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SJSU PSYC 1 - Education and culture shock

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January 200416The Psychologist Vol 17 No 1Foreign studentsEducation andculture shockSTUDENTS have travelled from one country to another for centuries,particularly in Europe. They haveoften faced problems: an early study inAmerica, published in 1925, listeddifficulties for foreign students overacademic issues, language, housing,economic issues, their inability to becomesocially accepted, health and recreation,and racial prejudice (Hammer, 1992). Butit was not until comparatively recently thatthe foreign student experience became thefocus of psychological study (e.g. Ward etal., 2001). Can psychological theory andresearch make this experience a morepositive one?Why might foreign studentshave a problem?There are various recent books exclusivelyon foreign students, or ‘sojourners’, thatlook at the psychology of their experience(e.g. McNamara & Harris, 1997; vanTilburg & Vingerhoets, 1997). Theygenerally describe foreign students asyoung, well educated, highly motivated,adaptable and better off than many of theirpeers. But some remain vulnerable todepression, illness and poor academicperformance. This is as true when Britishstudents go abroad on short-termexchanges (e.g. Erasmus) or on extendedundergraduate and postgraduate degrees asit is when foreign students come here.Given the fact that foreign students are anincreasing minority and vital to universities(see ‘Facts and figures’), it is importantthat they adapt to the new culture rapidlyso they may operate effectively in whateverthey are doing. The costs of repatriationand breakdown are high. What might bebehind possible ‘culture shock’?Culture shock (see box opposite) is awidely known and discussed phenomenonamong young people, who travel abroadmore than they used to. The fact that manystudents have been abroad before theireducational sojourn, possibly many times,means that in theory they should be moreused to culture shock. However, shortholidays are less likely to have producedculture shock than extended stays orworking experiences when local culture hasADRIANFURNHAMdiscusses how psychology canimprove the experience for our overseas visitors.FACTS AND FIGURESIn 1973 there were 35,000 ‘internationalstudents’ studying in the UK, but by 1992 thatnumber had risen to 95,000. In 2001/2 therewere 88,800 students from the EU and136,290 ‘other’ overseas students in highereducation in Britain. Britain has about 17 percent of the world’s total overseas studentpopulation.The fees from fully fundedoverseas students totalled £310 million for1992/3, but in addition the expenditure onUK-based goods and services was at least£405 million. In the same period about 5 percent of the income of the universities wasbased on foreign students’ fees (McNamara &Harris, 1997); this had risen to 6 per cent of atotal income of £13.5 billion in 2001.WEBLINKSCouncil for International Education:www.ukcosa.org.ukCouncil for International Students:www.cisuk.org.ukTransworld Education:www.transworldeducation.comNational Union of Students: www.nus.org.ukDUNCANPHILLIPS/REPORTDIGITAL.CO.UKbeen ‘fully engaged’. Furthermore, theevidence suggests that even frequentextended sojourns abroad do notsubstantially reduce the risk of cultureshock, though people may learn better toexpect and recognise typical reactions toliving in a foreign culture and learn how tocope with it.By the mid-1990s there was a sizeableliterature on the psychological needs andproblems of international students. Sandhuand Asrabadi (1994) categorised the maincause of problems as twofold:● Intrapersonal factors:A profound senseof loss (family and friends); a sense ofinferiority (particularly in America); a sense of uncertainty (about the future). ● Interpersonal factors: Communication(language and social skills); culturalshock (differences in expectations andsocial norms); loss of social supportsystems (particularly from family);miscellaneous factors such as educationand immigration difficulties; makingfriends and establishing social supportnetworks.Furnham and Bochner (1986) have argued that foreign students face severaldifficulties, some exclusive to them (asopposed to native students). There are thedifficulties that face all young people,whether studying at home or abroad, inbecoming emotionally independent, self-supporting, productive and a responsiblemember of society. There are academicstresses when students are expected towork very hard, often under poorconditions, with complex material. Butthere are also the problems that oftenconfront people living in a foreign culture,such as racial discrimination, languageproblems, accommodation difficulties,separation reactions, dietary restrictions,financial stress, misunderstandings andloneliness. Finally, the national or ethnicrole of overseas students is often prominentin their interactions with host members. In a sense, foreign students are beingcontinually thrust into the role ofambassadors or representatives of theirnation, often by well-meaning peoplepolitely enquiring about their homecustoms and national origins, butsometimes by prejudiced individuals whomay denigrate the policies or achievementsof the student’s country of origin. In shopsthere may be a tendency to speak slowlyand clearly on the assumption that theforeigner’s English is poor, and motherlyladies on buses will want to know if thestudent is feeling homesick. All this can beamusing, annoying or infuriating, dependingon the circumstances, and is a burden thatall foreigners must occasionally bear. Do foreign students suffer frompoor physical and mental health?So, do these situations and stresses actuallyhave a significant psychological impact onthe foreign student? One of the mostinfluential papers in this area was by Ward(1967), who argued for the existence of a‘foreign-student syndrome’ characterisedby vague, non-specific physical complaints,a passive, withdrawn interaction style and a dishevelled, unkempt appearance. Histhesis, which was to influence a lot ofsubsequent work, was that depressed and‘culture-shocked’ overseas students tend to somatise their problems so as to avoidlosing face, thus providing them with thejustification to attend clinics for medical,as opposed to psychological, help. Hence it is to be expected that foreign studentswould be overrepresented in student healthservices. But studies purporting to showdifferences in the mental health of nativeand overseas students by using medicalconsultation rates must be interpreted


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