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African Immigrant and International Students: A Qualitative Study on the Socio-Cultural Adjustment of Students Into U.S. Universities

By Feven Girmay


Cross-cultural studies on acculturation span across multiple disciplines such as psychology, sociology, and higher education, and seek to explore the cultural adaptation of immigrant and international students. Existing literature informed a guiding conceptual framework for understanding how students adjust to the local culture, and has identified obstacles that hinder the successful navigation of the acculturation process. The present study examined gaps in existing higher education literature on the socio-cultural adjustment process of African immigrant and international students (migrant students). Going beyond past studies, this investigation addressed three questions: What is the role of heritage culture and social class in African migrant students’ preparation for college in the United States (U.S.)? What barriers did African migrant students encounter as they navigate their way through American universities? Guided by a strengths-based perspective, how is heritage culture and access to capital associated with their navigation through and around those barriers in their adjustment process? To address these three research questions, this qualitative study employed in-depth interviews to examine the socio-cultural adjustment of African immigrant and international students (n=28) enrolled at four-year colleges in the U.S. A grounded theory approach to data analysis revealed how African immigrant and international students’ adjustment to the university environment was associated with both their background and university experiences. In terms of background, students’ socio-economic status and heritage culture were key factors that influenced their preparation for college in the U.S. Furthermore, the study revealed the strengths of students’ backgrounds in fostering a sense of community cultural wealth, which helped to facilitate students’ adjustment to their universities. Once African students entered college, they faced socio- cultural and academic barriers associated with: 1) cultural value differences; 2) experiences with racial/ethnic prejudice; and 3) and difficulty with the academic norms and expectations of U.S. universities. Additionally, students discussed access to cultural, academic, and social capital from four primary sources: extensive orientations, racially/culturally similar groups, faculty, and academic support programs/services. These cultural and university-based resources helped to mitigate the negative impact of stressful barriers, and supported students’ socio-cultural adjustment. Going beyond existing cross-cultural literature, findings informed the development of a new strengths-based conceptual model of cultural adjustment and resilience. This model provides a more comprehensive framework to understanding the socio-cultural adaptation process of African migrant and international students in higher education with important implications for multicultural diversity research, practice, and policy.PHDHigher EducationUniversity of Michigan, Horace H. Rackham School of Graduate Studies

Topics: African student socio-cultural adjustment, Education, Humanities, Social Sciences
Year: 2017
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