22 SES 05 E, Students' Participation and Communication
This paper reports on a longitudinal, mixed-methods study investigating the cross-cultural adjustment and adaptation of a multinational sample of international student sojourners at a single British university (N = 225). Although a variety of terms have been used to describe the cognitive, affective and behavioural changes experienced by cross-cultural sojourners, this study employs ‘adjustment’ and ‘adaptation’ as its main conceptual frames of reference. Here, the former is conceived as dynamic processes involved in functioning in the new environment, while the latter refers to outcomes of these adjustive processes (Young and Schartner, 2014). In this conceptualisation, adjustment is approached longitudinally as a process that can be explored over time, while adaptation is viewed as measurable outcomes of the sojourn in areas of high salience to the sojourner.
Furthermore, this study distinguishes between (a) academic, (b) psychological, and (c) sociocultural adjustment and adaptation. Conceptually, this integrates Ward et al.’s (2001) distinction between psychological and sociocultural aspects, with the former reflecting affective responses to the new environment and the latter reflecting the ability to ‘fit in’ and function effectively in that environment, and Ramsay et al.’s (1999) notion of academic adaptation as ‘the fit which students achieve with the academic context’ (p. 129). These three dimensions have hitherto been largely pursued separately in studies of student sojourners’ adjustment (Zhou and Todman, 2009), and surprisingly little attention has been paid to academic adaptation (Yu and Shen, 2012) given that academic ‘success’ is typically a primary goal of the international student sojourn (Spencer-Oatey and Xiong, 2006).
Against this conceptual backdrop, the aim of this study was twofold. Firstly, to examine the effect of a set of contributory factors on adjustment outcomes, i.e. adaptation (predictive aim). Research has demonstrated fairly conclusively that the degree of adaptation achieved by student sojourners varies according to a range of individual and circumstantial factors (Zhang and Goodson, 2011; Young et al., 2013). Following Berry (2006), this paper classifies contributory factors into two categories: ‘pre-sojourn’ and ‘in-sojourn’ factors. The former refers to individual pre-arrival characteristics and dispositions, including host language ability, intercultural competence, knowledge about the host country, prior overseas experience, and motivation for study abroad. The latter concerns aspects that develop in situ such as social contact and social support. A second research aim was to track the ‘lived’ adjustment experiences of student sojourners over time (monitoring aim).
The research questions were thus as follows:
- How do English language ability, intercultural competence, knowledge about the UK, prior overseas experience, autonomy in the decision to study abroad, social contact and social support relate to different aspects of academic adaptation measured over the whole programme?
- How do these contributory factors relate to psychological adaptation?
- How do they relate to sociocultural adaptation?
- What are the patterns and dynamics of cross-cultural adjustment over time as experienced by the students?
Findings from this study are of relevance to higher education practitioners, including educators, staff developers and wellbeing advisors, as well as to prospective students. A set of practical implications and recommendations will be put forward, most especially for orientation and training offered to international students, and linked to a broader European internationalisation agenda.
Berry, J. W. (2006). Stress perspectives on acculturation. In Sam, D. L., & Berry, J. W. (Eds.), The Cambridge Handbook of Acculturation Psychology (pp. 43-57). Cambridge: CUP. Braun, V., & Clarke, V. 2006. Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101. Ramsay, S., Barker, M. & Jones, E. (1999). Academic adjustment and learning processes: A comparison of international and local students in first-year university. Higher Education Research and Development, 18, 129-144. Spencer-Oatey, H., & Xiong, Z. (2006). Chinese students’ psychological and sociocultural adjustments to Britain: An empirical study. Language, Culture and Curriculum, 19(1), 38-53. Ward, C., Bochner, S., & Furnham, A. (2001). The psychology of culture shock (2nd ed.). Hove: Routledge. Young, T.J., & Schartner, A. (2014). The effects of cross-cultural communication education on international students' adjustment and adaptation, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 35:6, 547-562. Young, T.J., Sercombe, P.G., Sachdev, I., Naeb, R., & Schartner A. (2013). Success factors for international postgraduate students’ adjustment: Exploring the roles of intercultural competence, language proficiency, social contact and social support. European Journal of Higher Education, 3, 151-71. Yu, B., & Shen, H. (2012). Predicting roles of linguistic confidence, integrative motivation and second language proficiency on cross-cultural adaptation. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 36(1), 72-82. Zhang, J., & Goodson, P. (2011). Predictors of international students' psychosocial adjustment to life in the United States: A systematic review. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 35(2), 139-62. Zhou, Y., & Todman, J. (2009). Patterns of adaptation of Chinese postgraduate students in the United Kingdom. Journal of Studies in International Education, 13(4), 467-86.
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