Support from Church

Previous studies indicate that when it comes to coping with their stress, Chinese students rarely choose to go to church for religious comfort (Sun and Chen 1997; Frank 2000); the quantitative study confirms this result (M = 1.55, SD = 1.03). The interview transcripts, however, reveal that church is increasingly becoming a place for providing emotional or instrumental support. Most Chinese students acknowledged that church is an important place for forming and building friendships and a good source of local community information. As one student claimed:

Although most of us are not Christians in China, we attend a Chinese or American church to interact with people from different backgrounds. I go to a Chinese Christian church every Sunday: it has become a routine in my life. One benefit of going to church is that it affords me the chance to meet very friendly and open-minded people. Another benefit is that I get lots of useful information at church. Whenever I encounter a problem such as how to buy a car, how to find a job, and even how to apply for [an H1B work] visa, the brothers and sisters at church are always available to answer my questions. Their information and suggestions are very helpful and make my life in the United States much easier. (Participant 4)

In addition, church gives the Chinese students who are accustomed to a collective life and the care of their institutions a feeling of belonging. A computer science student said:

Everybody needs to feel they belong. This is especially true for us Chinese international students in the United States. In China, in school and at the workplace we get used to a collective lifestyle; however, few places or institutions like the church in the United States can provide [such a community that] can satisfy our need to belong, since American people tend to be much more individualistic. I think that is why more and more Chinese students— whether because of religious belief or for other reasons—take up institutionalized religion in America. A classmate of mine who was active in group activities in college became a devoted Christian after living in America for several years. (Participant 15)

Besides emotional support, church is also instrumental in helping Chinese students in their daily lives. A biochemistry student recalled:

Even though I am not a Christian, I really appreciate everything the church did for me. I cannot imagine how I would have handled life in the United States without the church’s help, especially during the first several weeks. When I first got here, the person who picked me up from the airport was a volunteer from church. For the first 2 weeks, a nice lady in the church kindly offered me temporary lodging at her house. Given most students did not have a car their first semester, the church brothers took us shopping every weekend. (Participant 9)

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