Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Cross-Cultural Adaptation of International College Students in the United States

Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Cross-Cultural Adaptation of International College Students in the United States

Article excerpt

Concurrent with economic and cultural globalization, study abroad opportunities have become increasingly appealing to college students seeking educational opportunities. Among the possible study abroad destinations, the United States continues to be the first choice. In fact, the United States hosts the largest population of international students, and the number has been consistently rising (Institute of International Education, 2016). For example, there were 1,043,839 international students enrolled in American colleges and universities during the 2015-2016 school year, a 7.1% increase from the year prior (Institute of International Education, 2016). This study considers the cross-cultural adaptation of international college students in the United States by examining two subtypes of adaptation: psychological adaptation and socio-cultural adaptation.


Cross-Cultural Adaptation

The term adaptation was originally conceptualized within evolutionary biology, referring to a group's survival in a new physical environment (Harrison, 1993). However, as the definition expanded to social and cultural spheres, it was interpreted in the context of developing behavioral and psychological adaptive mechanisms (Harrison, 1993).

International students in the United States often experience adaptation difficulties upon relocating to different cultural and language surroundings. Culture shock, challenges, and miscommunications can occur when they immerse themselves into American social, cultural and academic life. Since the twentieth century, cross-cultural adaptation has become important when studying "a large and continuous influx of immigrants and sojourners" (Kim, 2000, p. 11). Kim (2000) conceptualized cross-cultural adaptation as a systematic and comprehensive process where immigrants change from being cultural outsiders to increasingly active and effective cultural insiders. Individuals who feel unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the new surroundings may be limited to potentially maladaptive behaviors used in their native settings.

Defined as a multifaceted process (Moghaddam, Taylor, & Wright, 1993), most cross-cultural adaptation can be categorized into theoretical models that fall into one of two categories: macro-level and micro-level perspectives (Kim, 2000). Macro-level approaches view adaptation as a group phenomenon, focusing on a group's acculturation in the host culture's values or life patterns. For example, Berry (1990) proposed the interactive pattern of two dimensions of acculturation: 1) the extent to which the original culture is valued and maintained, and 2) the extent to which the host culture is accepted. However, Berry's model may be insufficient to comprehensively understand acculturation because certain personal and situational factors are not taken into account. Other studies (e.g., Ward & Searle, 1991) have been conducted from the micro-level perspective, with the primary emphasis on interpersonal and intrapersonal experiences of newcomers.

Studies in cross-cultural adaptation can also be categorized based on features of the newcomers. Long-term adaptation is relevant to immigrants and refugees, whereas short-term adaptation is relevant to "travelers and temporary sojourners" (Kim, 2000, p. 39). The pattern of adaptation for these groups can vary (Kim, 2000). For instance, short-term sojourners stay in the host country temporarily (generally from six months to five years), relocate voluntarily, and have plans to return home. These characteristics distinguish them from both immigrants who are more involved in the host community and travelers who are less committed to the new culture (Kim, 2000). Research on the acculturation attitudes of 219 international students (including both immigrants and sojourners) at a major Israeli university revealed that sojourning students have less positive attitudes towards integration and assimilation into the host country than do immigrant students (Tatar & Horenczyk, 2000). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed


An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.