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Acculturation and Important People and Programming for Chinese International Students at Liberal Arts Colleges


This dissertation examined the acculturation experiences of Chinese international students attending liberal arts colleges. Through the dissemination of questionnaires and by facilitating focus groups and interviews with students, faculty, and staff, I was able to understand what Chinese students struggled with and where they succeeded at different intervals of their college experiences. Interactions with students highlighted the importance of certain academic and social programs. Interviews with faculty and staff revealed the institutional perspective of the increased enrollment of Chinese students, their perceptions of the acculturation experience for these students, and the programs they thought were most helpful. Additionally, analysis of campus websites offered insight into campus programming targeted at international students.

Although the Chinese students did not experience severe acculturative stress, many struggled with homesickness, the language barrier, academic adjustment, and engaging meaningfully with Americans. Students revealed that faculty, friends, and international programming professionals, in that order, were the most supportive people in their experiences.

Faculty tended to have incomplete perceptions of Chinese students’ struggles with acculturation because their interactions with students were limited. Whereas the Chinese students said that homesickness was the most pervasive component of acculturative stress, faculty cited the language barrier, rarely mentioning homesickness. While professionals in international programming understood more about what the Chinese students struggled with, they were not always attuned to student perceptions of campus social programming. Chinese students did participate in some events and practical workshops planned by their international programming offices, but they generally chose to participate in broader campus activities in order to engage with a wider population.

The dissertation examined these issues and reveals several ways in which the experiences of international Chinese students on liberal arts campuses can be improved. Implications for educational leaders and recommendations for other liberal arts colleges are also address

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