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Individual-Level (Microlevel) Factors

Factors Prior to Acculturation


Age has a known relationship to the acculturation process. Age has been studied as related to foreign students’ academic performance and adjustment problems. The

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2017 95

K. Yan, Chinese International Students’ Stressors and Coping Strategies in the United States, Education in the Asia-Pacific Region: Issues, Concerns and Prospects 37,

DOI 10.1007/978-981-10-3347-6_8

relationships between foreign students’ age and their adjustment on a foreign campus, however, are inconclusive. There are two conclusions from different studies: (1) younger students have more adjustment problems than older ones and (2) older students have more difficulties than younger ones (Ward et al. 2001). Based on the findings of the present study, however, younger and older students have different kinds of adjustment problems. Older students experienced more culture shock, job and visa concerns, and immigration pressure, while younger students were more easily subject to academic pressure and homesickness and loneliness.

Older ones often do experience substantial cross-cultural challenges and problems. For instance, a male student in his 30s expressed the stress resulting from losing familiar signs and symbols and being unable to understand American norms or customs. He stated:

It is a challenge for me to socially interact with Americans. Although I sense the need to change some of my ideas, I feel ambivalent about the possibility of change. On one hand, I know adopting American style is important to me; on the other, I want to adhere to my own style by avoiding Americans. I am unable to understand or accept the customs, values, behaviors, and systems in the United States. In my inner heart, probably I am rather backward in my ideology. I feel that I cannot overcome it any more. At this age, I cannot catch up with the fashion anymore. I am lagging behind. I am different from American people. I do not have the same opinion as these people. I do not want to communicate with them. They are very different from me. (Participant 13)

In contrast to older students, younger students lead a less restrained life. They are not as burdened by the language barrier and by culture shock. They watched American dramas and were familiar with the latest pop music while they were in China. Most of them are open-minded and thirst for adventure, longing to see the world. A 21-year-old master’s student in chemistry said:

My favorite band is the “Red Hot Chili Peppers”; I am a huge fan of the Phoenix Suns [professional basketball team]; I am a hardcore supporter of Apple products. I follow every [television] episode of Prison Break, Grey’s Anatomy, and Desperate Housewives.

This seems to be the generation that was born to study in America. When asked whether she experienced any difficulties interacting with Americans or cultural shock, she responded:

My parents told me that when the cross-cultural experiences start early, the process is general smooth. I think it is true. I am not sure I experienced any culture shock. I just felt everything was new, and I was excited about the change. (Participant 18)

When asked why older students have a lower level of self-esteem and experience a high level of acculturative stress, five students believed that, given the higher national status of the United States in the world, communication with Americans also carries symbolic meanings of prestige and power for older students, which make them frustrated, nervous, and anxious. A biochemistry student stated this idea clearly:

In terms of interacting with American classmates or professors, I did not sense too much difficulty. I just treat them the same. Many older [Chinese] students consider the US standard superior to their own, which was “primitive” in the world order. Sometimes I feel sad for them, because if you consider your nationality is inferior to Americans, how can you expect others to respect you and your country. (Participant 9)

In addition to the culture shock, older students experienced more visa, job, and immigration pressures than younger students did (t = 2.17, p = 0.014 < 0.05). The follow-up interviews confirm the quantitative findings. A male student in his early 30s stated:

Besides stress from study and new culture, I have suffered from the stress from visa and immigration issues. How much I envy those [Chinese] kids who came to the United States in their early 20s. Making a decision is so easy for them. They can choose to go back or stay here just based on what they want. Even though I do not like living in America, I have to stay here, struggling for the green card, just because my wife and my son do not want to go back China. Everything becomes complicated when it involves your family. (Participant 7)

On the other hand, both the survey findings and the interview results reveal that students whose age is below 25 also were more easily subject to the burden of homesickness and loneliness. A female student said:

I never left home before I came to the United States, so I felt lonely and homesick from time to time, even though I can get along very well with my American friends. I miss the yummy food in China and dislike the Americanized and expensive Chinese food in America. I miss my parents and friends back home. I hate the weekend, when all Americans hang out the parties, and I still have to stay at home, watching the never end Friends or Sex and the City over and over again. (Participant 18)

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