Translating Success: Academic Transition of International Students in the US

Translating Success: Academic Transition of International Students in the US

Ghanashyam Sharma (Stony Brook University, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-9752-2.ch001
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The author in this chapter uses a combination of qualitative research approaches (participatory action research, phenomenological research and rhetorical analysis) to discuss a number of themes emerging from academic transition narratives contributed by US international students to a web-based project. Picking selected stories from the project, the author discusses the benefits of drawing on features of participatory action research for data collection and providing international students a forum for sharing their experiences—as well as using those experiences for informing research and pedagogy.
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“How many of you are international students?” I asked one of my college writing classes the first day of semester a few years ago. More than a third of the twenty students raised their hands, including some who half-raised their hands, so I paused to ask what that meant. When I clarified the purpose of my question as “finding out which students did not have US-style academic writing experiences in secondary school,” students explained why they couldn’t decide whether they should call themselves “international.” One of them was born in the US but had studied high school in Korea, and another’s family migrated to the US from the Caribbean region while he was in middle school. A third student was a second or third generation Chinese-American (she didn’t know how immigrant generations are counted) and she humorously described herself as international because “everyone thinks I am one.” The most interesting case was that of a second-generation immigrant who decided to raise her hand later on: she considered herself “international” in the sense of being a global citizen.

This chapter describes a solution to the difficulty of systematically identifying and pedagogically addressing the academic challenges (as embodied in the above anecdote) of international students during their transition to American colleges and universities. Using data from a long-term project that gathers academic transition narratives from former and current international students in the US, the chapter proposes alternative research methods and theoretical framings toward developing educational policies and practices that can account for the diversity and complexity of this student body. After briefly reviewing relevant scholarship on the subject and describing the larger study, it discusses a few major themes and patterns emerging from the narratives contributed to the research project so far.

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