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Using an ethnographic approach to understand the adjustment journey of international students at a university in England

By Lorraine Brown


This paper reports on findings from an ethnographic study of international student adjustment. It also recommends the use of ethnography as a way to research the experiences of tourists and migrants to build up a body of knowledge on the outcome of cross-cultural contact for these two groups. The aim of my ethnographic study was to capture the adjustment journey of a group of international postgraduate students at a university in the South of England. The ethnographic approach involved regular in-depth individual interviews with thirteen students of different nationalities and overt participant observation of the entire postgraduate cohort of 150 students. Research began on the first day of induction in September 2003 and ended in October 2004 upon completion and submission of the Masters dissertation. Students’ experience of adjustment to academic and sociocultural life was therefore captured from arrival in the new country to the return home one full year later. This study finds that stress was at its height in the initial stage of the academic sojourn; the struggle to cope with the challenges of foreign language use and an unfamiliar academic and the sociocultural environment at a time when students were beset with homesickness and loneliness are the causes of this stress. An association was made between the passage of time and a gradual decrease in acculturative stress; however, this was not a generalizable process; there was not only fluctuation in experience across the student body but also in the individual’s subjective sense of success across different aspects of life in the new country. This leads to a conceptualisation the adjustment journey as an unpredictable and dynamic process, which is experienced differently among sojourners, and fluctuates throughout the sojourn as a result of a host of individual, cultural and external factors. The relevance of this study to tourism scholars comes from drawing parallels between the long-stay tourist and the international student who represents an important segment of international travel. However, a gap in the literature exists on the impact of tourism on the tourist that this study helps to fill

Topics: edu
Publisher: Emerald Group Publishing
Year: 2009
OAI identifier:

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