International Undergraduate Students Coping With Challenges at a Private Faith-Based University

International Undergraduate Students Coping With Challenges at a Private Faith-Based University

Renaude Etienne Saint-Phard, Gustavo Gregorutti
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3451-8.ch011
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Current research shows that international students confront multifaceted challenges in their host country. However, most of the studies conducted do not give a voice nor do they explore these students' coping strategies. This qualitative study aimed to explore the cultural, linguistic, curricular, and financial experiences of 10 international undergraduate students and their coping strategies at a Midwest university. The Bronfenbrenner's bio-ecological model of human development and the Australian resilience international student education (RISE) theories guided this study to facilitate an interpretative and naturalistic approach and understandings of the coping phenomenon. The findings implied that the overwhelming majority of the participants confronted various challenges and coped with them because of their resilience through their faith in God, motivation, determination, and community support. This study may help to increase student retention improving services to international students. It provides the bases to policies development to advance better insertion of international students.
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For the past three decades, higher education worldwide has been experiencing a paradigm shift with increasing international students crossing the borders in quest of education. Over time, this rapid and evolving student mobility is gradually facilitating internationalization (Knight, 2004; Weber & Duderstadt, 2008). This global phenomenon is creating new twists for universities and their stakeholders that experience the influence of international students. For the American education system, these exchanges mean gaining new talented participants, diversity, sources of income, and even expanding research (Wildavski, 2010). These rapid changes are enormous and require the full attention and cooperation of colleges and universities in key areas such as, admissions, academic affairs, student services, campus life, and student mobility. So, policies and conditions to ensure students’ insertion in institutions and, later on, in the economy, are becoming critical (McClellan & Springer, 2009). Studies highlight the need for institutional promptness to ease the transitional process and adjustment issues for international students as they leave their countries for a new environment (Mori, 2000; Wang, Puri, Slaney, Methikalam, & Chadha, 2012).

Researchers on international students have indicated that their transition to the U.S. higher education system creates some stressful linguistic, cultural, financial, and social experiences (Chan & Mendoza-Denton, 2008). Though international students’ challenges differ according to their profile and behavior, studies suggest that they use psychological resilience to cope with the stress associated with their experiences (Cummings et al., 1991; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Rutter, 2008; Weiten & Lloyd, 2008; Snyder, 1999; Zeidner & Endler, 1996). Resilience is a process that can be discovered, studied and developed from the average person (Rutter, 2008). It represents the “processes for, capacity for, or patterns of positive adaptation during or following exposures to adverse experiences that have the potential to disrupt or destroy the successful functioning or the development of the person” (Masten & Obradovic (2008). Thus, resilience can be seen as the strength, the awareness, the endurance and belief system that individuals use in face of adversity and prevail over it (Lightsey, 2006).

Although current research tends to address international undergraduate students’ multilayered problems such as, their cultural, linguistic, curricular, and financial challenges, very few studies explore how international students cope with their challenges. There is a research gap to understand how personal, environmental, and institutional factors play in students’ experiences of resilience. The purpose of this chapter is to explore the perceptions and experiences of international undergraduate students; more specifically, how they cope with cultural challenges, language, curricular differences, and financial stress. So, this study looks for a broader understanding of international undergraduate students’ confronting challenges and coping strategies. The understanding of their stories, experiences, and mindsets is valuable to add new knowledge that would help policy makers to develop better strategies to improve international students’ experiences in American higher education. Essentially, this study explored the themes that surfaced from personal interviews to grasp the coping experiences in face of challenges.

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