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When the Fog Dissipates: A study on cross-cultural adjustment of international students studying in the U.S.


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This paper presents the cross-cultural adjustment process for international students studying in the United States. A web-based survey was conducted at The Pennsylvania State University, the results …

This paper presents the cross-cultural adjustment process for international students studying in the United States. A web-based survey was conducted at The Pennsylvania State University, the results were then discussed along with implications and recommendations to ease the tranistion. Adler's five-stage model of culture shock is also discussed.

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  • 1. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 1 The Pennsylvania State University The Graduate School Program in Counselor Education When the Fog Dissipates: A study on cross-cultural adjustment of international students studying in the United States A Master’s Paper in Counselor Education by Sejal Mehta Submitted in Partial Fulfillment of the Requirements for the Degree of Master of Education July 6, 2000 Approved by _______________________________ Title______________________________________ Date______________________________________
  • 2. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 2 Abstract The increasing number of international students studying in the United States presents a need to understand the cross-cultural adjustment issues of these students. This paper begins with an explanation of the term culture shock followed by a discussion of Adle r’s five-stage model of culture shock. The results of a web-based survey administered at the Pennsylvania State University follows with a discussion on the implications of the results. The paper concludes with suggestions and recommendations to ease the transition for international students.
  • 3. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 3 Every year many students leave their home country and enter the “New Continent”, the United States of America, with hopes for a new life and future. During their long journey to the U.S., these students have had varied experiences, both pleasant and unpleasant. Irrespective of the type of journey, the students are usually ambitious and hopeful in their new surroundings. For these students, where everything is so new, it is sometimes trying and difficult to make the adjustment to the new place, environment, and culture. Even though the geographic focus of this paper is the United States, the country with the world’s largest international student population, the cross-cultural adjustment issues that are discussed are truly global in character and scope. This paper is a descriptive study on the cultural adjustment of international students when they come to study in the United States. The paper will begin with a detailed explanation of the term culture shock followed by Adler’s model on the five stages of culture shock. The various factors related to culture shock, and its impact, as seen in the present literature will then be discussed. A web-based survey administered at The Pennsylvania State University to assess the initial 4- month transition by international students will follow, and continue with the implication of the results. The results of the survey will also be discussed in comparison to the first stage of Adler’s theory. The paper concludes with suggestions and recommendations to ease the transition for international students. Cultural Adjustment – Need for the study Today, international educational exchange – the movement of students and scholars across national boundaries – is a phenomena in countries throughout the world
  • 4. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 4 (Paige, 1990). International students can be defined as individuals who temporarily reside in a country other than their country of citizenship or country of permanent residence in order to participate in international education as students (Paige, 1990). The number of foreign students studying in the United States is increasing rapidly. In 1998-1999 academic year, nearly 500,000 international students studied in the United States at the post-secondary level. (NAFSA: Association of International Education, 2000). International students now account for 3 % of the total enrollment in higher education, bringing in an estimated $13 billion into the U.S economy in payments for tuition, room, and board. (Desruisseaux, 1999). Internationa l students gain an in-depth exposure to American values being in American classrooms, dormitories, and living rooms. They also enrich American campuses and provide many American students with their first-ever exposure to foreign friends and colleagues (NAFSA: Association of International Education, 2000). Having international students study in the U.S is beneficial to both the international students and the domestic students. Given the number of foreign students as well as the benefits they bring, assisting these students in adapting to the new culture will help make it a more productive experience for all. Culture Shock The process of initial adjustment to an unfamiliar environment is called culture shock (Pederson, 1995). Culture shock has traditionally been thought of as a form of anxiety that results from misunderstanding of commonly perceived signs and symbols of social interaction (Adler, 1975). The term culture shock was first described by Kalvero Oberg (1960), as a state of anxiety resulting from no t knowing what to do in a new
  • 5. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 5 culture. This anxiety can result in simply vague discomfort to even profound disorientation. Culture shock is also viewed as an “occupational disease” suffered by people who are introduced to a culture that is very different from their own and can result in stress involving symptoms such as anxiety, irritability, hopelessness, and a longing for a more predictable environment (Church, 1982). In a broad sense, culture shock applies to any situation where an individual is required to adjust to an unfamiliar social system where previous learning no longer applies (Pederson, 1995). This adaptation made by individuals when they move between cultures is a relatively new area of study. This study seeks to understand continuities and changes in individual behavior that are related to the experience of two cultures through the process of acculturation (Berry, 1990). Since culture shock is a combination of personal as well as environmental characteristics, it is hard to explain the experience of cultural adjustment and therefore difficult to make generalizations. The experience of culture shock is very subjective and difficult to convey in any objective form. Furthermore the student population, which could be experiencing culture shock, is so diverse and varied that the reasons a student could be having difficulty in adjusting to a new culture cannot be easily categorized. The individual’s attitude and experience in the host culture can be related to various previous experiences in the individual’s life. The coping mechanisms a student may use in making the adjustment faster and easier vary depending on personality and experience. Stages of Culture Shock Oberg (1960) can be credited with introducing the term culture shock. Although several theories have been developed over time describing the stages of culture shock,
  • 6. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 6 theory developed Adler (1975) will be used in this paper. Adler, who viewed the cultural adjustment as a transitional experience reflecting a movement from low cultural awareness to high cultural awareness within a different culture, developed a five-staged theory of culture shock. Adler’s theory was based on Oberg’s theory and emphasizes both the positive and negative consequences during the stages. The different stages of the theory are: Honeymoon Stage The newly arrived students experience curiosity much like a tourist. The emotions experienced are typically excitement, stimulation, and curiosity and hence the behaviors in this stage are also guided by curiosity, interest, and self-assurance (Pederson, 1995). The student’s basic identity is still rooted to the previous home environment. As a result, the student is more attuned to cultural similarities and intentionally deselects cultural differences (Church, 1982). Similarities between the new culture and home culture tend to become validations of the student’s own cultural status. Such validations serve as reinforcement for the continuation of the student’s own cultural behavior (Adler, 1975). These students usually have a very good time and feel little fear or apprehension about the host culture. The encounter is viewed more as the end point rather than the beginning of a new developmental changing process. In effect, the few inconveniences that are encountered are just viewed as adventure (Pederson, 1995). The honeymoon stage is said to last for approximately three months and is characterized by great pleasure in discovering and mastering new things. The first stage can be described as one where the differences are intriguing and perceptions are positive.
  • 7. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 7 Disintegration Stage This stage involves the disintegration of all familiar cues and the students become overwhelmed by the new culture’s requirements. This second stage of transition is marked by a period of confusion and disorientation (Adler, 1975). These students typically blame themselves for their own failures and inability to adapt to the new culture. The emotions experienced are tension, depression, confusion, and withdrawal (Church, 1982). Students may withdraw into themselves, thinking, “it is my fault, I am unable to adapt here”. A sense of confusion and disorientation with differences between home and host culture become very noticeable. The students may experience an acute sense of profound loss and disorientation regarding what can be expected of others and what others expect of them. Students in this stage experience pain and helplessness. Due to their self-perception, they often believe themselves to be at fault and are unlikely to seek outside help (Pederson, 1995). These students feel a sense of inadequacy for any difficulties encountered. Reintegration Stage This stage is characterized by strong rejection of the second culture (Adler, 1975). The students use defense mechanisms, such as keeping to themselves or concentrating only on academics, to portray personal difficulties and limit relationships to fellow nationals (Church, 1982). The anger that was directed inward during the disintegration stage now directed outward at others who are perceived to be blamed for the situation (Pederson, 1995). Frequently students will blame the persons in the host culture for the students’ own cultural adjustment problems, with less sympathy and more hostility
  • 8. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 8 towards their host culture. As a result these students are likely to depend on stereotyped generalizations to evaluate and judge the host culture person’s behavior and attitude. These students are heard saying “I am normal, it is the Americans. They don’t know what it means to be friends, they don’t understand the foreigners etc.” In this stage the attitude changes from “it is my fault” to “it is their fault”. During this “blaming the environment” stage, students unconsciously make a choice to move closer to resolution and personal growth, or regress to earlier phases. Therefore this stage can be viewed as the most volatile stage. The positive aspects of this stage are the growing awareness of contact with the host culture and an ability to express feelings about the their experiences. Students in this stage tend to interpret their experiences in alternatives of good and bad, with the home culture being good and the host culture being bad (Pederson, 1995). The Autonomy Stage This stage is marked by increased sensitivity and understanding toward the host culture. The students who emerge from the detachment of the first stage, the self-blame of the second stage, and the hostility of the third stage are now in a position to build a new perspective on their former identity and the new host culture (Pederson, 1995). These students have an increased ability to see the good and bad elements of both the old and new cultures. The need for defensiveness as seen in the previous stage diminishes. The student is able to move into new situations with greater awareness of self and others. The emotions in this stage lean toward self-assurance, more relaxed attitude, increased warmth in one’s relationships to others, and the ability for emphatic caring. These emotions lead to behaviors related to a sense of independence, like independent
  • 9. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 9 decisions, sense of being in control, and increased self-confidence (Pederson, 1995). Students in this stage are more tolerant of themselves as well as of the host culture. Independence stage Students experience increased self and cultural awarene ss that enables the individuals to undergo further life transitions and to discover additional ways to explore human diversity (Church, 1982). These students have ideally achieved the understanding of two cultures, or are comfortable relating to both old and new cultures. Since these students are able to appreciate both cultures, accept cultural differences, and relativism; their behavior is expressive, creative, mutually trusting, and sensitive. Even though these students may still have differences from the host culture in a variety of ways, those differences do not control these students’ identity any longer. The self-actualizing nature of the final stage implies that the individual who has reached this stage should be prepared for another cross-cultural experience. Though Adler developed his theory from Oberg’s theory, Oberg made no explicit prediction of adjustment in future cross-cultural experiences (Church, 1982). In fact, some controversy exists in whether this stage is an unattainable ideal, or do people actually reach this stage? (Pederson, 1995). Even though the stages have been stated sequentially, students could go back and forth in the array of stages, they may even regress back to a stage a few times. In one sense, culture shock is a form of alienation, in another sense, it suggests an attempt to comprehend, survive in, and grow through immersion in a second culture (Adler, 1975). The duration of each stage varies from student to student depending on individual circumstances.
  • 10. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 10 Factors related to culture shock Some success has been obtained in predicting cross-cultural adjustment based on background and demographic characteristics. Substantial support exists to show a positive relationship between language proficiency and the amount of social interaction with host nationals. The relationship between language fluency and cross-cultural adjustment appears a natural and reciprocal one. Greater language proficiency results in more confidence and greater participation, this leads to improved command of the host language. Being more proficient also allows for more participation in social activities with host nationals (Church. 1982). A relationship between age and academic level has consistently shown that younger students have more contact and social interaction with host nationals. On the other hand, older students seem to have more general satisfaction with their academics. But older and younger students are typically referred to graduate and undergraduate respectively indicating the relationship has more to do with level of study rather than age (Church, 1982). Based on the little research that exists, evidence supports the fact that female foreign students report greater adjustment problems than male students. One indication to support why female adjustment problems occur may be due to the very traditional and conservative roles women have in some cultures. These roles are quite different from the more liberal attitudes exhibited in the United States. At this point more study is needed to understand the relationship between gender differences and cultural adjustment (Church, 1982).
  • 11. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 11 From early studies evidence exists that nationality did play an important role in foreign student adjustment, also, indicating that differences in coping mechanisms to handle culture shock depended on nationality (Church, 1982). The general assumption has been that students coming from cultures similar to the host culture have the least difficulty in adjusting. For example, students from Canada and Western Europe are consistently found to be more socially involved with the U.S. and report fewer adjustment problems since their culture is considered similar to the U.S. culture. (Church, 1982). If the home culture that a student is accustomed to is very different from the host culture, then the adjustment is predicted to be more difficult (Church, 1982). Another dynamic, based on the network of students in the United States from the home country, might make the transition easier, implying that students of that particular na tionality adjust faster. The reason they adjust faster is because of the support network, and does not mean their home cultures are similar to the US culture; in fact, may even be very different. Such instances of different cultures with rapid adjustment can be seen in Chinese and Indian students where the support groups and networks are so large. This adjustment is facilitated faster, in spite of relatively different cultures. The different indices of adjustment need to be distinguished. These indices are (a) extent of social interaction with host nationals, (b) attitudes of the individuals towards home and host cultures, (c) home culture patterns. Based on stereotypical ideas in their home regarding the culture in the United States, students may have lots of resistance to the U.S. culture, especially if they have had a negative image. Students who have a more open attitude might be less resistant and more adjusting. Nationality and its relationship
  • 12. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 12 to the host culture is complicated and more research into this area is needed to understand the impact nationality has on cultural adjustment (Church, 1982). A common assumption is that previous exposure to different cultures will facilitate the adjustment process. Previous exposure sometimes tends to reinforce stereotypes and defense mechanisms that may inhibit adjustment. So the nature and quality of previous cultural exposure may be more important than the quantitative amount of earlier exposure (Church, 1982). In addition, the individualism and collectivism nature of a culture also plays a role in cross-cultural adjustment. Individualism is characterized by the subordination of a group’s goal to a person’s individual goals. Individuals subordinating their personal goals to the goals of some collectives (Triandis, Brislin, & Hui, 1988) characterize collectivism. Individualism is assumed to be a relatively stable and important attribute in the United States, while collectivism is associated with Africa, Asia, and Latin America (Triandis et al, 1988). Since more than half of all foreign students in the U.S. are from Asia (Desruisseaux, 1999), the importance of understanding the adjustment required from a collective culture to an individual culture, how that facilitates the cultural adjustment and vice versa wo uld be beneficial. Some success has been obtained in predicting the transition, particularly with language proficiency, academic level, and nationality. A need still exists for more research and study in the areas of gender and previous foreign travel and their relationship to the adjustment process.
  • 13. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 13 Cross-cultural adjustment is seen as a combination of various factors and the transition can go through various stages. The initial adjustment process is one of the hardest stages to cross. To assess this initial transition of international students, a web- based survey was conducted at main campus and three branch campuses of The Pennsylvania State University. Methodology Participants The total sample size for this study was 2000 current international students that included the students enrolled at University Park (main campus) and three branch campuses, Altoona, Behrend, and Harrisburg. Out of the total, 150 students responded to the survey. The students had to be full time and currently enrolled to partic ipate in the study. Procedures and Instrumentation In the spring semester of 2000, the web-based survey (Appendix 1) was sent to the participants. The survey was developed and designed by the author using HTML coding The URL was sent by email to the students to access the survey. A storage site was established allowing the students to access, fill out the survey, and submit it. Students were given ten days time to respond. The designed was such that the results of the submitted survey would be received as an email by the author. It was developed to predominantly assess four areas:
  • 14. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 14 1. The initial help that students used in getting oriented and settling down at the University 2. The adjustment that students found hardest to make 3. The feelings that students experienced during their first four months at Penn State University or at one of the branch campuses referenced. 4. The emotional support that students reached out to and used in their initial adjustment to the University. The survey was divided into 3 parts. Part 1 consisted of demographic information, part 2 consisted questions addressing the four areas referenced above, and part 3 was student suggestions for the university and recommendations for new international students. The demographic part requested the following information from each participant: gender, year of birth, country of origin, marital status, level of study, program of study, previous travel abroad and did they receive financial aid or not. Part 2 of the survey asked specific questions relating to the four distinct areas reviewed. For this part, students were allowed to have multiple choices in their responses. Part 3 consisted of student suggestions and recommendations for the university and international students, respectively. Data Analysis The data were input into a spreadsheet. A frequency count was made for each response to the above four areas. A descriptive summary was made on the data collected in part 3. This analysis was used to interpret, to process the implications of the results, to
  • 15. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 15 evaluate possible suggestions and recommendations expressed by the participating students. Results Demographic Information - Overview A total of 150 students responded to the survey. Out of the 150 participants, 96 were male and 54 were female. The average age of the participants was 26 years and ranged from 19 years to 42 years. A total of 123 of the students were single and 27 were married. Of the 27 married students, five were unaccompanied, 15 were accompanied by their spouse, and seven were accompanied by both their spouse and children. Participants represented 41 different countries; 41 were from India, 14 from China, nine from Korea, six each from Cyprus and England, five each from Taiwan and Turkey, and four each from Australia, Argentina, Thailand and Germany. One, two or three participants represented the other 30 countries. Maximum number of students, 68 were doctoral students followed 41 students pursuing a Masters degree, 36 were undergraduate students and two and three participants were exchange and non-degree students respectively. The students represented a variety of programs of study with 55 from the Engineering school, 20 were from the Business school, 16 each from Eberly college of Science and Liberal Art majors, 12 were from Earth and Mineral sciences. The remaining 31 students represented other programs of study. A large number, 105 students had traveled abroad before and only 45 had not. Many students did get financial assistance with 90 students having some form of financial aid and 57 did not have any funding from the university.
  • 16. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 16 Survey Results Table 1 Initial help in getting oriented and settling down to the University Initial University Help Number of Students International Students Office 79 Other Students 67 Internationa l Students 55 Faculty / Advisors 52 Student groups and Organizations 23 Other 23 Did not need or use any help 14 Table 2 The adjustment students found hardest to make Adjustment Difficulty Number of Students Making Friends 56 Language 53 Academics 44 Attitudes of the local people 43 Missing home (home sickness) 36 No adjustment difficulty 33 Department and Advisors 23 Other 20
  • 17. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 17 Table 3 The Feelings Experienced Feelings Experienced Number of Students Excited 66 Happiness 63 Confused 62 Sadness 43 Depressed 43 Disoriented 39 Thrilled 25 No particular feelings 21 Other 16 Table 4 Emotional Support students reached out to and used Emotional Support Number of Students Talking and being with friends 103 Talking to family or relatives back home 73 (phone or email) Talking to family or relatives in the U.S 42 Talking to faculty / advisors 33 Did not look for support 30 Joining different organizations 21 Other 6 Talking to a Professional Counselor 5 Talking to a Foreign Student Advisor 4 Summation of survey results As seen in Table 1, in getting oriented and settling down, the findings of this study indicates that most students found the International Students Office and other students very helpful. As shown in Table 2, students found making friends and the
  • 18. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 18 language the hardest adjustments they encountered. Table 3 indicates that the students were very excited and happy, about being in the new environment, but were confused with all that was happening. Table 4 on emotional support students used in adjusting to the new culture shows that most students found talking and being with friends the best way to ease with their feelings. Many students also found talking to family and relatives back home helpful. Discussion In settling down and getting oriented to the university, a majority of the students seemed to use the help of the International Students Office (ISO) and other students in the university; this included both international and national students. Some student comments were: ?? I really enjoyed the help from the International Students Office and the orientation events as I made friends who I will know for life. Meeting them helped me to settle down to more of a routine. ?? I really liked the initial week of orientation it really helps a lot. ?? Knowing that the International Students office exists if I need something really urgent is good. Also the fact that there were other international students who I could relate to was good. As much as students used the help of the International Students Office many students commented that their friends whom they already knew at Penn State University really helped them. ?? My friends already here. ?? Friends who are studying at Penn State University
  • 19. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 19 The International Students Office provides helps in various ways but the information and help they can give is more general rather than specific, as was stated by one student. ?? It really depends on what kind help. ISO can offer some help about some general information rather than specified ones. In addition to ISO and other students, many students used the help of faculty and advisors. Using faculty help could be more for academic assistance rather than general adjustment help. And, since academics is the purpose of being at a university, adjusting to that does ease the transition for many students and makes the whole adjustment process easier. These students found it helpful to use faculty help in settling down academically. The transition to the American system of education was one of the hardest adjustments many students had to make. As students commented, ?? The American system of Education was so different from what we are used to back home. ?? I don't feel adjusted yet to the pace of the classes here and the tremendous amount of homework . Most students did not take or use the help of student groups or organizations. The reason for not using such organizations could be attributed to lack of awareness of these groups which was also seen in some of the remarks made by the students. ?? There are organizations and groups that can help, but students are unaware of them so increase awareness so students can use the organizations.
  • 20. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 20 ?? Appointing members from student organization at the orientation so students are aware. The two areas that students found most difficulty in adjusting to were making friends and adjusting to the language. Language problems tended to affect students socially also, as they were self-conscious in speaking English. One student suggested ?? Don’t stick to your own people because of language problems that make you self-conscious. The only way for students to overcome the language barrier is to be made aware of the language usage and requirements before coming to study so they can prepare as much as possible ahead of time in their home country; this will ease the language problem considerably. With regards to making friends, the results were contradictory. One of the frequent suggestions was to make friends, spend time and share your feelings with them. Most of the students talked and spent time with friends as their means of emotional support; but, at the same time, students indicated that making friends is one of the hardest adjustments to make. Some of the remarks made by the students implied that students find it hard to make friends either outside of their departments, with American friends, or with friends who were not from their home country. Cultural differences remains one of the biggest problems that international students encounter in making American friends ?? Making friends still is hard: whiteness dazzles initially. ?? Making of friends outside of department is really hard
  • 21. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 21 ?? Language is my main problem. I hope people who talk to me will correct me that way my language will improve and I will make more friends faster. ?? I cannot make American friends because they have different interests” Some student suggested that the university help in making friends ?? The university should help students make friends. ?? I think newcomers need more specific information about how to live in US. Some examples include how to make friends in US, etc. These comments imply that students do find it difficult to make friends and do feel the need to have friends. In terms of feelings experienced by the students, the overall results indicated excitement and happiness on the one hand, and confusion on the other. The confusion is understandable in all the adjustment that the students are making culturally, academically, and with the language. According to Adler’s theory of culture shock, the first stage is called the honeymoon stage and is characterized by excitement and euphoria (Pederson, 1995). Such excitement was clearly seen in the students, they were very excited and the curiosity of seeing and learning new things was enjoyable. Though students at this stage might have been seeing cultural differences, these differences are seen more with novelty rather than an adjustment issue. While some students felt overwhelmed and stressed, a few students talked about being depressed and disoriented. ?? Don't miss the orientation week! Enjoy and learn from the experiences that are new and different. ?? I was exhausted, feeling down sometimes, but I was also eager to learn more.
  • 22. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 22 At this stage all the newness leads to curiosity and there is the joy of discovering. This stage is also characterized by great pleasures in discovering and mastering new things (Pederson, 1995). The theory also states that initially an excitement exists but after the first three to four months students do go through tougher adjustment issues and eventually overcome them. Students’ comments were consistent with the theory ?? Initially it was tough, but once I got over the adjustment, the experience has been very rewarding for me. ?? I would advise new international students to expect to have certain difficulties adjusting to the experience. Once the initial excitement and novelty of being in a different country has worn off, there will be a difficult adjustment period during which you wont be able to stop yourself comparing anything and everything to the way things are done in your home country. Being able to accept this, rather than ignoring it and talking to other international students here, as well as friends and family at home can provide an immense amount of help. Talking with other people here lets you know that everyone is experiencing the same thing. Also, once you make it past the tougher stage, things get a lot better and its very easy to feel very welcome and extremely at home at Penn State. So much so - that you won’t want to go home when the time comes around! The results also indicated that the two methods the majority of students used for emotional support were talking and being with friends, and talking to family back home.
  • 23. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 23 Very few students reported talking to a Foreign Student Advisor or seeking the help of professional counselors. Not using the help of professional counselors could be attributed to cultural differences. In many countries, people rely on their families rather counselors for their problems and for support, and hence might have resistance in seeing one here. Another possible reason for not using professional counseling could be a lack of awareness of such services. Some students joined different organizations, but from their comments it appeared to be more to meet people, make frie nds and that helped them feel supported. Suggestions and Recommendations The “initial experience” is a trying time for students coming from different countries. The expectations vary from person to person, and staff may struggle to meet the needs of all types of students. The experiences vary and can range to both extremes. One student commented ?? I never felt as bad in my life as I felt here during the first semester. I was told it was going to be bad, but no one can ever describe to you how bad it turns out to be. I had a mixture of feelings unknown to me before coming to Penn State. After I made it through the first semester I knew it was going to get better. At that point you have the certainty that you cannot go any further down, I could not talk about the things I had been experiencing. Other students had more positive experiences like ?? I had no cultural shock, but then I think I was a bit more aware of life outside my home country!
  • 24. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 24 Analyzing the different experiences and feelings, one cannot generalize what most students feel, or how to help them adjust and feel better. Overall, the following suggestions were made by students to the Penn State University for help in addition to what the International Students Office is currently doing ?? The orientation sessions can be improved to a great extent and emphasis should be given in smaller group sessions rather than lectures. ?? Give more time for orientation, teach relevant necessary skills like accessing books from a computer, how to use the library etc. The above suggestions were specific to the orientation program and such suggestions are understandable, as the period is very overwhelming. Based on their learning style back home, students may have a preference for the kind of orientation sessions they may benefit the maximum from. If the orientation program cannot take care of certain practical issues these could be delegated to individual departments, for example, “how to use the library” could be an issue for all students and not specific to international students only. Most students found it beneficial and helpful if they knew somebody already studying in Penn State before arriving at the university; preferably, somebody from their home country. One suggestion in this regard could be having some sort of a mentoring program where students at Pennsylvania State University could volunteer to help 5-6 students. If possible, students could be assigned to a mentor from their home country. Also providing a list of students from various countries so that the new students could get in touch directly. A final suggestion was to have more gatherings for international
  • 25. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 25 students as well as both international students and such social activities should be spread over the year. In summary the suggestions by these students for the university were 1. Have programs by academic departments also to assist international students. 2. Have a mentoring program. 3. Send out a list of students from the different countries currently studying in the University. 4. Have social gatherings over the year and not just at the time of joining. Recommendations to new International Students Many students, who responded to the survey, stressed the need for students to become more self-sufficient back home and not rely on family and friends as much. Being more self-sufficient and less dependent would help them in adjusting to the individualism culture in the U.S., which is different from the collectivism nature of other cultures. ?? To tell them that US schools are not the way the Media pictures them. People are individualistic and competitive as opposed to our own cultures. A large number of students stressed the need to meet people, make friends and talk out their feelings with close friends. Students also recommended not to stay home, or keep to themselves, instead go out, join organizations and make the most of the opportunities available. The important aspect is to be aware of cultural differences. At the same time keep an open mind; don’t blame others or yourself for cultural differences. Accept such differences.
  • 26. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 26 One comment from a student summarizes the adjustment process, ?? “Adjustment" means being mature to recognize differences and still accept yourself just the way you are. In that sense, cultural adjustment is not only international students' problem. Everybody faces this problem more or less. Conclusion As mentioned in the beginning culture shock is a subjective issue, and without much research and study, specific solutions to the issue have not been reached. Even with more study the challenge will always remain in understanding the experience of culture shock with such a diverse foreign student body. Presently foreign students presently are a large component of the U.S education system contributing to the diversity of the campuses and contributing towards the country’s growth and prosperity. Any effort in making the experience worthwhile for the students would be beneficial to the country in addition to the students. Whether expressed openly or not, whether aware or unaware the transition is a difficult one and any assistance to these students will be welcome. This researcher has heard students going through the adjustment say ?? It was as if there was a fog around me. Things were going wrong. My expectations were unmet, yet I still could not figure out what exactly caused it. Only after a while, when the fog dissipated, and I looked at the remains, could I see what I had experienced was Culture Shock! The transition into a new culture is a hard and occasionally an inevitable process. But once the challenge is crossed, the process can be very rewarding. After the fog dissipates, one finds the strength of his or her own wings.
  • 27. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 27 References Adler, P. S. (1975). The transitional experience: An alternative view of culture shock. Journal of Humanistic Psyc hology, 15(4), 13-23 Church, A. T. (1982). Sojourner adjustment. Psychological Bulletin, vol 91, 540- 572 Desruisseaux, P. (1999). Foreign students contribute to flock to the U.S. [On- line]. Available: NAFSA: Association of International Educators (February 22, 2000). Toward an international education policy for the United States [On- line]. Available: Paige, R. Michael. [Chapter] Brislin, Richard W. (Ed), et al. (1990). International students: Cross-cultural psychological perspectives. Applied cross-cultural psychology. Cross-cultural research and methodology series, 14, 161-185. Newbury Park, CA, USA: Sage Publications, Inc. 367 pp Triandis, H. C., Brislin, R., & Hui, C. H. (1988). Cross-cultural training across the individualism-collectivism divide. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 12. 269-288 Pederson, P. (1995). The five stages of culture shock: critical incidents around the world. Westport, Conn. Greenwood Press
  • 28. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 28 Appendix 1 When the Fog Dissipates: A study on the Cross-Cultural Adjustment of the International students studying the United States of America Contact Person Sejal Mehta 240 Beam Building State College, PA 16802 (814)863-3458 Dear International Student: I am a graduate student in the department of Counselor Education. I am doing a study on cross-cultural adjustment international students face when they come to study in the United States. By completing this survey you will be helping me to understand the adjustment issues by voicing your experience or opinion and assisting me in making suggestions and recommendations to ease this transition. The survey asks you to answer questions regarding your experiences, feelings you experienced, and mechanisms you used to make the adjustment easier during the first 12 - 16 month period of joining the university. Your participation in this survey will take approximately 15 minutes. I do appreciate your taking the time to help me understand the adjustment needs of international students. Participation and Informed Consent By completing the survey you are consenting to be a participant. Your participation is voluntary and confidential. You are free to decline to answer any of the questions in the survey. I would request you to answer as many questions as possible and appropriately applicable to best serve the needs of the survey. Since this survey is conducted electronically, confidentiality is assured to the levels that are available for electronic media. If you have any questions please contact: Sejal Mehta Please use the SUBMIT button, at the bottom of the survey, to return the completed survey. I would appreciate your responding and submitting the survey at the latest by April 25th.
  • 29. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 29 Organization of the Survey The survey is organized into 3 parts. 1. The first part is basic demographic information. 2. The second part is pre-arrival information and initial adjustment (0-4 months). 3. This part has general questions on your opinion in dealing with cultural adjustment Part One – Basic Information 1. Gender a) Male b) Female 2. Year of Birth a) Before 1950 b) All choices from 1950 – 1985 3. Marital Status a) Single b) Married – Spouse accompanying c) Married – unaccompanied d) Married – Spouse and children accompanying e) Divorced or separated 4. Which country are you from (Nationality)? 5. Level of Study a) Undergraduate b) Masters c) Doctoral d) Exchange e) Non- Degree 6. Program of Study a) Agricultural Sciences b) Arts and Architecture c) Communications d) Division of Undergraduate Studies e) Earth and Mineral Sciences f) Eberly College of Sciences g) Engineering h) Health and Human Development
  • 30. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 30 i) Liberal Arts j) Smeal College of Business Administration k) Undecided 7. Have you lived or traveled away from your home country before? a) Yes b) No 8. How long have you been in the US? a) Less than 4 months b) 4 – 8 months c) 8 – 12 months d) 12 – 16 months e) More than 16 months 9. How long have you been in Penn State University? a) Less than 4 months b) 4 – 8 months c) 8 – 12 months d) 12 – 16 months e) More than 16 months 10. Do you have Financial Aid? a) Yes b) No ________________________________________________________________________ Part Two – Pre-Arrival Information and Initial Period (0 – 4 months) 1. Why did you choose Penn State? (You can choose more than one answer) a) College or program of study - reputation / ranking b) Friend or relative recommended c) Recommended by home institution d) Had Financial Aid e) Had only this admission f) Other – Please Specify
  • 31. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 31 2. Before leaving your home country, what were your anticipated and expected feelings on first few weeks of joining the university (pre -arrival expectations and anticipations)? (You can choose more than one answer) a) Excitement b) Anxiety c) Apprehensive d) Other – Please Specify 3. How did your initial experience compare to your pre -arrival expectations? (You can choose more than one answer) a) It was as expected b) There were some similarities and some differences c) It was totally different 4. What initial settling down help was available? (You can choose more than one answer) a) International Students Office b) International Students c) Other Students d) Student groups and organizations e) Faculty f) Others – Please Specify 5. What did you feel was the hardest to adjust to? (You can choose more than one answer) a) Making friends b) The department and advisors c) The academics in general d) the language e) Missing home (home sickness) f) Attitudes of the local people to foreigners g) Other – Please Specify 6. What feelings did you experience in this initial period? (You can choose more than one answer) a) Happiness b) Sadness c) Excited and thrilled d) Both sad and happy e) Confused f) Disoriented g) Depressed h) Other – Please Specify
  • 32. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 32 7. Did you experience a very difficult period (culture shock) in your adjustment? a) Yes b) No 8. Having experienced difficulty in adjusting what coping mechanism(s) did you use? a) Talking to Foreign Student Advisor b) Talking and being with friends c) Talking to faculty / advisors d) Joining different organizations to meet more people e) Talking to family or relatives in the US f) Talking to family or relatives back home (phone or email) g) Talking to a professional counselor h) Did not experience difficulty in adjusting i) Others – Please Specify ________________________________________________________________________ Part Three – Your Ideas and Suggestions 1. What external help do you think will be helpful to ease the transition? (Offices, student organizations or other support means) Please state, if you can, what kind of help also? 2. What advice would you like to give new international students in helping them with the adjustment process? 3. Any other thoughts / feelings you would like to share about cultural adjustment based on your experience? ________________________________________________________________________ SUBMIT SURVEY CLEAR FORM Thank you very much for your time and participation in this survey. Your input and opinion is valuable in this study ________________________________________________________________________ Copyright Sejal Mehta, the Pennsylvania State University. All rights reserved Design for this survey was based on a survey done on International Students Needs Assessment by Thomas I. Wortman, The Pennsylvania State University.
  • 33. Cross-Cultural Adjustment 33 Acknowledgments There are many people I would like to thank for their help and participation in the process which lead to the successful completion of this paper Dr. Daniel Salter, my advisor, for reading and editing several drafts of this paper. Your support and encourage ment made the process of writing a lot easier. Linda Keefer, Assistant Director, International Students and Scholars, for all your help with sending out the email messages to the participants for the survey. I would have never been able to reach out to all the international students without your assistance. Dr. Kenneth Nafziger, for giving me the guidance and framework in designing the survey and in pursuing this paper. Your assistance with framing the questions and the various resources you provided me with were the start for a successful completion. Thomas Wortman – Your help in assisting me in designing and developing the web survey and being able to implement it is highly appreciated Finally, I would like to thank to all the international students who participated in the survey and took the time to give me their suggestions and recommendations. Your ideas will be very helpful in helping future international students.