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Academic Stress and Academic Coping Strategy

As for the academic stress, I asked respondents to rank on a 5-point scale, from 1 not a challenge at all to 5 a critical challenge, the extent of challenges of four factors in American academic settings. Results indicated that the classroom interaction (speaking up, making presentations, and asking questions) (M = 3.01, SD = 1.71) and academic paper writing (M = 2.73, SD = 1.08) rank the highest. Regarding the difficulty of understanding the lectures, significant difference is observed across majors (t = 2.58, p = 0.014 < 0.05). Social science students (M = 2.83, SD = 0.57) felt it was much more difficult to understand professors’ lectures than the engineering students did (M = 2.16, SD = 0.96). With respect to the difficulty of adjusting to the American educational settings, a significant difference is identified between married and single students (t = 2.44, p = 0.018 < 0.05). Married students (M = 2.80, SD = 1.07) felt much easier to adjust to the American academic settings than single students (M = 2.05, SD = 1.17) did. One possible explanation is that married students might get more information and support from their spouses who came earlier and were more familiar with American academic settings (see Tables 5.3, 5.4 and 5.5).

Rank

Academic coping strategy

N

M

SD

1

Spending more time studying

60

3.71

1.02

2

Seeking advices from friends

60

3.28

1.09

3

Practicing English

60

3.08

1.23

4

Anticipating and preparing to avoid problems

60

3.06

1.19

5

Increasing reading after class

60

3.03

1.24

6

Observing American academic settings and other American students to make behavior adjustments

60

2.21

1.13

In order to understand the coping strategies students used to overcome their academic difficulties, a question was asked about the relative frequency of six strategies. Answers were given on a 5-point scale with 1 being very seldom and 5 being very often. Among the six strategies, Chinese students prefer to cope with their stress by spending more time or effort on studying to enhance academic strength (M = 3.71, SD = 1.02) and seeking insights or suggestions from friends or classmates (M = 3.28, SD = 1.09). These two strategies were followed by the other three coping strategies, practicing English (M = 3.08, SD = 1.28), anticipating and preparing to avoid potential problems (M = 3.06, SD = 1.19), and increasing reading after class to compensate for weaknesses in listening comprehension during lectures (M = 3.03, SD = 1.24), all three of which have a similar frequency rating (see Table 5.6).

The strategy of observing American students and making behavior adjustments in American class settings (M = 2.21, SD = 1.19) ranks the lowest among the six strategies. This suggests that most Chinese students normally choose not to adopt the strategy of behavior adjustment. Behavior adjustment, according to Greer (2005), refers to the strategy of incorporating the conduct that is generally linked to the American culture into their available behaviors and discarding the thoughts or behaviors that is related to Chinese culture if they prove a hindrance to their academic success. Most Chinese students in this study obviously give high priority to enhancing their academic strength by working hard or seeking suggestions from friends as opposed to adopting American behaviors. One possible reason is that, for Chinese students, the new educational environment is so confusing, ambiguous, and overwhelming that they tend to wrap themselves up in their academic struggles and appear indifferent to other aspects of academic life on campus.

There is a significant difference across the majors with regard to behavior adjustment (t = 3.34, p = 0.002 < 0.05). Students in social science (M = 3.41, SD = 0.99) have a higher tendency to overcome their academic problems by observing American academic settings and other American students to make behavioral adjustment than students in engineering departments do (M = 2.79, SD = 1.14). Gender difference is observed as well. Female students (M = 3.5, SD = 0.84) more prefer to use the strategy of observing American students and making behavioral adjustments than male students do (M = 2.5, SD = 1.14) (see Tables 5.7 and 5.8).

Table 5.7 Unpaired t-test for differences between social science and engineering students in the frequency of using the strategy of observing American students and making behavior adjustment

Major

n

M

SD

Mean diff

t

P

Social science

12

3.41

0.99

1.04

3.34

0.002**

Engineering

24

2.79

1.14

Note: **p < 0.01

Table 5.8 Unpaired t-test for differences between female and male students in the frequency of using the strategy of observing American students and making behavior adjustments

Gender

n

M

SD

Mean diff

t

P

Female

27

3.50

0.84

1.00

3.88

0.000**

Male

33

2.50

1.14

Note: **p < 0.01

In order to know which factors are important in motivating Chinese students to study hard in the United States, on a 5-point scale, with 1 being not important at all and 5 very important, I asked respondents to rank the relative importance of five factors.

Results indicate “good grades bring the feeling of self-esteem and self-worth” (M = 3.38, SD = 1.66) and “education is the only hope for social acceptance and financial security in the United States” (M = 3.20, SD = 1.22) were the most important factors motivating Chinese students to study hard in the United States. These two factors were followed by the other three motivators, “high expectation from parents” (M = 2.95, SD = 1.17), “feeling guilty about parental sacrifices” (M = 2.90, SD = 1.10), and “social comparison with other Chinese students in terms of educational achievement” (M = 2.88, SD = 1.22), all of which have a similar rating of importance.

 
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