Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Exploring International Students' Food Choices Using Photovoice Techniques

Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Exploring International Students' Food Choices Using Photovoice Techniques

Article excerpt

The United Kingdom is a popular destination choice for international students. In 2015-2016 there were approximately 430,000 international students coming to study in the United Kingdom (UK Council for International Student Affairs, 2017). International students are an asset to the United Kingdom and the universities that host them. They help to sustain the UKs research base, allow investment in new university facilities and generate global connections alongside helping to sustain jobs in local economies (UKCISA, 2014). The economic dependence of universities on international students makes it important to gain an understanding of the experiences faced by international students studying in the United Kingdom (Brown et al., 2010).

Economic dependence is not the only reason international students are important. A university is not just a teaching and learning facility. A university provides life education for young adults (Herdlein & Zurner, 2015) and is a "school of knowledge of every kind" (Newman, 1852). International students have a strong contribution to the development of different forms of learning as they enhance cross-cultural understanding and bring new ideas and experiences into the classroom, benefitting the whole university community. As Hegarty (2014) aptly surmises, international students contribute to the "personality" of the university and the experiences that a university can offer to students.

University support is important for international student success in a host county and a positive learning experience reduces the stressors that students may experience when studying in the United Kingdom (Lillyman & Bennett, 2014). Most universities recognize the importance of supportive academic services for international students, but less attention is directed to educational, social and cultural adjustment (Cho & Yu, 2015). Research suggests that international students experience difficulties in adjusting to the environment of a home country (Smith & Khawaja, 2011; Hyams-Ssekasi et al., 2014). A focus on these areas can support student adjustment to daily living and promote a better learning experience.

A university is an ideally placed setting to promote health and wellbeing in international students. It can offer opportunities to actively promote international student health, and influence health outcomes in students. Doherty et al. (2011) highlights the potential role that universities can play in promoting a healthier approach to food, and make reference to the particular "foodscape" of a university which either facilitates or restricts healthy eating choices. Adjustment to food may be an important difficulty that international students face (Hartwell et al., 2011) and a university has huge potential to promote positive cultural and social adjustment in this area. With this in mind, this study aimed to explore international student food choices in the United Kingdom and to identify the influences from the wider environment and the university environment on these choices.

International Students Food Choices

Research with international students and food choices has received limited attention in the United Kingdom, and most research comes from the United States, or from studies with non-student communities. Research with immigrant populations documents a deterioration in immigrants' health status when they move to a new country and dietary changes play a role in this deterioration (Sanou et al., 2014). Student studies have shown similar trends to immigrant studies and link studying overseas with health risks such as weight gain (Leu & Banwell, 2016; Almohanna et al., 2015). The acculturation process that students experience may mean a transition in diet and the adoption of Western diet patterns (Sukalakamala & Brittin, 2006) which exposes students to health risks.

Food is an integral part of the environment and culture of a host country. A social ecological approach to health suggests that there are multiple determinants that influence health including individual, close networks, community, and societal influences (Kowitt et al. …

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