came from a variety of disciplines from American, British, and Canadian universities.

Across the 139 dissertations that came out in 2016, we found about a dozen themes. Not surprisingly, the most common theme was acculturation, with 32 dissertations. Other themes in order of the frequency were writing/academic skills (16), retention (13), language (9), counseling (9), global awareness (8), social media technology and online education (6), discrimination (6), identity (7), recruitment (5), teaching assistants (4), community engagement (4), career (4), college choice and mobility trends (4), community college (3), and miscellaneous (9). Below is a more detailed list of key ideas that were addressed in these various themes.


Acculturation in the context of international students involves the cultural adjustment of international students by adapting to or borrowing traits from the culture of their host community including the host institution. This theme consisted of the dissertations that addressed key issues such as student life satisfaction and transitional experiences ranging from food to spouses, games to campus life, and other socio-cultural adjustment issues.

Writing and Academic Skills

The second theme consisted of other perennial issues facing international students such as academic and writing skills required by the new institutions they matriculated into. The complexities pertaining to the reading, writing, assignments, teamwork, and academic integrity were addressed in these studies.


About a dozen dissertations addressed retention strategies including college retention practices adopted by the host institutions, challenges that international students face when integrating, persistence, student-athletes' retention, retention and achievement, overall college experience, retention in online doctoral programs, engagement, effects of demographics on freshman retention, and use of tracking software packages such as MAP-works™ for student success and retention.


Counseling and mental health was another theme that talked about wellbeing and distress, psychological challenges, mental health resources, helpseeking intentions, resilience, language anxiety, and health care in reducing stigma. …

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