Our group has reviewed the studies conducted on the international students’ adjustment problems. As indicated in the title, we attempted to review the studies on the international students’ life, and difficulties with community of practice perspective.
Overall, we found that the problems indicated from these studies are closely aligned with what we have heard from our participants. International students were faced with managing academic, social, and emotional problems during the process of cultural adjustment, and they attempted to deal with the problems by establishing a support network.
One qualitative study reported different adaptation challenges and behaviors to address the problems using interviews and observations:
Gebhard (2012). International students’ adjustment problems and behaviors. Journal of International Students, 2(2), 184-193.
The study focused on the experiences and behaviors of international students as individuals, not as a community of practice. However, from the findings of the study we found that there are potentials that CoP can illuminate for understanding international students’ adaptation and adjustment in new environments. The results showed that how they create and maintain their own community within the new environments by seeking for supportive groups; international student organizations, writing/learning centers, some friendly professors, friends consisting of friends from same home countries or other international students. Also, they had strong bond among the members. These results imply that there exist voluntary or self-organizing communities for international students that we need to investigate to better understand and support their communities of practice.
There was also another interesting trend we found in many of the articles we studied. It seemed to us that the suggested principles to help aid international students in their problems are entirely focused on the individual or the university. As an example, the study performed by Pranata, Foo-Kune, and Rodolfa out of U.C. Davis had several major suggestions for how to help students with the difficulties they experienced in transitioning to this culture. They focused predominantly on empowering and educating the individual students or being more creative when assisting these students when focusing on that end of the problem. Similarly, when focusing on what the universities could do instead, there was a focus on providing more specialized services such as sensitivity training and culturally-aware therapy sessions that take into account the individual’s culture, which is largely focused on the community that these individuals do not feel they are a part of. Where is the focus on the community of international students?
Pranata, H., Foo-Kune, N., & Rodolfa, E. (n.d.). International students: Supporting their transition to the United States. Retrieved from http://caps.ucdavis.edu/resources/international/InternationalStudent.pdf
A number of the articles we found took a very quantitative approach to the phenomenon of international student problems. Some examples of these sorts of studies are:
Galloway, F. J., & Jenkins, J. R. (2005). The adjustment problems faced by international students in the United States: A comparison of international students and administrative perceptions at two private, religiously affiliated universities. Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice, 42(2), 321-333.
Hechanova-Alampay, R., Beehr, T. A., Christiansen, N. D., & Van Horn, R. K. (2002). Adjustment and Strain among Domestic and International Student Sojourners A Longitudinal Study. School Psychology International, 23(4), 458-474.
One instrument used in many of these studies is the Michigan International Student Problem Inventory (found in appendix A of this dissertation), originally crafted in 1962 and updated in 1977. One obvious shortcoming of these papers is what would seem to be an outdated approach (or at least, instrument). This sort of qualitative investigation privileges the researcher’s preconceptions of what international students’ problems are. The largest problem, however, is that these sorts of inquiries make individuals the focus of analysis. Almost everything we’ve learned so far stresses that problems are situated, that they cannot be isolated or engaged apart from the circumstances in which they occur. While isolation is a commonly expressed international student problem, this problem does not occur in isolation, nor do any of the others.
While the studies above do mention the role of community in passing, we contend that it should be the focus. The following article does just that:
Montgomery, C., & McDowell, L. (2009). Social Networks and the International Student Experience An International Community of Practice?. Journal of Studies in International Education, 13(4), 455-466.
This article confirms our conclusion that the CoP framework is a useful way to look at international student groups and communities. The qualitative approach they took (semi-structured interviews and shadowing) allows the international students to present their experience in their own words, and avoids glossing over important factors through preconceived categories and statistical analysis. It legitimizes the communities of support that arise as new students arrive, contend with problems, and adapt year after year. The sense of empathy with new students appears to be the motive of forming the communities among the international student group. It seems clear to us that these communities develop a shared repertoire and set of practices that aid new international students who come in as legitimate peripheral participants. These communities should be the focus of research on international problems, and ideas for solutions should start with them.
Written by Brandon Sherman, Mike Banales, Koun Choi