Thwarting or Embodying Model Minority Stereotypes: An Alternative Look at Adjustment of Asian International Students in American Higher Education

Thwarting or Embodying Model Minority Stereotypes: An Alternative Look at Adjustment of Asian International Students in American Higher Education

Eunyoung Kim (Seton Hall University, USA) and Katherine C. Aquino (Seton Hall University, USA)
Copyright: © 2015 |Pages: 30
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-7467-7.ch006
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Abstract

This chapter provides a critical review of research on Asian international students' educational experiences in American higher education, highlighting key findings and identifying trends and dominant narratives that account for adjustment struggles, issues, stresses, and challenges. The authors argue that despite a large amount of research on the complex realities associated with Asian international students' adjustment experiences, such as the academic, the psychological, the sociocultural, and the linguistic, the discourse on model minority stereotypes has yet to include meaningful research on Asian international students. In an effort to advance the theoretical underpinnings for research on Asian international students, a new Transitory Accommodation Model (TAM) is presented, focusing primarily on academic pressure and motivation, academic self-efficacy, and acculturation to a new academic environment. The model builds on existing theoretical principles associated with academic self-worth, coping ability, and social connectedness within a new culture and academic setting. Implications for future research are also discussed.
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Introduction

Like many Asian Americans, Asian international students are often portrayed as hard-working, academically driven whiz kids who dominate in science, technology, math, and engineering programs on American college campuses (Green & Kim, 2005). However, the realities of academic performance and adjustment to college environments among Asian international students respond to and transcend these common stereotypes in complex ways. The prevailing depiction of Asian Americans as high academic performers imposes high and unfair expectations on Asian international students, and masks the diverse educational experiences characteristic to the lives of these unique individuals. Asian students often fear being viewed as unsuccessful, and as a result feel compelled to narrowly focus on academic pursuits—a process whereby these students implicitly embrace model minority stereotypes, rather than exposing themselves to broader intercultural interactions. In addition, research shows that Asian international students often experience minority status stress associated with the American racial hierarchy and face discrimination on and off campus (Lee & Rice, 2007; Wei et al., 2008). The communities surrounding these students often stereotype their cultures or countries of origin, criticize their English accents and limited language skills, and treat them as perpetual foreigners (e.g., Lee & Rice, 2007; Wei et al., 2008). Although researchers have uncovered some of the more complex realities associated with Asian international students’ adjustment experiences, such as the academic (ability to meet academic demands in a new educational system), the psychological (feelings of well-being), the sociocultural (ability to fit in and to negotiate the new culture) and the linguistic (language proficiency), the discourse on model minority stereotypes has yet to include meaningful research on Asian international students. Therefore, a look at the group from this perspective could result in significant theoretical advances in addressing the educational needs and concerns of Asian international students.

Our objective for this chapter is to provide a critical review of research on Asian international students’ educational experiences in American higher education, highlighting key findings and identifying trends and dominant narratives that account for adjustment struggles, issues, stresses, and challenges, in order to establish a knowledge base and offer suggestions for future research. In this chapter, we argue that Asian international students are expected to perform at higher levels than are racial/ethnic minority American students and other international students while simultaneously negotiating model minority stereotypes that hold them not only to high academic standards but also to ongoing international student status. These high expectations are bolstered by the myth that the United States is a meritocratic society, equating hard work, a diligent work ethic, and self-motivation with academic success—a story that ignores acculturative stress, discrimination towards Asian international students, and lack of integration into campus life. We also seek to advance the theoretical underpinnings for research on Asian international students by proposing a new theoretical model to better understand these students’ adjustment to the college environment. This model is called the Transitory Accommodation Model (TAM), and focuses primarily on academic pressure and motivation, academic self-efficacy, and acculturation to a new academic environment. We posit that Asian international students experience a dramatic cultural shift when they move to a new setting, often facing challenges beyond typical academic pressures, such as the model minority stereotype threat, as well as problems associated with language ability and perceived social connectedness. It is our belief that focusing significant attention on Asian international students through this model will fill a large void in the existing literature, working against trends that have silenced this population’s voices in the academic discourse on model minority issues.

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