Chinese International Students in the United States: Adjustment Problems and Coping Behaviors
In this chapter, the review turns to the literature concerning how Chinese students adapt to American higher institutions. Special challenges Chinese students face while studying in the United States will be discussed. Additionally, their beliefs and behaviors regarding coping and psychological help-seeking will also be reviewed. Lastly, Berry’s conceptual framework for stress-coping will be presented.
Chinese Students’ Adjustment Issues
International students of different countries of origin experienced different adjustment problems in the United States, in spite of some common difficulties. Perkins (1977) cautioned researchers to pay more attention to the adjustment problems peculiar to their own (international student) group.
Culha (1974) investigated the needs and concerns of international students at the University of Minnesota. Significant variations were found between Canadian, European, and Chinese student groups in terms of the opportunity to become familiar with American culture and having American friends. Those students who were least likely to have a satisfactory involvement with American culture and making American friends were the Chinese group.
In a comparative study, Perkins (1977) found the peculiar problems for Chinese international students are English proficiency and dealing with racial or religious discrimination, homesickness, separation from family in the home country, and unfriendliness of people from the community, which hinder their adjustment to American culture.
Yao (1983) found that in general Chinese students had problems in many areas, including financial difficulties, adjustment to language, schooling, lifestyle, value system, limited career choices and employment prospects because of their language
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barriers, parental high expectations for their education and their return to the family, mate selection, and visa change to live permanently in the United States.
Sue and Zane (1985) compared American-born Chinese students, American students, and Chinese international students. They reported that Chinese international students had the most social and emotional difficulties and faced significant social and academic hardships, although they achieved good academic performance.
In a study conducted at the University of Memphis, Feng (1991) reported that the problems particular to Chinese students are financial problems, poor language skills and academic concerns, cultural differences, and social isolation.
At the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Xia (1992) investigated and compared the adjustment problems from a sample of 215 Asian students from eight different countries or territories. According to Xia’s findings, the challenges identified by students from the PRC are English language barriers, financial aid, and religious service areas.
Henderson et al. (1993) found most Chinese students in their study isolated from the campus community: they had few non-Chinese friends, used campus facilities much less, and felt unsafe and discriminated against.
Timm and Wang (1995) examined how Chinese students participated in classroom discussions and interacted with Americans including their instructors and classmates. The study found that although a large percent (75%) of Chinese students reported that they had social contact with Americans outside of the classrooms, about half of them regarded these experiences as negative. The survey also showed that Chinese students had very limited interaction with their instructors and classmates in classrooms. Chinese students attributed their lack of interactions with Americans to a number of reasons that include feeling uncomfortable interacting with Americans, being busy, lack of interests, language barriers, and the convenience of many other Chinese nationals being around.
Sun and Chen (1997) argued the dimensions of difficulties mainland Chinese students’ encountered in the United States can be categorized as deficiencies of language and culture.
Zhang and Rentz (1994) pointed out international students from the PRC may face particular adjustment challenges, which are different from those experienced by other Asian students. According to Zhang and Rentz, several factors have contributed to the Chinese students’ adjustment problems: (1) financial problems, (2) a lack of understanding or knowledge of modern American society, (3) the influence of the Chinese educational system, (4) growing up amid an officially sanctioned negative characterization of the United States, and (5) decision-making styles that emphasize the family rather than the individual.
Surveying the extant literature, two general themes concerning Chinese students’ adjustment problems were identified: they are academic adjustment problems and sociocultural adjustment problems.