The incidence of study-related stress in international students in the initial stage of the international sojourn 1 Abstract This paper explores the incidence of stress in international students in relation to the requirements of an international Masters Programmer. The data presented here were taken from a doctoral ethnographic study of the adaptation of international postgraduate students to life in the I-J, involving individual interviews with thirteen students over the academic year 2003/4 as well as participant observation of the entire cohort of 150 Masters students.
It is suggested that article stress related to the academic task sis caused by academic cultural differences particularly in regard to critical evaluation and participation in discussion in class, and by language ability. This study shows that stress is intense at the beginning of the academic programmer and declines gradually as a function off reduction in the academic workload, rather than as a function of time. 31 .
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Introduction It is widely agreed that at the start of their stay, most sojourners 1 will experience some degree of culture shock (e. G. Kim 1 988; Students 1998; Hefted 2001 culture shock s defined as anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse, which we do not carry on the level of conscious awareness (Berg 1958), and their substitution by other cues that are strange (Hall 1959).
Among the many symptoms of culture shock are physical illness, low self-esteem, low morale, social isolation, dissatisfaction with life, bitterness, homesickness, disorientation, anxiety, depression, role strain, identity confusion, stress, loneliness, self-doubt, hostility, distress, personality disintegration helplessness, irritability, fear, and self-deprecation (e. . Adler 1975; Alexander et al. 976; David 1976; Detailer, 1980; Jacobson-Wadding 1983; Burnham and Alibi, 1 985; Talladega and Parks 1985; Kim 1 988; Stores 1990; Hefted 1991; persuade 1993; Berry 1994, students 1988; and many more). Sources of strain include racial discrimination, weather and food differences, language, accommodation, separation from home, dietary restrictions, money, diminished social interaction, role and status change and a different educational system (ibid).
The severity and duration of the experience of culture shock are a function of cultural and individual preferences (Kim 1988; Sear and Ward, 1990; Burnham 1993; Ward and Change 1 997; Ward et al 2001 Given that the purpose of visit of international students 2 in Higher Education is to achieve an educational qualification, and that they have to become academically competent soon after arrival in the new country, the negative symptoms associated with culture shock are often very intense.
In an ethnographic study of the adaptation experience of a sample of postgraduate international students in the KICK, culture shock was suffered by nearly all students, with one of the most commonly cited symptoms being stress related to the demands of their intensive Masters course. Stress is considered to be a generalized physiological and psychological state brought about by the experience of stresses in the environment, identified as having their source in the process of acculturation (Cajon 1952; Hamburg et al. 1974; Detailer 1 980; Berry 1994).
In this study, the environmental stresses included the academic requirements of the postgraduate course of study, the need for a good level of English language and the dissonance between the academic conventions of the students’ origin country and those of the I-J. According to Ballard and Cleanly (1997), students enter Higher Education with expectations shaped by their previous learning experience, which is often significantly different from the education system in the new country. Thus academic difficulties may arise not just because of The term sojourn is used by Ward et al. (2001) to refer to temporary between-society culture contact. Defined as any non-KICK resident (Paltrier 2004). Nightstick differences but also due to a failure to understand or communicate at a cultural level, something which may not have been anticipated. Academic success is dependent on the assimilation of the norms of the academic ultra (Blue 1 993), and it is for this reason that the culture of the academic world is usually more important for international students than that of the host community (Sharpies 1995), as failing to gain a qualification will result in loss of face on the part of the student and their family (Barker 1997; Hefted 2001; Ryan and Carroll 2005).
Accordingly, international students Often reduce their cultural adaptation to the minimum required to fulfill their role as student (Students 1983; Kim, 1988). There is a temporal relationship between culture shock and adjustment (Sear and Ward, 1990; F-uranium 1 993; Students 1998). Culture shock is intense upon arrival in a new country, but is noted for its transitory nature, and in the models of adjustment, it is the first stage of adaptation that sojourners go through (e. G. The u-Curve model by Laggard 1 955; the W- Curve model by Gallagher and Gallagher 1963).
It might be expected therefore that stress would be most prominent in the initial stage of the academic sojourn and would diminish once adjustment to academic norms and conventions had been made, and once students had developed sufficient linguistic competence to meet the demands of the course. This paper will discuss the incidence of stress among international postgraduate students in the initial stage of their sojourn, and will discuss the causes and duration of this stress as well as its impact on students’ quality of life. 2.
Methodology The doctoral research (as yet unpublished) from which the data for this paper were taken involved an ethnographic investigation into the adaptation experience of international students at a university in the South of England, using participant observation, and in-depth interviews. Ethnography, an interdisciplinary research approach often used in education (Hammerless 992), was adopted for this study as the aim of the research was to study international students in a natural setting and to obtain the mimic or insider perspective on academic life (Betterment 1998).
The setting chosen for this research was the Graduate School at a university in the south of England. As work there as a lecturer in English for Academic Purposes (EPA), I am already ‘in the field’; I have direct access to students and ample opportunity for observation in an overt participant role. Ethnographers mostly use purposive sampling, selecting a specific location and students (Daemon and Holloway 2002). The inclusion criteria for selecting interviewees were that students should be Masters students on the same course and that they should vary in nationality.
Many students volunteered for the project, so I was fortunate that interviewees were fairly representative of the population Of 1 50 students with regard to nationality 3 gender, age, living situation, religion and culture. Thirteen students were interviewed over a 12 month academic year (involving four formal tape- recorded interviews and many informal conversations). 3 The breakdown of the interviewees’ nationality is as follows: Thai, Indonesian,
Chinese, Taiwanese, Brazilian, South African, Malaysian, Slovenian, Russian, Jordanian, Iranian, Korean, and German. Ball (1983) states that many studies do not take into account the implications Of timing, which is crucial to education because of the importance of the cycles of academic activity. Institutions have their own temporal phenomenology; therefore the decision to study an institution at a particular time can be as sign efficient as the choice of the institution itself. Darted the collection of the primary data immediately as the first academic semester started in 2003, being aware that dents would have particularly intense emotional experiences at the start of term when they would be attempting to adapt not only to a new coloratura environment but also to a probably unfamiliar academic situation. Subsequent interviews were held at three monthly intervals, in an attempt to capture the process of adaptation, from the students’ viewpoint, as it happened, instead of retrospectively, which does not usually permit a reliable account (Church 1 982; Paltrier 2004).
The second round of interviews was conducted just after the Christmas holiday. Conducted the third round f interviews shortly after the Easter holiday, towards the end of the taught part of the course (six-months). Ended the ethnographic data collection at the end of the academic year, in September 2004, upon student dissertation submission, which meant that I captured the total academic experience for a Masters student.
Had I finished the data collection any earlier, I would not have captured the students’ experience of isolation during the dissertation period, or the mixture of feelings arising from returning to their home country or their reflections on their year abroad. In addition to interviewing, participant observation was conducted throughout the year, so that the experience of the whole cohort was taken into account, as an attempt at validity through the triangulation of methods. The observation period for this research started on the first day of induction in September 2003 and finished two weeks after dissertation submission.
Examples of observation sites and occasions include: the classroom, the corridor, the library, the coffee bar, the canteen, the office, induction, social events organized by the School or University and by students themselves. Observations and opportunistic conversations were recorded in a field journal on a daily basis. These field notes proved to be a rich source of data, with topics arising in class, in tutorials etc, which also arose during the interviews, e. G. Food, the weather, religion, drinking, academic difficulties.
According to Mason (2002), qualitative research raises a number of ethical issues which should be anticipated in advance. Ethical approval to undertake this study was sought from the university Research Ethics Committee, and access to students was formally granted by the main gatekeeper, in this case, he Head of School. During induction week (in September), when met the entire student group in my capacity as EPA lecturer, I introduced my research topic verbally and in writing, and asked for informed consent to observe and record observations on a daily basis.
I also asked for volunteers for the interviewing aspect of the research. As students volunteered, an information sheet was issued and students were reminded Of confidentiality issues, their right to withdraw from the study, and the anonymity of data. Non ethnography, the analysis of data is not a distinct stage of research Hammerless and Atkinson 1 995): it is necessary from the start to direct the next interview and observation. After the first interviews had been conducted in the first weeks of term (October 2003) and observation had begun, preliminary analysis, involving coding field and interview data, was carried out.
According to Glasses (1 978), the analytic code is essential, as it conceptualizes underlying patterns of empirical indicators, and stops the researcher from getting lost in the data (Mason 2002). Coding meant reading through notes and repeatedly listening to tapes and reading transcripts until hems or categories (an example of which is language anxiety) began to emerge, as certain phrases events, activities, ideas etc occurred repeatedly in the text.
I undertook four rounds of 13 interviews, and after each round, the transcript was scrutinized, and recurring and key topics were highlighted to be followed up in the next interview. Once the interview transcripts were analyses, I searched through the field notes and email correspondence for anything the student had said during class etc, to feed into the subsequent interview. To facilitate the process, I created a codebook, with a list of codes after analyzing the first round of interviews, which I updated as the data collection proceeded.
As in much qualitative research, an inductive approach was adopted. Once analysis started to clarify the emerging topics, literature was collected, but not read, so as to avoid influencing subsequent interviews. After the final round of interviews, literature was reviewed, and relationships were established between the primary and secondary data. Primary and secondary data will be interwoven in this paper, so that discussion takes place as the data are presented.
Finally, to be faithful to the ethnographer’s sire to capture the mimic view of the social world, much use will be made of verbatim quotations from students. 3. The relationship between stress and the academic task The source of stress for students in this ethnographic study was the one-year masters programmer. As will be seen, stress was caused by the demanding nature of the programmer, the need for a high level of English language and the dissonance between the host and original country academic culture.
As noted by Persuade (1993), all students are challenged by the demands of Higher Education, but many international students are particularly placed ender pressure by the confrontation with an alien academic culture and the need to become linguistically competent quite quickly. When confronting a new environment necessitating the learning of new behavior, stress is a common reaction, which can become chronic, until adjustment is reached (Kim 1988; Berry 1994).
Indeed, in this study, the pressure experienced by students was often manifested in weight loss, insomnia, agitation and tearfulness, with a consequent reduction in well-being both physically and mentally. 3. 1 Intensity Of the course non the first weeks of their intensive postgraduate course, when the workload as typically high, and students had to adjust to a new academic culture and a foreign language environment, the anxiety experienced by students was intense. Words used repeatedly by interviewees to describe their feelings included: worried, nervous, scared, afraid, tough, pressured, tiring, hard and demanding.
In particular, students were overwhelmed by the requirement to write eight assignments inside 12 weeks in a foreign language, as expressed below: We have to work so hard. I cannot sleep! All the assignments come at the same time. Jordanian interviewee Sometimes cannot sleep and when want to sleep I get up so early, don’t now why. ‘l want to sleep, don’t wake up! ‘ I don’t get up, just try to lie on my bed, one hour later, give up, I get up. Maybe its because the deadline Of assignment was coming. Try to do, lots of stuff. Too much work!
Thai interviewee Conversations with the rest of the student group (in class, in tutorials, in the corridor) revealed that the majority of the cohort were suffering stress, as evidenced in the huge number of emails received related to the difficulty of assignments and of meeting deadlines, an example of which is below: I have to face with off lot of assignments in this term. M trying my best for studying. Unfortunately, at the moment, have stress at all. Am so stress now. I can not concentrate in the first assignment. Meanwhile, the deadline of this assignment will be coming on Monday next week.
I worry so much about that. Need the help from you because nobody can help me. October 10 Inside the first few weeks of term, many students came to see my office in tears, many wailed in despair when discussing assignment titles in class, some holding their head in their hands at times, and on most faces there were frowns and looks of seriousness and worry. The following cry was a instant refrain: ‘l am so scared! ‘, and there was a constant stream of emails from nearly all students, as well as queues at my office door, with questions on assignments.
A typical diary entry is below: Taiwanese student very nervous about ability to reach performance level expected on Masters course – ‘I’m very scared, very scared’ – and begged for my assurance that I would help him through the first few months of the course. Repeatedly thanked me for just 5 minutes of my time. Bumped into a Korean student in the corridor who talked to me anxiously about her English ability. Two more Koreans saw s, and rushed over, again anxious, worried, frowning faces, talking about level of English and ability to pass the assignments.
All three students nervous, bodies hunched over, wailing every now and then. Very nervous but also very grateful to get tiniest piece of advice from me. Find I behave reassuringly to them in the same way I would my kids. October 12 TTT is important here to observe that home (i. E. British) students 4 on the course faced and were stressed by the same assignment pressure: some expressed relief that they were writing essays in their own language, and showed sympathy with the additional stress of being a non-native speaker.
Whilst academic dissonance and language difficulties intensified the pressure on students in this research, the intensity of the taught element of the Masters course in terms of the assignment schedule was a major stresses for all students, not specifically for international students. The importance attached to academic success was reflected in student reactions to passing assignments: relief was manifested in delighted smiles and in one extreme case, a student fell to the floor on learning that she had achieved a Merit.
Conversely, students who failed assignments came to my office, often in tears and suffering embarrassment over their perceived loss of face, frequently needing extensive counseling and reassurances over their ability to progress. As Barker (1997) notes, in international students there is a common willingness to put in long hours of study but there is also a great fear of failure. A high level of stress was revealed in the prevalence of sickness in students and the submission of sick notes to support a request for assignment extensions.
An extreme reaction was withdrawal from the course, usually allowing a period of sickness (three out of 150 students deferred their place on the course for a year). An example is the case off Chinese student, who came to see me in the second week of term to say that she could not cope with the assignment schedule, she couldn’t sleep or eat, she was constantly breaking down in tears (as she did in the tutorial), and that her parents were so worried about her that they were going to send out her brother to look after her.
She said that when she did manage to sleep, she had bad dreams, and always woke early; she had been to the doctors to get prescription of leaping pills. She described herself as being in a state of nervous exhaustion, confirmed in her pale and blotchy appearance and her lethargic manner. Despite being offered an extension on assignments, the only thing that offered her relief was the opportunity to defer her studies for a year. The experience of this student is not exceptional, as this scene was recreated many times in my office, although it was only in a minority of cases that deferral was sought.
As Stores (1990) notes, stress impacts negatively on the ability to study; many students found themselves in a vicious circle of not eyeing able to concentrate because of anxiety, which in turn fuels their level of panic, as testified to by a Korean student who said she could not read for how stressed she felt. This level of distress in the cohort necessitated on my part (as will be recognized by any study support lecturer) repeated reassurances and explanations of assignments, pointing to the demanding nature of dealing with international students for academic staff.
Indeed, Channel (1990, p. 73) advises those working with international students to “set boundaries on what you can and will do for them. Demands and expectations otherwise become limitless. ” An example Of the conflict between student needs and my time and willingness to meet them is offered below: 4 Defined as those students who decide to remain in the country where their secondary and further education took place (Ryan and Carroll 2005) 9]. Came to see me to talk about the assignment, asked me a few times to check his grammar even though I’d stressed that I wouldn’t..
Told me that she feel she needs to see a doctor as she is getting so stressed about the workload. Had to reassure her about her level of English as well as the work shed done. Told her she can see me for advice, and when she left she was so reassured and relieved that she kissed me. K. Came to show me work I’d already seen. She was understanding but dismissive of the explanation that I didn’t have time to see every student’s piece of work twice, in that she persisted in showing me even after I’d explained and even though she’d apologized. Onto want apology, I just want them to respect that I cannot function if I am inundated with students. Clash between time available and desire to offer support. I became quite stressed with students as a line formed to see me at 11. 50 after the class had finished. The C.V. code of recommended practice on postgraduate teaching states that international students require sensitive treatment. However, have pressures on their time (Dickinson 1993; McCrae 1 997): there is clearly a conflict between an institution’s desired income and the level of resources available to deliver the service expected.
This point is particularly pertinent to heavily-recruiting academic programmer on which the staff-student ratio is very high: staff may wish to offer students (home and international) a high level of academic support, but may not have sufficient time to meet the needs f all students. 3. 2 Academic cultural differences 3. 2. 1 Learning resources In the case of African and Russian students on the course, shock arose when they realized the extent of the use of computer technology in UK HE, increasing the pressure they were under from an academic point of view. As a Russian interviewee commented: everything is on computers.
I’m afraid to go to the library the first time. In Russia people are not so computerizing. In my country people prefer to do things without computers. This comment was echoed in the experience of some African students, unused to using computers for academic work in their country (in this study, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa), and upon whom the demand to learn a completely new skill in order to complete the course successfully placed huge stress (in terms of losing sleep due to the need to stay up all night to type out assignments, and to learn new computer programmer).
None of these students expected the prevalence of word-processing and internet use, and when asked, all said they had not received pre-arrival information on the topic, reflecting a selectivity in the information forwarded to students. As doted by Burnham (1997), institutions need to be aware of all aspects of the sojourn that students will find distressing, and address as many as possible in advance in the form of pre-arrival information on the university and academic 1 Requirements. However, it must be emphasized that dissonance in the extent of IT use affected only a minority of students. . 2. 2 Essay-writing and referencing If culture shock refers to the removal of familiar cues (Hall 1959), then it follows that academic culture shock is the removal of familiar academic rules, and their replacement by strange conventions, exemplified for most students n the requirement to write essays and to reference any literature consulted. Much panic was expressed in the first 4 or 5 weeks of term, as reflected in this comment from a Russian interviewee: In Russian, know all the rules; I know how to manage myself to do everything.
I’m sometimes hesitating because of some problems and different things. It’s really really confusing for me. Many students had never written an academic essay in English before, and had to learn this skill from scratch. A Japanese student offered a typical comment: It is difficult because there is such a big difference between the UK and Japanese style of approaching an essay, for example the Japanese will take a long time making a point, and will only go to it indirectly (weaving movement made with hands), whereas the I-J style seems to be answer the question with supporting evidence.
Common difficulties cited by students included essay structure, academic language, paragraph formation and introducing personal opinion. The need to reference information gleaned from secondary sources was problematic as many had never needed referenced secondary material before; and many were not familiar with the Harvard System. Whilst referencing procedure is ass to explain and to demonstrate, it was in the first month the most common subject in the hundreds of emails received: stress over this subject did not diminish until students had successfully demonstrated that they could follow referencing guidelines.
It must be pointed out that non-traditional British entrants to Higher Education such as mature students were similarly anxious about their ability to write essays and to follow referencing procedure, being equally unused to such conventions. Therefore, if academic culture shock is relevant as an explanation for difficulties in writing and referencing, this is as relevant to on-traditional home students as it is to international students. This is reflected in the nationality make-up of weekly in-session disciplinarians study support classes, which were attended by all students, regardless of nationality or language ability.
The guidance offered in these sessions on academic conventions as well as the access offered to all students to email and tutorial contact to discuss assignments meant that students very early on acquired the necessary information to fulfill the required academic conventions, and thus this aspect of academic culture shock was short-lived, infirming the claim by Sear and Ward (1990) and Ward and Kennedy (1996) that the acquisition of coloratura skills will offset culture shock. 3. 2. Critical thinking 1 1 Whilst problems with writing style and referencing procedure could be faced by any student unused to academic conventions, concerns over critical thinking were really only expressed in this study by international students, particularly those from a dissimilar culture from the KICK, confirming the contention by many writers that cultural dissimilarity dictates the level of shock experienced by sojourners (Books 1990; Torsion 1994; Students 998; Ward et al 2001).
The need for critical thought in assignments presented much concern to the majority of students, and presented a longstanding difficulty, possibly because it posed more of a challenge to the self. As Students (1998) points out, cultural identity is acquired through solicitation as children, and any challenges to the oscilloscope will be met with resistance. According to Hefted (1 991), students from countries high in Power Distance are uncomfortable with critical exchange and contradiction; they may not consider it appropriate to subject lecturers and academic texts to critical scrutiny.
Therefore, it is commonly found that many international students do not engage in critical evaluation (Skeleton and Richards 1991), and it was unsurprising that, in addition to stress over the high number of assignments, of particular concern for many students in this research was the prevalence in the UK of critical thinking, especially for students whose previous experience was of an academic system centered around passive, or rote, learning, as reflected in the following excerpts: Actually you have to depend on yourself, do a lot of reading, do a lot of thinking, probably have to depend on myself.
I’m a little bit nervous, I feel that from now on I have some pressures, already feel some pressures. Taiwanese interviewee I’m very nervous about the prospect of writing assignments, as we are not used to critical thinking: in my country we just copy the tutor. We are not supposed to argue with the lecturer. We just go to the class and take notes.
Chinese interviewee Similarly, a Swiss students described her surprise at having to give her opinion on an academic subject, being used to summarizing the work of the ‘experts’, but not showing agreement or disagreement: am enjoying the rouser, but nervous about the demand to undertake critical analysis, as this is something that we are not used to, there what students have to do is go to the lesson, listen and write down what the lecturer says, then recite it ? listen, make notes and recite.
In study support classes and by email, questions were repeatedly asked about the vocabulary in assignment titles: that which created the most problems for students included phrases such as ‘critically examine’, ‘critically evaluate’, which are typical of Masters level assignments in the KICK. Whilst students were willing to put in a huge amount of self-study, meeting which initially surprised them, but to which they adjusted quite quickly, they were less relaxed about arguing with what they read, and proffering their own judgment, a common refrain being, ‘what do know?