Exploring the Experiences of International Students' Partners: Implications for the Post-Secondary Context

Exploring the Experiences of International Students' Partners: Implications for the Post-Secondary Context

Jon Woodend (University of Calgary, Canada), Sarah Nutter (University of Calgary, Canada), Danni Lei (University of Calgary, Canada) and Sharon Cairns (University of Calgary, Canada)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9749-2.ch006
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The authors in this chapter aim to provide a beginning understanding of the unique experiences and challenges that partners of international students face when accompanying international students to post-secondary institutions. As enrollment of international students has steadily increased worldwide, institutions are beginning to recognize the necessity of extending services and programming to partners. With the difficulties of adjusting to a new country and culture, partners may provide a valuable source of social support. There are, however, additional unique difficulties for partners, including: lack of English proficiency, social disconnection, loss of identity, and many more. This chapter will provide an introduction to the importance of examining this population, historical background, general experiences of the partners, most current research, recommendations for services, policies and practices, and conclude with specific areas of further research. It is the hope of the authors to provide visibility for an often forgotten and invisible population.
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Post-secondary institutions around the world have sought to increase international student enrollment, with many Western English-speaking countries leading the way. For example, the Canadian Government is committed to strengthening international education efforts, including attracting more international students (Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada; AUCC, 2014). Ninety-five percent of Canadian post-secondary institutions recognize this commitment as part of their strategic planning and identify it as a top priority (AUCC, 2014). Interestingly, the United States (US) has documented a slight decline in international student enrollment, which has motivated the government and institutions to once again become a top destination choice for students (Obst & Forster, 2004; Institute of Education, 2011). These shifts indicate a desire to attract more international students, as well as highlight a growing need to understand how to effectively support these students.

Increasing the enrollment of international students has been deemed essential by many institutions and governments due to the sizeable economic impact to the institutions, communities, and countries as a whole (AUCC, 2014; Obst & Forster, 2004). In 2013, Canada documented 396,202 international students (Government of Canada, 2014), while the United Kingdom (UK) documented 435,500 students (Higher Education Statistics Agency, 2015). Although there has been a slight decline in the US compared to previous years, the country still reported 886,052 international students in 2013 (Institute of International Education, 2014). It is estimated that, as a whole, between 4.1 million and 6.7 million students will be studying abroad by 2020 (World Education Services, 2010). Notably, these numbers do not include dependents, such as partners and children who accompany the students to the host country.

Besides the billions of dollars per year of financial value added for the host country (World Education Services, 2010), international students provide an enrichment of institutional and community culture through their diverse backgrounds and perspectives (Evans, Carlin, & Potts, 2009). International students also contribute a wide range of knowledge, talents, and skills to the host country. Many academic programs rely heavily on such knowledge, talents, and skills to conduct groundbreaking research and fill teaching roles (Institute of International Education, 2011). In return, international students gain a Higher Education (HE) experience in a Western culture and an English-speaking context that is desirable in today’s increasingly interconnected world. In addition, some students choose to remain in the host country after obtaining a degree and enter the workforce as educated workers and professionals (Institute of International Education, 2014).

A result of the continued increasing enrollment of international students in post-secondary institutions is the increased necessity of supporting their unique needs. Students from countries outside of North America, especially those from non-English-speaking countries, may not be able to adjust to living in a completely new country and culture without some challenges (Tas, 2013). International students have significantly higher rates of adjustment difficulties and are more likely to experience higher levels of stress compared to domestic students (Povrazli & Lopez, 2007). Factors such as culture shock, poor English language proficiency, social conflicts, financial difficulties, and lack of support networks in the host country compound typical post-secondary stressors (Sumer, Poyrazli, & Grahame, 2008). Given the rupture of various connections with their home country and differences between an individual’s culture and that of the host country, many international students experience homesickness and social isolation (Poyrazli & Lopez, 2007).

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