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Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Social and Academic Experiences of International Students Enrolled in a State Comprehensive University: A Phenomenological Study

  • Author(s): Amaya, Paul
  • Advisor(s): Levin, John S.
  • et al.

Much of the scholarly literature understands international student educational experiences largely as a process of adjustment to host country norms and institutions and portrays international students as deficit in relations to these norms. In contrast, international students live reflexively, shape their own identities, and are successful academically. International students are self-formed, and international students’ education is a process of self-formation in which students manage their lives reflexively, shaping their own identities (Marginson, 2014).

The purpose of this investigation was to capture the social and academic experiences of undergraduate international students enrolled in a state comprehensive university (SCU). Guided by P-E fit theory (Dawis & Lofquist, 1984; Edwards, Caplan, & Van Harrison, 1998; Edwards & Rothbard, 1999) and the concept of self-formation (Marginson, 2014), this investigation explored the experiences of thirteen undergraduate students from five different countries matriculated at an SCU in Southern California.

Findings suggest that SCU provided an academic environment that was positive, welcoming, and inclusive. Although the literature signals a potential incompatibility between international students and their host institutions, the narratives compiled in this investigation depict undergraduate international students as compatible with SCU and satisfied with their experiences, albeit with different levels of engagement and of interest in interaction with faculty and with their domestic counter peers. The findings were separated into sections that include groups of students who share similar experiences at this SCU: The Transformed and Engaged Student Group, the Utilitarian Student Group, and the Disengaged Student Group. To some extent then there was both PE-fit and PE- misfit. Fit because the SCU environment facilitated student satisfaction; misfit because some students (i.e., Utilitarian students, and Disengaged Students) did not integrate in all ways with the campus. All students preserved their cultural identity during their studies at SCU.

The social and academic experiences articulated by international undergraduate students can help practitioners reflect upon the design and implementation of services for international undergraduate students. Campus administrators and international education practitioners should design and implement initiatives that enable, confirm, and support interactions that foster the academic and interpersonal development of international students enrolled in SCUs.

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