Gender Differences in International Students' Adjustment

By Lee, Seungcheol Austin; Park, Hee Sun et al. | College Student Journal, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Gender Differences in International Students' Adjustment


Lee, Seungcheol Austin, Park, Hee Sun, Kim, Wonsun, College Student Journal


As gender roles in the society are being rapidly redefined, female students today are showing outstanding academic prowess and pursuing higher education. The current study recruited Korean international students (n = 76) enrolled in universities in the US and examined gender differences in academic adjustment. The findings of the current study suggested that female "alpha psychology" might apply to international students' adjustment. Korean female students showed a higher level of adjustment than males. English proficiency was a positive predictor of adjustment. The number of Korean students in the same major was significantly and positively related to male international students' adjustment but not significantly related to female students' adjustment.

Keyword: Alpha Girl, Gender Difference, International Student, Adjustment, Language Proficiency, Social Network

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Harvard clinical psychologist Dan Kindlon argues in his book, Alpha Girls (2006) that gender roles are being rapidly redefined by the cohort of young females and alpha girls are not constrained by traditional gender roles. They are armed with strong egos, leadership, and determination to succeed and are motivated to outperform their male counterparts in all areas. The surge of alpha girls pursuing higher education is an international phenomenon, especially conspicuous in East Asia. The number of female postgraduate degree holders is increasing rapidly. In Korea, only 32 % of all master's degree and 20 % of all doctorates were granted to females in 2000. However, in 2006, the percentages were 47 and 28 respectively, showing more than 40% increase (Korean Women's Development Institute, 2007). In Japan, the proportions of female doctoral students increased by 20% during the same period. In China, the increase rate was 27% between 2000 and 2003 (UNESCO Institute for Statistics, 2008).

As more female students pursue higher education, more of them choose to study abroad to realize their full potential. In the United States, only a third of international students were female in the 1976-77 academic year. However, in the 2005-06 academic year, 44% of international students in the US were female (Institute of International Education, 2007). Considering the sharp increase in the number of female international students, their adjustment to the host culture deserves special attention.

The participants in the current study are Korean international students studying abroad at US universities. Korea sends the third most international students to the US. The rate of increase of Korean students (6%) is twice that of total international student enrollment (3%) (Institute of International Education, 2007). Moreover, as the traditional gender role model of Confucian patriarchy is being redefined rapidly (Lee, Kim, Park, & Kim, 1999), the term alpha girl is gaining great currency in Korea.

Gender Role and Adjustment

Previous studies in international student adjustment often reported that female international students suffer from more adjustment problems than their male counterparts. The first reason for female maladjustment is gender roles. The demands and obligations of traditional gender roles constrain female international students from adjusting to the host culture (Marville, 1981). For example, in Fong and Peskin's (1969) study, female Chinese-born students reported greater conflict with role expectations than male international students. Remnants of traditional Asian conceptions of womanhood continued to exert their influence. Reproducing and nurturing were primary duties for women, and education for females was seen to endanger feminine virtue. Chinese female students found that their emerging role was not fully accepted, and thus felt alienated from their parent culture.

Although several decades have passed since Fong and Peskin's (1969) study, the conflict caused by gender role still continues. …

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