‘Growing from an acorn to an oak tree’: a thematic analysis of international students’ cross-cultural adjustment in the United States

Ammigan, Ravichandran
Veerasamy, Yovana S.
Cruz, Natalie I.
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Studies in Higher Education
Embarking on an educational journey overseas can be a rewarding, yet stressful experience for many international students. The transition to their new university life, which is not always well understood and supported by host institutions, is often accompanied by unique difficulties and challenges resulting from unfamiliarity with a new academic environment, social and cultural differences, and language barriers. This study examines the cross-cultural transition experiences of international students enrolled at a mid-sized university in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States (U.S.). Using qualitative methods, we collected and analyzed data from reflection essays written by 378 international students between 2013 and 2020. This yielded experiential themes surrounding cross-cultural adaptation, adjustment, and acculturation to new local norms and values while studying in the U.S., including during an unwelcoming political climate and a global health pandemic. Drawing on Ward and Kennedy's (1999) model of sociocultural adjustment, we found that the experiences of international students were often characterized by distinctive psychological and sociocultural components. We contextualized the diverse student perspectives and relied on student voices to guide implications and offer recommendations to university staff and administrators with a goal to strengthen support services, enhance experiences, and ensure the well-being and success of this community. To our knowledge, this study represents the first time that a large data set of narratives, through reflection essays, has been analyzed to better understand the cross-cultural encounters of international students, both inside and outside of the classroom.
This is an Accepted Manuscript of an article published by Taylor & Francis in Studies in Higher Education on 11/24/2022, available at: http://www.tandfonline.com/10.1080/03075079.2022.2150757. This article will be embargoed until 5/24/2024.
international student experience , cross-cultural adaptation , adjustment , acculturation , support services
Ravichandran Ammigan, Yovana S. Veerasamy & Natalie I. Cruz (2022) ‘Growing from an acorn to an oak tree’: a thematic analysis of international students’ cross-cultural adjustment in the United States, Studies in Higher Education, DOI: 10.1080/03075079.2022.2150757