The Bridge to America: A Passageway for International Graduate Students

The Bridge to America: A Passageway for International Graduate Students

Tsz Kin Kwok (Drexel University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-3451-8.ch010


The current mixed method research study explored the acculturative experiences of international graduate students through a summer bridge program known as the webinar. The study was conducted at a comprehensive research university in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania before newly admitted graduate students arrived in the United States. Both quantitative and qualitative results were collected to gain greater insights during their transitional period. The following themes emerged in this study: (1) physiological and psychological needs, (2) sense of belonging, (3) peer-to-peer support, and (4) faculty and professional staff engagement. The themes presented in this study may assist international graduate students with their adjustment timeframe from their home country to the host environment.
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Retaining and supporting international graduate students is an ongoing movement in higher education across North America (Sullivan & Kashubeck-West, 2015; Tan & Liu, 2014). In the academic year 2015 – 2016, there were over one million international students studying in the United States (Institute of International Education, 2016). Many developing countries lack the proper infrastructure to sustain and accommodate the needs of graduate students. As such, students migrate to other countries like United States and Canada to pursue their higher education (Trice, 2007). By studying in the land of opportunity, international students have the opportunity to network with other professionals within and outside of their academic discipline, increase their cultural knowledge and experience a different culture. In return, domestic students could augment the knowledge and appreciation of cultures from different countries.

For the most part, diversity is often regarded as a positive movement in higher education. At the same time, many colleges and universities are not adequately prepared for the new wave of international students studying in the United States (Ren & Hagedorn, 2012; Sherry, Thomas & Chui, 2010; Zhou, Frey & Bang, 2011). In surveying the literature, American higher educational institutions need to pay close attention to international students in areas ranging from pedagogical concerns (Lin & Scherz, 2014), to diversity (Boafo-Arthur, 2014) and to social satisfaction (Perrucci & Hu, 1995). Even though international students come from different parts of the world, many of them go through a similar acculturative experience, which bring them together as a collective group. For many of them, they encounter an extra challenge since they have never lived in the United States nor experienced the western culture.

One such platform to address the transitional difficulties is to conduct an orientation program for new and incoming students. The main purpose of orientation is to acculturate new students about the culture at the university, educate them about the available resources on campus and introduce them to the cultural and social avenues in the adjoining areas. While an orientation program is very helpful and valuable, transitional difficulties may be challenging to remediate in an ephemeral interval (Ren & Hagedorn, 2012). If these concerns are not properly addressed, international students may feel disconnected and disengaged from the university, which may impact their retention rate across all American higher education. Transitioning to a new environment takes time.

Due to the variation of educational, cultural and social differences, many U.S. higher educational institutions may need to conduct a bridge program before the start of the academic year with international students to assist with the adjustment. Tas (2013) believed that a bridge program like a webinar series may be crucial in transitioning international students to a new environment and it should be a substantial part of a multi-faceted program to address their retention. By examining the acculturation needs of international graduate students through a bridge program, university constituents who are directly involved may benefit and gain a comprehensive understanding of possible transitional difficulties that international graduate students will encounter when starting in U.S. higher education. Institutional commitment to international graduate students is a must since what is provided to them may impact the retention rate, academic performance, social interaction with other students, and their overall physiological and psychological being (Ren & Hagedorn, 2012).

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