Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Social Capital and the U.S. College Experiences of International Student-Athletes and Non-Athletes

Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Social Capital and the U.S. College Experiences of International Student-Athletes and Non-Athletes

Article excerpt

International students tend to be associated with host country economic gain as well as vulnerability in terms of their safety and security. Research to date concerning the international student experience has focused primarily on their vulnerability, especially the challenges faced by large numbers of students from China and India (Marginson, Nyland, Sawir, & Forbes-Mewett, 2010). Australian studies have tended to be at micro and meso levels, and have looked at international student security broadly to include housing, employment, finances, English language difficulties, and safety (Forbes-Mewett, Marginson, Nyland, Ramia, & Sawir, 2009; Marginson et al., 2010). More recently in the United Kingdom, the focus has been on offering a safer study destination, with pointed reference to the violence against Indian students in Australia in 2009 (British Council, 2012). However, international students are a heterogeneous population, and we know little about the experiences of those in more privileged situations. In short, studies of international students have tended to "study down" rather than "study up" (Sprague, 2005, p. 11) and our knowledge of their experiences has been limited primarily to those that we associate with vulnerability and victimhood. Given these social statuses provide associated perspectives, much can be learned about processes of marginalization by turning our analytical attention to the construction of privilege (Hastie & Rimmington, 2014; Lewis, 2004).

This study represents a significant shift from a previous focus on negative aspects of undertaking education in a host country. By contrast, our study considers notions of privilege by investigating the production of social capital across diverse groups of international students-that is, the development of network ties enabling the realization of beneficial outcomes. It seeks to understand what it is like to live and study in the US for international student-athletes, in this instance sampled from the sport of track-and-field and primarily the top division of collegiate competition, compared with non-athlete international students from various countries. Here we use the term "athlete" to refer to those engaged in varsity sport, while recognizing that those students we designate "non-athletes" may nonetheless be engaged in other forms of sport or have an athletic background (see Lubker & Etzel, 2007). Use of the term "athlete" also denotes a formal relationship to the U.S. collegiate sport system. Studying this population adds a new dimension to the literature that examines international student well-being. Furthermore, it shows that social capital in the form of social connections and support is unevenly spread across different student groups. That is, contrary to claims that international student groups are generally lacking in support (Marginson et al., 2010), the international student-athletes in this study were evidenced to be better supported than their non-athlete counterparts.

The concept of social capital has been used to understand how the social networks of student-athletes differ from those of the non-athlete population, with implications for their academic success and wellbeing (Clopton, 2010). Studentathletes are generally considered to experience a unique sense of community and stronger social networks than their non-athlete peers, largely because of the frequency and intensity of their interactions with teammates and coaching staff (Wolf-Wendel, Toma, & Morphew, 2001). Furthermore, it seems that sports participation in general enhances social capital development by strengthening an individual's connection with their broader social environment (Perks, 2007). Yet scholars have also documented the exclusionary and divisive tendencies of sport (Elling & Claringbould, 2005). The present study is situated at the intersection of college sports and international education, two institutional spheres that shape and are shaped by relations of social capital, in comparing international student-athletes with their nonathlete counterparts. …

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