20 November 2017
Effect of Acculturative Stress on International Students
International students’ enrollment in higher education institutions in the US has expanded considerably in the last decade. Though many students are under academic, parental and societal pressure, international students have the added stress of being away from home and adjusting to a new culture and lifestyle. For most international students, the whole process of getting into a good university or college is very overwhelming. From acceptance rates and financial aid, to adjusting to a new life, the transition from high school to college is particularly harder for international students.
College is a new experience for everyone. The level of commitment to academics is higher than high school, resulting in a higher level of stress. The level of academic pressure keeps increasing with time. Higher expectations of parents, relatives, peers and students themselves increases the pressure, making this problem one that will keep increasing through the years if something substantial is not done about it. In their report on development of an acculturative stress scale for international students, the main aim of Daya Sandhu and Badiolah Asrabadi from the Counselor Education and Services program at Lindsey Wilson College, is to highlight the role of surroundings in the mental condition of an individual. For most international students, their surroundings are another thing they have to adjust to, instead of a source of comfort. In a world where everyone seems to know what is going on, the feeling of seclusion often adds to the pressure students are already experiencing in the academic realm. Around 47% of international students all over the world seek help for depression, anxiety and loneliness
In addition to cultural transition, academic pressure is a factor that can increase the stress and anxiety experienced by international students. The most common form of anxiety causing academic stress is achievement anxiety. It is a fear of failure in the academic setting that arises when parents, teachers, peers or students themselves create unfeasible goals and unrealistic expectations for themselves. For international students, these expectations exceed a practical level. They wish to do well not only for themselves, but also for their parents and everyone who has helped them reach this milestone in life. In doing so, they try to achieve more than is pragmatic. This stress hinders optimal performance and makes students spend time on coping rather than studying and preparing for exams and tests. This stress then affects grades and subsequently increases anxiety, giving rise to an incessant, vicious cycle. Lack of traditional social support, and financial aid restrictions are factors outside the academic spectrum that add to this stress. Isolation from classmates, lack of intercultural communication and culture shock leads to high levels of anxiety and acculturative stress.
The concept of perceived hate has also been in the spotlight for a long time. A lot of international students are over-sensitive and perceive rejection in the verbal and non-verbal communication and behavior of their peers (Sandhu). Underutilization of skills, a negative attitude, lack of sensitivity of different values and cultures are generally taken very personally and affect the well-being of the students. Social connectedness is something that can be maintained by the student himself. After coming to a new place, with a completely different environment than they have been in, students tend to spend time with other students of their own community. This social connectedness restricted to their own community creates a communication gap between an international student and other domestic students. Interacting with domestic students will help international students ease into the change. Having a confidant who knows the new environment the student is trying to adjust to will help them see the positives that are easily missed during the strive for adjustment or overpowered by the initial dislike for a changed surrounding. Although there are many coping strategies, some factors that hinder the easy transition of international students still remain unchanged.
An international student’s experience of transition from high school to college is complex and multifaceted. Several authors have attempted to study the nature of psychological problems of international students. One such author is Yue Zhang. In her studies, she notes that acculturative stress, perceived social support and depression are higher among Asian international students. English language competency significantly affects acculturative stress level (Zhang). Homesickness is another major factor that contributes to this hardship. The loss of emotional and social support systems due to separation from significant others, cultural and language barriers are responsible for the loneliness of international students. In addition to achieving their educational and personal goals, international students also feel obliged to hold on to their cultural roots. “International students deal with a lot of stressors in addition to academic pressure. One major thing is the burden to fit in. Social acceptance for an international student is like food and water for a human. Counselling sessions help alleviate stress and anxiety, but the lack of understanding and awareness among people hinders the smooth transition from high school to college,” says Rahul Bansal, a sophomore at University of Indiana. Kartik Sharma, a freshman pursuing computer engineering says, “The hardest thing for me to adjust to was not being able to play football every day. Along with this, I find adjusting to the change in food and meal times very hard.”
International students also face sociocultural challenges. Arriving from another country, they face problems even in their daily lives and are exposed to a different reality. The first thing they have to deal with is learning to survive in a new community. Perceptions of academic stress and coping strategies might differ across countries, but having a support system helps make any transition easier. However, for international students, there is rarely something they can call a support system. Creating separate communities for all international students so they can have an environment like home, psychological help centers, and counseling services have helped students a lot. Nevertheless, universities or organizations cannot change a few things that are essential to making the life of international students better. One major change that will help students is the change in the mindsets of students. The acceptance of international students into all communities and a better understanding of different types of mental health problems will make it easier for students to adjust to a new place, a new home.
Social, personal-emotional, academic and institutional adjustment challenge every college student. Fear of social isolation, emotional disconnect from their roots, and not fitting in at university define the path an international student takes in the first few months. The initial period of adjustment is the hardest and most critical. Even though a lot of students adjust to the conditions, many can’t resolve the problem. Peer groups and emotional support available on campus are places the students can get help. But, this doesn’t seem to be enough. The improvement of institutional instruction on campus will lead to better adjustment conditions for students (Kumaraswamy). Developing intercultural understanding and acceptance is the best way to tackle this problem and make any international student feel at home. Acculturative stress does not stop foreign students from having pleasant experiences, but it does hamper the positive experiences. The lack of support-both emotional and mental-at such a time can lead to these negative feelings overpowering the pleasant ones. Eventually students will fall further into the downward spiral of detachment and isolation, with stress and anxiety waiting at the end.
Bansal, Rahul. Personal Interview. 14 November 2017.
Chemers, Martin, et al. “Academic Self-Efficacy and First-Year College Student Performance and Adjustment.” Journal of Educational Psychology, vol. 93, no. 1, 2001, www.ece.uvic.ca/~rexlei86/SPP/GoogleScholar/Academic%20selfefficacy%20and%20first%20year%20college%20student%20performance%20and%20ad justment.pdf. Accessed 1 Nov. 2017.
Kumaraswamy, Narasappa. “Academic Stress, Anxiety and Depression among College Students-
A Brief Review.” International Review of Social Sciences and Humanities, vol. 5, no. 1,
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Sandhu, Daya, and Badiolah, Asrabadi. “Development of an Acculturative Stress Scale for International Students: Preliminary Findings.” Psychological Report,1994, www.researchgate.net/profile/Daya_Sandhu2/publication/15390522_Development_of_an
International-Students-Preliminary-Findings.pdf. Accessed 3 November 2017.
Sharma, Kartik. Personal Interview. 14 November 2017.
Zhang, Yue. “An Examination of Acculturative Stress, Perceived Social Support and Depression
Among Chinese International Students.” Child and Family Studies-Theses, Syracuse University,2012,surface.syr.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?//www.google.com/&httpsredir=1& article=1002&context=cfs_thesis. Accessed 6 November 2017.