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This book explores in what ways Chinese international students may suffer stress and how they conceptualize and adapt to stress in the American higher education environment. Specifically, the purpose of this study is twofold. First, it is an attempt to investigate and describe the stressors and adjustment concerns of students from People’s Republic of China who study in the United States. Second, this study seeks to expand an understanding of Chinese students’ beliefs and behaviors regarding coping and help-seeking. It is the aim of this research to contribute to the process of informing and improving services and programs for Chinese international students.

Educational Importance of This Study

This study is significant for a number of reasons. First, the issues addressed in this book concern a significant, if not critical, population. Among the international students who attend American universities, mainland Chinese students constitute one of the largest groups (Lampton et al. 1986; Orleans 1988; Wan 2001). According to the latest statistics, the United States is the leading destination for Chinese students pursuing overseas studies, and almost one-third of all foreign students in the United States are from China. Chinese students now constitute the highest enrollment, and there were 304,040 students in the United States (Institute of International Education 2015). Today, more than ever before, increasing numbers of mainland Chinese students attend American universities. Such a fastgrowing population deserve special attention, and their problems are worthy of being studied.

Secondly, the study targets a stress-ridden population. While being one of most influential foreign student forces on American campuses (Lin 1998), Chinese students, however, are also one of the international groups who experience greater challenges adapting to the American educational system (Yeh 2000). Coming from a country that is fundamentally different in language, culture, social structure, and political ideology and coming from a country that was isolated from the rest of the world for almost quarter of a century, Chinese students’ cross-cultural experiences in the United States are almost always likely to be stressful for international students (Klein et al. 1981). Just as Yang and Clum (1994) argued, the more different the two countries are, the more stressful the adjustment is likely to be. Chinese students’ coping experiences are likely to be more difficult compared with those students from European countries or even those students from other Asian countries, since China and the United States have been identified as having maximum cultural distance (Samovar and Porter 1991). Furthermore, research has indicated that international students who come from non-European backgrounds, less developed countries, and/or Eastern countries tend to suffer more stress in adjusting to American campus life (Perkins 1977; Lin 1998). China is all three: it is a non-European, developing, and Eastern country; thus, Chinese students may be expected to encounter to a greater extent all the challenges and the difficulties people from any one of these three backgrounds ordinarily encounter. With so many difficulties, Chinese students are expected to experience much more anxiety than other students (Sue and Zane 1985; Yeh 2000). Based on this observation, the current study intentionally chose mainland Chinese students as subjects. This study hopes to add to our understanding about how this special group defines and manages its stress.

The project is important for a third reason. Although studies demonstrated that Chinese students experience more acute distress and stress than other students in the United States (Bourne 1975; Klein et al. 1981; Yang and Clum 1994; Yeh 2000), their stress and their management of that stress, however, have rarely been the subject of a systematic and empirical research. On one hand, general perceptions of mainland Chinese students’ educational achievements may make it difficult to perceive their stress and adaptation levels, and thus there is a failure to pay attention to them (Sue and Zane 1985; Yeh 2000). Because grade point average and graduation statistics are generally relied upon as the sole indicators of academic success (Sue and Zane 1985), Chinese students’ educational achievements overshadow their adjustment problems and psychological stress. On the other hand, signs of

Chinese students’ stress may not be visible to outsiders as their cultural background tends to camouflage this (Chuang 1988). Chinese parents, traditionally, have taught their children to be quiet, to be studious, and not to draw attention to themselves. Furthermore, cultural factors, such as the shame and disgrace associated with admitting to having emotional problems, as well as the handling of problems within the family rather than relying on outside resources, prevent Chinese students from seeking outside help. Therefore, a better understanding of how Chinese international students conceptualize and adapt to stress will bridge this research gap and thus enrich the broad literature on international students’ adjustment in foreign countries.

Fourth, this study relates to a practical problem. On a day-to-day basis, how can American institutions maintain higher levels of student satisfaction or contentment? To the extent that a portion of a student body is anxiety ridden, dissatisfied, or disruptive, the campus suffers. Although American universities have kept their doors wide open and encouraged Chinese students to come, not all educational institutions are prepared to satisfy the special needs of these students (Lin 1998). It is the aim of this research to contribute to the process of informing and improving services and programs for Chinese international students.

Finally, the design of this study itself includes some unique features. For most of the previous studies on cross-cultural adjustment, researchers have used quantitative methods as the major method of investigations. The weakness of such designs is that researchers often fail to further explore their quantitative findings. To alleviate such limitations, I add qualitative study as a follow-up procedure to examine the quantitative findings in more detail and find out more about participants’ individual experiences. The application of this mixed-method approach makes the findings of my study more valid.

 
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