Western Culture a Challenge for Some Foreign Students in US, Study Finds

For international students at universities in the United States, one factor stands out in the social divide between them and their domestic peers: self-esteem.  
 
Psychologist Wendy Quinton, at the State University of New York at Buffalo, researched what many international students dread when arriving on U.S. campuses.  “Cultivating close contact with members of the host culture is a consistent and particularly difficult challenge,” Quinton wrote in her study.International students seek relationships with their domestic peers, but differences in culture and communication often interfere.  “The lack of meaningful connection with students from the host culture is associated with many well-documented costs, including poorer sociocultural adaptation, greater difficulty navigating the trials of higher education, and less satisfaction with the sojourn experience,” she wrote.Quinton’s study included East- and Southeast Asian international students, the largest group of foreign students in the United States. Among the more than 1 million international students in the U.S., more than 30% are from China, nearly 20% from India and nearly 5% from South Korea, according to the Institute for International Education in New York.“This group also has some of the largest cultural divides to bridge when coming to the U.S.,” Quinton said on the school’s website. “The independence emphasized in Western culture is often at odds with the emphasis on cooperation and interdependence in collectivistic cultures like China, South Korea and many Southeast Asian countries. That’s a very different orientation to what these students are accustomed to in their home culture.”
Quinton’s work states that when international students are better socialized, accepted and integrated on campus, they have less depression, homesickness and stress, and are better satisfied with their experience.
 
And it wasn’t just establishing friendships, Quinton reported, but simple interactions among students that could lead to knowing each other better, such as “time spent doing joint recreational activities, with whom people are studying and with whom they choose to spend their free time.”Along with self-esteem, Quinton examined international students’ thoughts on “university identity and perceived discrimination.”“Results suggest that self-esteem may be a particularly important resource for East/Southeast Asian international students striving to forge relationships with host nationals,” Quinton’s study stated. “Further, boosting university identity may foster better relationships for international students with both host national and other international students on campus,” she wrote.The University at Buffalo, as the learning institution is also known, defines university identity as “the degree to which students feel connected” with their school community. According to Quinton’s study, it is “associated with greater socialization” for domestic and international students.  “A strong sense of belonging to one’s university community (i.e., university identity) may serve as a shared ingroup identity for international students, uniting them with host-national students,” Quinton’s study states.
 
Perceived discrimination, on the other hand, is “the feeling that you or a group you belong to is the target of prejudice, was unrelated to socialization,” according to the university’s website.  
Quinton, however, says she believes that this is something that “universities can address.”  “International students who fall short of the expected connection with U.S. students are clearly disappointed, but there’s also a loss for the domestic student population, entering a global community, who are deprived of the benefits associated with interacting with people from varied and different backgrounds,” she said.  “Domestic students, in this case, are undoubtedly losing out, by not getting to know international students.”Quinton’s research was published in January in the International Journal of Intercultural Relations.
 

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