Social Support and Demographic Correlates of Acculturative Stress in International Students

By Poyrazli, Senel; Kavanaugh, Philip R. et al. | Journal of College Counseling, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Social Support and Demographic Correlates of Acculturative Stress in International Students


Poyrazli, Senel, Kavanaugh, Philip R., Baker, Adria, Al-Timimi, Nada, Journal of College Counseling


A sample of 141 international students from different U.S. colleges completed surveys related to social support, demographic variables, and acculturative stress. Findings indicated that social support and English proficiency uniquely contribute to the variance in students' acculturative stress. Results also indicated that students who primarily socialized with non-Americans and that students from Asian countries experienced more acculturative stress compared with other subgroups, implications are discussed and suggestions for counseling practice are provided.

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The United States hosts approximately half of the world's total number of international students. Presently, students representing roughly 170 foreign countries are enrolled in American institutions of higher education. Estimates place international student enrollment in U.S. colleges and universities at around half a million (Zikopoulos, 1993), and this number is expected to increase consistently as U.S. colleges and universities strive to achieve their visions of diversity across a broad range of demographic and cultural dimensions (Hayes & Lin, 1994; Pedersen, 1991). This phenomenon has generated a number of research studies aimed at understanding the experiences of this population.

Over the course of their studies, most international students encounter adjustment issues that include acculturative stress. Despite the substantial body of literature that addresses adjustment processes among international students, only a small portion of this literature has, in fact, addressed the issue of acculturative stress. Within this literature, the only variables that have emerged as consistent predictors of international student adjustment are English language proficiency and access to social support. Predictors such as age, gender, ethnicity, and other demographic variables have received only partial or mixed support. Therefore, the purpose of this study was (a) to examine the association of demographic variables with acculturative stress levels to better understand their possible importance, (b) to examine the way in which English language ability and social support may interact to better predict acculturative stress, and (c) to understand the differential influence ethnicity (European vs. Asian) may exert on students' levels of acculturative stress.

Acculturation Processes and Outcomes

Acculturation is defined as a process of cultural change that results from repeated, direct contact between two distinct cultural groups (Berry, Kim, Minde, & Mok, 1987). A possible result accompanying the process of acculturation is the manifestation of acculturative stress. Acculturative stress is defined as a marked deterioration of the general health status of an individual; it encompasses physiological, psychological, and social aspects that are explicitly linked to the acculturation process. The degree of acculturative stress experienced by an individual can range from mild stress, which gradually improves as the individual adapts, to a debilitating stress that worsens over time (Berry et al., 1987; Williams & Berry, 1991). Most notably, individuals experiencing acculturative stress typically display symptoms of anxiety and depression, which may increase if the individual lacks an effective social support system (Hovey & Magana, 2002).

Acculturative Stress and International College Students

Although acculturative stress is typically most severe among refugee immigrants, it is surprising that the acculturative stress levels experienced by student sojourners can approach that of refugees (Berry & Kim, 1988). International students are likely to have limited personal resources when they enter the host country and, as a result, are likely to experience considerably greater difficulty acculturating than established ethnic groups (Berry, 1980; Berry & Kim, 1988; Hayes & Lin, 1994; Sykes & Eden, 1985). …

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