Bridget R. Stanton, Kirsten Calleja Salerno, Ph.D. and Tes Tuason, Ph.D
Dr. Tes Tuason | Brooks College of Health | Department of Public Health
This comparative research studied psychological distress, symptomatology, depression, and anxiety in two groups of college students, those who relocated from a different country and those who reside in a southeastern state in the United States. It aims to investigate the differences in levels of distress depending on whether or not students had relocated from a different country. Fifty-one international students and 95 U.S. students completed questionnaires, which examined psychological distress, stress, socio-economic status (SES), and acculturation to culture of origin and U.S. culture. Unexpectedly, international students did not have significantly different levels of psychological distress from U.S. students. In terms of stress, another unexpected finding was that U.S. students reported heightened levels of stress in comparison to international students. Among international students, those who displayed lower U.S. acculturation also reported higher psychological distress. Regression analyses indicated that stress and U.S. acculturation are significant predictors of psychological distress among international students, such that higher levels of stress and lower U.S. acculturation predict higher symptomatology and anxiety. These results along with the lack of discrepancy between international students’ and U.S. students’ levels of distress are discussed. The role of acculturation in mitigating stress was explored to better understand the positive adjustment of international students on campus.
Hello my name is Bridget Stanton and today I am presenting “What makes an international student in the U.S. have less psychological distress?: Secrets of adjustment”
International students in the U.S. are likely to experience unique difficulties on college campuses facing language barriers, financial difficulties, and adjustment complications in a new culture.
When a student faces cultural barriers like these, unsuccessful adjustment can negatively impact a students experience on campus increasing depression, anxiety, distress and other adverse symptomatology that can negatively impact their well-being.
This study aims to investigate which factors contribute most to successful and unsuccessful adjustment of international students in order to better serve the needs of foergin students.
To accomplish this, International students and American participants were recruited from several colleges in the U.S. with specific requirements for international students needing to have moved to the U.S. within the past nine months given this is a window for maladjustment patterns to emerge.
Demographics of this study included 95 U.S citizens and 51 international students. International derived mainly from Asian countries, with South American then caribbean following after. Majority of international students reported being from upper middle class SES backgrounds, while the majority of Americans reported middle.
Using several assessments including the demographic questionnaire, social readjustment rating scale, acculturation scale, among others listed as well as t-test, ANOVA, correlational, regression analysis we were able to find that
1) International students did not have significantly different levels of psychological distress from U.S. students. U.S. students reported heightened levels of stress in comparison to international students.
2) Among international students, those who displayed lower U.S. acculturation also reported higher psychological distress.
3) Competencies of International students are:
A) competency in English was very much related to U.S. competence,
B) culture of origin language was very much related to culture of origin
C) U.S. competence was also very much related to culture of origin competence
4) U.S. acculturation and stress are significant predictors of psychological distress among international students: such that higher levels of stress and lower U.S. acculturation predict higher anxiety. Such that higher levels of stress predict higher symptomatology
Analysing these results, we concluded that:
1) International students may experience less psychological distress than American university students because international students in the U.S may experience America as similar to their country of origin. Alternatively, international students may still be experiencing the “honeymoon” portion of cultural adjustment (Olberg, 1960) given studying in the U.S is a life-long dream for many international students. The 9-month period of transition defined in our sample may not be long enough to rule out excitement as a protective factor against distress.
2) Lower U.S acculturation was attributed to higher psychological distress. Ward and Rana-Deuba (2000) found that mood disturbances are higher among foreigners who lack social connection with hosts exhibited more negative psychological effects than individuals with more social connections with co-nationals. This suggests that international students with less connectedness with the foerign country of study exhibit more distress when studying overseas. Though it is helpful to know what is impacting psychological distress among internationals, this finding also leads to question under what circumstances do they thrive. Understanding what works along with what does not may help identify factors by which marginalized or supposedly stressed individuals grow into their optimal selves (Frazier et al., 2006).
3) Among international students, those who showed English language competencies also showed U.S competence connected to lower psychological distress. Interestingly, international students who reported more culture of origin competence and culture of origin of language competence also reported U.S competence. This suggests that students increasing adaptation does not necessarily lead to loss of culture of origin (Zea et al., 2003) and may suggest the opposite. International students’ competence across cultures (U.S. and their culture of origin) and competence across languages (English and their culture of origin language) point towards strengths and factors of resilience and coping, which characterizes international students’ decreased psychological distress.
4) International students with high stress and lower U.S acculturation predict higher anxiety. Anxiety is not impacted by not socio-economic status. These findings highlight the importance for international student competencies (culture of origin, culture of origin language and english language competencies) in decreasing anxiety among international students at American universities.
These results provide insight into future research and insights into the international student experience that university officials may use to better serve international experience.