Jiao Tong: A Grounded Theory of Chinese International Students' Transition to American Tertiary Education
Kavaliauskas Crain, Lena
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University students are more globally mobile than ever before, increasingly receiving education outside of their home countries. One significant student exchange pattern is between China and the United States; Chinese students are the largest population of international students in the U.S. (Institute of International Education, 2014). Differences between Chinese and American culture in turn influence higher education praxis in both countries, and students are enculturated into the expectations and practices of their home countries. This implies significant changes for students who must navigate cultural differences, academic expectations, and social norms during the process of transition to a system of higher education outside their home country. Despite the trends in students’ global mobility and implications for international students’ transitions, scholarship about international students does not examine students’ experiences with the transition process to a new country and system of higher education. Related models were developed with American organizations and individuals, making it unlikely that they would be culturally transferable to Chinese international students’ transitions. This study used qualitative methods to deepen the understanding of Chinese international students’ transition processes. Grounded theory methods were used to invite the narratives of 18 Chinese international students at a large public American university, analyze the data, and build a theory that reflects Chinese international students’ experiences transitioning to American university life. Findings of the study show that Chinese international students experience a complex process of transition to study in the United States. Students’ pre-departure experiences, including previous exposure to American culture, family expectations, and language preparation, informed their transition. Upon arrival, students navigate resource seeking to fulfill their practical, emotional, social, intellectual, and ideological needs. As students experienced various positive and discouraging events, they developed responses to the pivotal moments. These behaviors formed patterns in which students sought familiarity or challenge subsequent to certain events. The findings and resulting theory provide a framework through which to better understand the experiences of Chinese international students in the context of American higher education.