CULTURAL ADJUSTMENT OF JAPANESE INTERNATIONAL STUDENTS
Brian Joseph English
A Thesis Presented to the
FACULTY OF THE
In Partial Fulfillment of the
Requirements for the Degree
Master of Science
Copyright 1998 Brian Joseph English
I would like to dedicate this thesis to my father and mother, Charles and Leona English. It was their love, support and belief in me that helped to keep me motivated through the research, writing and editing of this thesis.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
“They are Travellers newly arrived in a strange Country, of which they know nothing; we should therefore make Conscience not to mislead them.”
Some Thoughts about Education
John Locke 1632-1704
Although it may be the students’ responsibility to produce and learn, colleges and universities that accept international students assume an ethical responsibility to insure those students have a reasonable chance of success. Since institutions gain from enrolling international students, it makes sense, as a good marketing strategy, to create an equitable academic environment. Learning in a different culture and language makes the needs of foreign students unique compared to those of domestic students. This handicap puts international students at a disadvantage from the start. As American institutions are reaching overseas and courting international students “there is a growing concern about the ability of U.S. universities to adequately address the cross-cultural problems these students experience once they arrive on campus” (Wan, Chapman and Biggs, 1992).
International students have varying needs because individuals come from diverse backgrounds. Certain students are more culturally distant from their host country when they arrive so their stress from culture shock will be greater and their cultural adjustment period may be longer. Language ability, writing skills and styles of communication are also less likely to be common among students from different countries. Because variances between foreign students of different nationalities are so great this study intends to focus on only one specific group.
This paper will examine how cultural differences frustrate cultural adjustment for Japanese international students enrolled in American higher education; and how institutions can implement policy to facilitate students’ cultural adjustment. The profound differences in culture between Japan and the United States cause many Japanese international students to have difficulties adjusting to new social and academic environments. Evidence on the positive effects of social interaction and learning communities describes academic environments that could help to shorten the cultural adjustment period and increase international students’ chances for success.
The inability to culturally adjust has definite negative psychological effects on the individual that may result in academic failure or even more serious long-term sociological problems. A prolonged cultural adjustment period can cause foreign students to drop out of institutions before graduation or take considerably longer to complete programs than domestic students. Even though data on retention rates of international students are not as available as enrollment statistics, Tompson and Tompson (1996) suggest attrition rates are high. They reason that international students have added adjustmental stress because they are making the transition from high school to college while trying to adapt to life in a new country. The reduction in the efficiency of an institution to graduate foreign students diminishes both the social and private rates of return.
Like all students, international students have many pressures and anxieties during their college years. Language and cultural differences magnify these problems making them particularly severe and possibly affecting classroom performance (Sandhu and Asrabadi, 1994; Coleman, 1997). Sleeping and eating disorders, alcohol and drug abuse, or common depression can all be manifestations of stress that international students' experience (Charles and Steward, as cited in Coleman, 1997). Brislin adds to this list by suggesting that irritability, excessive concern with health, distrust or hostility towards members of the host culture, and lowered work performance are common symptoms of culture shock that international students often experience (as cited in Parr, Bradley and Bingi, 1992).
This paper will focus on cultural differences that cause Japanese students to have difficulties adjusting to academic environments in the United States. Cultural differences result in what Furnham and Tresize (as cited in Furnham, 1997) refer to as typical problems of life in a foreign culture. This category includes: social isolation, language problems, understanding norms, rules and regulations, accommodation difficulties, homesickness, racial discrimination, dietary restrictions, financial stress and loneliness. Findings by Tompson and Tompson (1996) suggest these are international students’ most difficult adjustment areas. This paper will first try to identify several specific cultural differences that directly affect academic performance. Then, it will discuss how these differences are counter productive to the students’ goals of academic success.
Foreign student exchange has become a multi-billion dollar business for institutions of higher learning in the United States. In 1995-96 the Institute of International Education (IIE) reported there were 453,787 foreign students contributing $7 billion dollars a year to the American gross domestic product. About 10% of those students (45,276) are from Japan. Although the numbers have been increasing since WWII, they seem to have peaked and the United States is actually losing part of its share in the market to other countries like Australia. The IIE estimates that international students in the US pay $3 billion dollars annually in tuition and fees, another $4 billion for living expenses and they create 100,000 jobs for Americans (Krasno as cited in Fiske, 1997).
Few foreign students receive scholarships or federal financial aid, so both the government and academia have a significant economic incentive to recruit more students from overseas. Less than one percent of foreign students receive funds from the United States government as a major source of support. Over two-thirds (67%) of all international students in the U.S. receive most of the funding for their education from personal and family sources outside of the United States. Recent reports show that U.S. colleges and universities provide the main source of funds for approximately 17% of foreign students (IIE, 1998 http://www.iie.org/opendoors/forstud2.htm).
In addition to economic incentives, institutions of higher education can benefit from the background, experience and culture that international students bring with them. A diverse student body can enhance the social and learning environments as well as contribute to the nurturing of new ideas and attitudes for all individuals at the institution. International alumni may also be an asset to graduates seeking employment because they broaden the range of an institution’s networking system.
According to Pedersen (1991), 87.3% of international students attend 4-year universities with 65.6% in public institutions. In the United States, most international students are enrolled in institutions in the Northeast region. Many major in engineering (19.8%), business or management (18.9%), mathematics and computer sciences (9.6%), or the physical and life sciences (8.5%). Over one-third of the international students in the U.S. are female.
This paper will also consider some practical strategies that institutions and faculty can use to facilitate the learning process for all international students. The discussion of support systems will address these strategies and attempt to synthesize evidence from several seemingly unrelated perspectives to make conclusions for policy implications. Because problems associated with the inability to culturally adjust to new social and academic environments have direct negative effect on student performance, the solution would be to provide international students with academic and social support systems that can expedite their cultural adjustment. This paper will address factors that may shorten the cultural adjustment period by examining the effects of students’ activities and the influence of support systems on students’ academic outcomes. Cultural adjustment support systems are any group, formal or informal that lends advice, knowledge or assistance to international students.
The term culture in this paper will be used in a sociological perspective. Although many sociologists and anthropologists have offered workable definitions of culture, Jandt’s definition (1995) will be used in this paper. Jandt defines culture as:
The sum total of ways of living including behavioral norms, linguistic expression, styles of communication, patterns of thinking, and beliefs and values of a group large enough to be self-sustaining transmitted over the course of generations. (pp.404)
In the literature several terms are used to refer to students who are enrolled in colleges or universities outside their country of citizenship. In recent years there has been some controversy about the appropriate terminology. The expression “foreign student” has been thought to carry a negative connotation, whereas the terms “international student” or “overseas student” do not. This paper will use all three terms interchangeably. Domestic students will refer to students studying in the country of their citizenship.
In this study the term culture shock will refer to the “anxiety that results from losing all familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse” (Oberg as cited in Furnham, 1997). Since culture shock is a frequently occurring process of adaptation to cultural differences brought on by lack of familiarity of the environment (Furnham, 1997), the term initial culture shock will be used in reference to the first feelings of strangeness that a person has when arriving in a foreign country. The period of time those feelings last is the initial culture shock period. This is synonymous with Brown’s first stage of acculturation in which a person experiences excitement and euphoria over the newness of the surroundings (1992). Although culture shock can cause stress and stress related symptoms, not all people who experience culture shock have negative reactions. Some people might not suffer any adverse effects, but instead enjoy the highly arousing stimuli of the unfamiliar (Furnham, 1997).
Kagan and Cohen define cultural adjustment as involving both acculturation and assimilation (1990). For the purpose of clarity in this study, acculturation will be defined as the long and gradual process of becoming adapted to a new culture that includes a reorientation of thinking and feeling along with changes in communication style (Brown, 1992). Assimilation, Brown’s fourth and final stage of acculturation is defined as complete adaptation to a new cultural (1992). Cultural adjustment will be differentiated from these terms as meaning the process of learning about another culture in order to function successfully enough within that culture to attain one’s goals.
The cultural adjustment period is the length of time it takes an individual to learn or acquire the behavior necessary to achieve his or her objectives. The amount of time it takes for a person to adjust to living in another culture varies due to differences in personalities, personal characteristics and personal experiences in the host country (Kagan and Cohen, 1990; Wan Chapman and Biggs, 1992).
Researchers have used the terms “social distance” (Schumann, 1976; Brown, 1992) and “cultural distance” (Babiker, Cox and Miller as cited in Wan, Chapman, and Biggs, 1992; Landis and Bhagat, 1996) to refer to the extent that a student’s home culture differs from the predominant culture of the host country. For clarity purposes this paper will only use the term “cultural distance”. This paper also assumes Schumann’s hypothesis (1976) that the greater the cultural distance between two cultures the greater the difficulty the learner will have in learning the second language. Other researchers (Furnham and Bochner as cited in Nash, 1991: Pedersen, 1991; Wan, Chapman and Biggs, 1992) take this hypothesis a step further and postulate that the greater the cultural distance the more difficult the cultural adjustment. This extrapolation is reasonable because learning correct second language use is a process of acculturation (Brown, 1992).
As an example, Canada and the United States have very similar cultures so the cultural distance is minimal, but Japan and America have a plethora of distinctions so the cultural distance is much greater. The greater the cultural distance, the more difficult to culturally adjust.
Linguaculture, is a term used by the linguistic anthropologist, Paul Friedrich, to suggest the inseparable relation between language and culture (as cited in Agar, 1994). In this study linguaculture implies that language shapes culture and culture determines the use of language. Within in a linguaculture there are specific codes or rules that second language learners must acquire to effectively communicate.
Although a student’s ability to culturally adjust to the host country and to the new academic environment may be significant in predicting success, other factors also exist. It is important to note that in addition to the foci of this paper, there are other influences that may advance or impede the success of Japanese international students at American universities and colleges.
According to Gullahorn and Gullahorn (1963) differences in individuals’ personalities “will account for some of the variance in the severity and duration of this anomic period” (p.38). A study by Mizuno (1997) suggests that prior overseas experience, exposure to media sources in the host country and extracurricular activities could possibly reduce the length of the cultural adjustment period. Cabrera, Nora, and Castaneda (1993) cite other variables such as the approval of family and friends, financial situation and self-satisfaction with academic progress as factors that can determine retention. Some possible causes for attrition or poor performance include the typical problems of late adolescents (Furnham, 1997) as young adults both domestic and foreign students experience the anxiety and stress of asserting their emotional and intellectual independence. Relationship problems, family problems or other personal hardships unrelated to culture (death of a loved one, illness, car accidents, etc.) can cause any student to perform poorly or drop out of school.
Much of the literature on cultural adjustment is very broadly based and does not specifically refer to Japanese international students, but rather to sojourners in general. Even so, it is important to review this literature to better understand the process of cultural adjustment as it applies to foreign students. The literature on cross-cultural interaction provides evidence that can be used to more clearly describe the cultural adjustment process. A review of this literature is essential before discussing specifically how cultural differences affect Japanese International students. This section will examine several theories and attempt to evaluate them and establish their relevance for use in rethinking policies to increase equity for international students.
One of the earliest theories of cultural adjustment comes from a study done by Lysgaard (1955) on 200 Norwegian Fulbright travel grantees that had spent time in the United States. One of Lysgaard’s foci was the adjustment process over time (see Diagram I). Lysgaard found that those subjects who had stayed in the U.S. less than six months and those who had stayed longer than eighteen months had “good” adjustment while those who had stayed between six and eighteeen months were “less well” adjusted.
Lysgaard (1955) concluded that the data gave evidence of certain stages of adjustment. The introductory stage is characterized by the initial euphoria that a sojourner feels when first arriving in another culture. During this period most of the contact the sojourner has with host nationals is fairly superficial. After a period of time the novelty wears off and the sojourner begins to feel anxiety for a number of reasons. Perhaps, as the sojourner seeks more profound personal relationships with host nationals, language problems arise which lead to frustration, confusion, misinterpretations and loneliness. After a period of time the sojourner may learn to cope with the adjustment problems, make friends, and become integrated into the community. So the U-curve hypothesis represents a high initial feeling of adjustment followed by a low and then ending in a high as the sojourner adapts to the new environment.
Diagram I: U-curve of adjustment process over time.
The three phases of the U-curve have become typically described as contact, conflict, and adaptation (Pedersen, 1991). Five years after Lysgaard’s study, Oberg (as cited in Nash, 1991) coined the term “culture shock” and described how people abroad pass through four phases of cultural adjustment. These begin with feelings of optimism and elation in a Honeymoon Stage (See Diagram II) which may last from several days to half a year depending on how demanding activities in the new culture are for the sojourner (Oberg as cited in Church, 1982). This is followed by a Crisis Stage in which the sojourner develops hostile or stereotypical feelings toward the host culture and fraternizes more with other sojourners. If the sojourner becomes more communicatively competent in the host language and is able to better get around in the new culture, then that person will begin the Recovery Stage. Finally, the sojourner may reach the Adaptation Stage and be able to function in the new environment with minimal strain or anxiety.
Diagram II: Oberg’s Four Phases of Cultural Adjustment
Juxtaposed with the U-curve.
Gullahorn and Gullahorn (1963) suggested that the sojourners experience a reverse-culture shock upon returning to their homelands. They described an extension of the U-curve to include the reentry process, which could be described as reverse culture shock. Upon arriving home sojourners once more enjoy a Honeymoon stage of euphoria and elation. This is followed by disillusionment, a recovery and a return to normalcy. Gullahorn’s and Gullahorn’s extension is known as the W-curve (see Diagram III).
ENTER REENTRY FOREIGN TO OWN CULTURE CULTURE X
FOREIGN TO OWN
Diagram III: W-curve showing adjustment after reentry.
In the past three decades other researchers have developed descriptive approaches to illustrate the cultural adjustment process. In the mid seventies, Adler (as cited in Church, 1982) described the transition from one culture to another as a process in which the sojourner moves into a higher state of both cultural awareness and self-awareness. Adler’s five phases of this transition (contact phase, disintegration phase, reintegration phase and an autonomy stage) closely resemble Oberg’s (as cited in Church, 1982: Nash, 1991) four stages of adjustment. One difference in Adler’s phases is that the final stage of
transition implies that a sojourner who has reached a high level of cultural awareness will be better prepared to cope with adjusting to a third culture (Church 1982).
Brown (1992) uses four similar stages to describe the acculturation process. The first stage is identical to Oberg’s honeymoon stage in which the individual goes through a period of initial excitement and euphoria. The second stage “emerges as individuals feel the intrusion of more and more cultural differences into their own images of self and security” (p.81). Brown’s description of this phase is consistent with Oberg’s Crisis Stage. Brown claims that during this second stage individuals rely on and look for the support and companionship of fellow compatriots. As individuals begin solving some of the problems of acculturation they enter a gradual stage of recovery. The fourth stage is similar to Adler’s final stage. It represents near or complete recovery and the “acceptance of the new culture and self-confidence in the ‘new’ person that has developed in this culture.
There is consistency across the literature that provides descriptive approaches to illustrate the cultural adjustment process in stages or phases, however, the concept of using the U-curve to describe cultural adjustment has received considerable criticism. An examination of the literature that criticizes the U-curve Hypothesis will help to understand the cultural adjustment process, the limitations of a visual model and the heuristic values of a visual model.
Lysgaard(1955) admits the possibility that his U-curve hypothesis may actually reflect the individual’s memory or perception of adjustment through a general attitude toward the host culture rather than real adjustment to a new culture. He writes:
A more serious possibility is that our measures of “adjustment” really do not refer to adjustment at all—what we have called “adjustment” process may perhaps reflect some “personality” trait (or, at least, “verbal habit”) in the respondents, manifesting itself in a general tendency to express “good” adjustment or “bad” adjustment, irrespective of the concrete experiences to which the different “adjustment” questions refer. (p.48)
Church (1982) gives one of the most complete reviews of evidence that either supports or fails to confirm the U-curve hypothesis. Although Church reviews 11 additional studies that provide at least minimal support for the U-curve hypothesis (Scott,1956; Coelho,1958; Morris,1960; Sewell and Davidsen,1961; Deutsch and Won, 1963; Davis 1963; Heath,1970; Shepard,1970; Davis, 1971; Greenblat, 1971; Chang 1973), they suggest that the recovery of positive feelings does not reach the original level of the early sojourn period. In addition, Church reviews 5 other studies that did not confirm the U-curve hypothesis (Selby and Woods, 1966; Becker, 1968; Golden 1973; Hull, 1978; Klineberg and Hull 1979). According to Church, these studies found that other factors may effect the positive or negative feelings an individual has about the host culture. For example, academic and social morale were found to rise and fall in accordance with periods of the academic year rather than in a U-curve pattern. Becker (as cited in Church, 1982) found evidence that sojourners in the United States from Europe were more likely to experience a U-curve type adjustment than those from less developed countries. Such studies have led many scholars to conclude that the empirical support for the U-curve must be considered weak (Church, 1982; Altbach, Kelly and Lulat, 1985).
In a study of the cultural adaptation of General Motors Corporation employees and their families on overseas assignments, Briody and Chrisman (1991) found that the low point of the U-curve for families tended to come during their first winter months abroad. Although the data did give support for the U-curve hypothesis, they also raised a question as to whether particular seasons of the year can influence the intensity of the cultural adjustment process. The possibility that the U-curve could rise and fall with seasons seems to parallel the evidence that Selby and Woods (as cited in Church,1982) found to indicate that rises and falls in academic and social morales for foreign students occur concurrently with stages of the academic year.
In another more recent study, Nash (1991) used the Taylor Manifest Anxiety Scale to measures the ups and downs of American university students studying in France over the course of an academic year. He compared their results to that of a control group of students in the U.S. Although Nash concludes that this study provided no support of the U-curve hypothesis, he also admits the study is “not without flaws” (p.284). One possible flaw might be that the two groups of students received the third questionnaire at different times because of a conflict in vacation periods. In addition, the overseas group of students’ stress may have been minimal because they spent a fair amount of time with each other in class and outside of class during which time they spoke mostly English. Study and living arrangements for the overseas students were made by an American director and assistants were available to take care of any special problems.
Lysgaard (1955), the person credited with first advancing the U-curve hypothesis, concedes the limitations of using a simplistic visual model for explaining a concept as complex as cultural adjustment. Still, by taking into consideration the many factors that could effect the shape of an individuals cultural adjustment U-curve, it becomes possible to use the U-curve hypothesis as a heuristic device.
Although Nash (1991) criticizes the simplicity of the U-curve hypothesis, he also contends that it can be used as a heuristic device. Nash claims that what is most important is to understand the conditions that either make the U-curve hypothesis more applicable or less applicable. Nash’s point is critical because by focusing on trying to prove or disprove the universality of the U-curve researchers may ignored some of the other worthy ideas that were the fruits of early research.
In his discussion of the cultural adjustment process Lysgaard (1955) explains that success will lead to an increase in a sojourner’s general feeling of security in the foreign milieu. On the other hand, failure could lead to an individual being less prepared to engage successfully in other respects. A particular event can become a push that moves the adjustment process in one direction. An event regarded as successful or positive by the sojourner could initiate momentum toward more progressive adjustment, while a failure or perceived negative event may retard the adjustment process. Gullahorn and Gullahorn (1963) described how perceived negative events could preclude any sojourner progress toward the recovery stage , thus frustrating the possibility of an upturn in the U-curve:
Obviously if a sojourner develops a strong antipathy towards his hosts, this will tend to produce a similar reaction on their parts and a vicious circle of antagonistic feelings emerge—a result contrary to an explicit goal of cross-cultural exchange programs(pp.44-45).
Some researchers (Pedersen, 1991; Cushner and Brislin, 1996) refer to important positive or negative events as critical incidents. Pedersen (1991) describes a number of critical incidents that occurred among international students and were documented to use for role simulations to teach peer counseling. These included critical incidents involving making friends, dorm life, language problems, host family, sex roles, isolation, sponsorship, grades and money problems. Cushner and Brislin (1996) provided over one hundred scenarios of critical incidents that occurred during cross-cultural experiences. The scenarios are used for cross-cultural training programs that prepare people for extensive interactions with members of other cultures and for life in a second culture.
Gullahorn and Gullahorn (1963) also suggest the U-curve hypothesis is applicable to people in many situations and not limited to international sojourners. They state that the depth and duration of the U-curve are trivial but probably exist for individuals involved in learning and creative endeavors just as it exists in the socialization process. People seriously engaged in creative or learning projects experience an initial euphoria similar to a sojourner first arriving overseas. Difficulties and complexities encountered during the endeavor may result in feelings of depression or decrement of output. Resolution of any problems leads to positive feelings of satisfaction and personal growth.
The significance of this idea is evident when the life of a Japanese international student is considered. Japanese students have to adjust to a radically new life on several levels. There is the process of cultural adjustment to the new social environment of the host nation, the new social environment of co-national friends and the new academic environment. The positive and negative feelings of a Japanese international student could actually be graphed on several U-curves to represent the degree of cultural adjustment the individual has reached in different environments. It is probable that the critical events effecting one particular curve would have some effect on other curves because of overlapping adjustmental factors common to the individual’s various environments. Perhaps this is an area of research that could be explored in future studies.
To use the U-curve as a heuristic device
to understand the cultural adjustment of Japanese students enrolled in
Other variations of the U-curve that may be applicable to Japanese international students are illustrated in Diagram IV. This diagram shows some examples of how a Japanese student’s cultural adjustment process might be graphed over a period of time. It is not so important to determine which student fits which curve, but rather what causes the ups and downs in any variation of the U-curve. By identifying the factors that push the curve up or down, educators and counselors can better work with students to promote positive cultural adjustment. In this way the U-curve can be used as a heuristic device.
In Diagram IV, point A designates the end of the sojourner’s Honeymoon Stage. The individual is becoming frustrated about the cultural differences. Language differences are more pronounced as the individual begins to need more than just superficial contact with people. Point B represents the beginning of an early recovery. This could result from the formation of a friendship network that has been successful in making the individual part of
Diagram IV: Variations of the U-curve
U-curve with previous cross-cultural experience
Vicious circle of antagonistic feelings
Relapse/ambivalence of cultural expectations
the community. Point C could represent a crucial point where the individual needs some positive feedback and encouragement to start a recovery. Without some kind of success at this point the individual may become melancholy about the sojourn and reject the host culture. Any antagonistic feelings about the host culture may cause the sojourner to seek out the company of compatriots. A compatriot friendship network could provide some support to initiate a recovery for the individual. However, if those compatriots were also malcontents, then negative feelings toward the host culture could snowball, precluding any possibility for recovery as is represented by the line going through point D. Point E represents a critical incident that had a positive result and depicts a favorable change in attitude toward the host culture. Point F exemplifies a critical incident with a negative result that leads to a relapse, which is manifested in increased negative feelings about the host culture or additional disillusionment about the sojourn experience.
The problems that Japanese face while
living in the
One obvious distinction is that
The problem of racism would more
negatively effect a student if members of the host
country were to initiate racist behavior.
Japanese society and American society also
differ greatly on how the individual and the group interact. Landis and Bhagat
(1996) describe the Japanese as collectivists and the Americans as
individualists. These differences have
implications for understanding how Japanese international students may have
difficulties in American colleges or universities. The collectivism of Japanese society
emphasizes group harmony, group consensus and the avoidance of confrontation (Cortazzi as cited in Tudor, 1996). This socialization process is counter to that
The relevance of this collectivism is
better understood after reviewing some aspects of the Japanese educational
system that are culturally different from the
The university, and the whole educational system that fans out beneath it, play a pivotal and highly mendacious role. They introduce the individual to the group, carefully socialize him to it, and then convince him that subordination to group values is his own natural inclination. It is a way of controlling the values of each individual by brutally forcing his or her own cooperation in internalizing them.
This socialization process would seem to put a student studying in the U.S. at a disadvantage because university students are expected to challenge others’ ideas, ask questions in class and develop original ideas in essays and research papers.
Part of the Japanese system includes rigorous university entrance exams where students do endless rote memorization in preparation. The Japanese system of entrance exams reinforces early tracking of students. Ikuo Amano explains the uniqueness of the system:
The system has become standard
practice for individual secondary schools and universities to prepare their own
entrance exams, a system that is the exception rather than the rule in
Students hoping to enter university must begin preparation as early as primary school, because those who go to the best secondary schools are often the ones who get into university. It is common for students to start attending juku or cram schools as early as the sixth year of elementary school. Many parents believe this will help their children receive the necessary preparation they need to pass entrance exams for lower-secondary schools. The practice of attending juku to prepare for entrance exams continues until enrollment into university with specific points of retracking students who do not score well on exams:
Competitive exams in the ninth grade sort students into very clear career paths starting at about age 15. These exams mark some students for technical schools and they will have no chance at all of competing for the blue-blood universities and little chance of attending any college (Smith, 1995, p.71).
One of the options for Japanese students
who fail the exams to enter a Japanese university is to try to enter a
university overseas. Therefore, students who are successful in being accepted
to an institute of higher learning in the
The learning habit of doing rote memorization to pass an exam could also explain why some Japanese students are able to score high on the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), but are unable to communicate effectively enough to succeed academically. Spack (1997) documents one case of a Japanese student that epitomizes this dichotomy in a longitudinal ethnographic study. Although her subject had scored very high on the TOEFL test, she was unable to write assignments that represented college level quality. Additional research on the correlation (or lack of correlation) between TOEFL scores and the ability for Japanese students to succeed academically is needed to yield more conclusive evidence in this area.
Differences in educational socialization result in other linguaculture problems in the classroom. In American higher education it is common for teachers and professors to elicit student feedback through class discussions. Often courses involve group work where students reflect on the course through critical discussions and then report back to the class. Some overseas students believe these discussions waste valuable teaching time. In groups of mixed nationalities, some Asians are reluctant to express opinions that are contrary to what other group members are saying, nor are they willing to make negative remarks for fear of causing another student to lose face (Cortazzi and Jin, 1997).
The first half of this section will raise
a question about how language and culture are related. The second half of this section will
concentrate more on specific examples of differences in Japanese and American linguaculture. These differences are at the root of many
adjustment problems that Japanese international students have when entering an
academic environment in the
The great Italian filmmaker, Federico Fellini once said, “a different language is a different vision of life.” Anyone who has ever seen a Fellini film knows that people can have different visions of the same world. This thought poses a couple of questions relevant to the cultural adjustment process. To what extent does language filter our perception of the world? Does language shape a person’s view of the world or is language only a reflection of a cultural worldview?
Edward Sapir and Benjamin Whorf proposed an idea about how language can shape a person’s perception of the world that has become known by several different labels. These labels include Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis, Whorfian hypothesis, linguistic relativity, and linguistic determinism (Brown, 1992).
While comparing the linguistic properties of several Native American languages with English, Sapir began to hypothesize that speakers of different languages have to pay attention to different aspects of reality to put words together into grammatical sentences (Pinker, 1994). His student Whorf, who was also doing research on Native American languages, expanded upon Sapir’s ideas. In the following much-quoted passage Whorf (1956) describes his thoughts on linguistic relativity:
The background linguistic system (in other words, the grammar) of each language is not merely a reproducing instrument for voicing ideas but rather is itself the shaper of ideas, the program and guide for the individual’s mental stock in trade. Formulation of ideas is not an independent process, strictly rational in the old sense, but is part of a particular grammar, and differs, from slightly to greatly, between different grammars. We dissect nature along lines laid down by our native languages. The categories and types that we isolate from the world of phenomena we do not find there because they stare every observer in the face; on the contrary, the world is presented in a kaleidoscope flux of impressions that has to be organized by our minds—and this means largely by the linguistic system in our minds. We cut nature up, organize it into concepts, and ascribe significances as we do, largely because we are parties to an agreement to organize it in this way—an agreement that holds throughout our speech community and is codified in the patterns of our language. The agreement is, of course, an implicit and unstated one, BUT ITS TERMS ARE ABSOLUTELY OBLIGAORY; we cannot talk at all except by subscribing to the organization and classification of data which the agreement decrees. (pp. 212-214)
Trask (1995) summarizes the linguistic relativity hypothesis to mean that the “structure of our language in large measure affects the way we perceive the world.” This view that speakers of different languages perceive the world differently as a result of difference s in linguistic properties of their native languages is controversial and there have been many critics who refute it. It is likely that certain aspects of language do provide us with cognitive mindsets. In the second half of this section some specific examples of language differences between Japanese and English will be given. Those examples can be used as evidence to make the point that Japanese learners of English may view certain situations differently than native speakers which may result in social and academic communication problems.
Although the debate over language shaping culture or culture shaping language may go on, it is easy to agree on several points. The process of learning to think in a second language requires a considerable level of mastering that language, but it does not mean that a second language learner has to learn to think again. However, it does mean that second culture learning is part of second language learning (Brown, 1992).
The ability to effectively communicate in English is a factor that will greatly facilitate an international student’s cultural adjustment. Language problems are the roots of many hardships for foreign students. Language problems can lead to racism, loneliness and academic failure. Even though students admitted to programs in higher education must pass rigorous standards of English proficiency, they often lack the cultural knowledge of language use that is necessary for effective communication in English. Culture is an integral part of interaction between language and thought (Brown, 1992).
For Japanese students, cultural differences create communication hurdles. There are several obvious dissimilarities between English and Japanese that can hamper communication in social and academic environments. The linguaculture of Japanese allows for ambiguity and indirectness, but the American linguaculture of English prefers explicitness and being straightforward. The use of intuition is prevalent in Japanese communication; whereas communication in English requires more verbal clarity. Japanese speakers also tend to avoid disagreement and asking direct questions. English speakers accept disagreement and ask many direct questions (Cortazzi as cited in Tudor,1996; Nishida, 1996).
In Japanese, emotional messages, negative
criticism, self-defense and refusals are often difficult to express in word so
they are communicated with non-verbal signals. These signals include faint eye
movements and facial expressions, moderate body language signals and pauses or
silences. Long silences as a form of non-verbal communication can be
interpreted as expressions of truthfulness, social discretion, embarrassment,
and defiance (Lebra as cited in Nishida, 1996). Japanese international students who have been
conditioned to use these non-verbal cues communication all their lives could send
messages to peers or teachers in the
The way people use verbal communication to serve their needs also differs greatly. The results of one study that compared persuasive strategies of Americans and Japanese (Neuliep and Hazleton, 1985) found methods used to gain compliance are a clear discriminating variable between Japanese and American cultures. The Americans in this study preferred promise and positive expertise as strategies for persuasion whereas the Japanese preferred strategies included explanation, direct request and deceit. Barnlund and Yoshioka (1990) found that ways of apologizing differ between Japanese and Americans. Japanese prefer to apologize directly without explaining their actions. Americans, on the other hand, prefer to offer explanations for their acts. These findings indicate that there are cultural dynamic linguaculture differences in communicative styles that may affect the communicative competence of Japanese international students.
Tsunoda (as cited in Goodman, 1990) takes the idea of an
esoteric Japanese linguaculture to radical extremes
with his comments on the relationship between Japanese language and Japanese
culture. He claims that the structure of
the Japanese language reverses the function of the two cerebral hemispheres in
the Japanese brain so as to become the inverse of any other people, except the
Polynesians who share a vowel based language with the Japanese. Tsunoda asserts
that language makes the Japanese culturally distinct from other people. Even though this seems like a very radical
view, other scholars have similar opinions.
Natatsu (as cited in Goodman, 1990) contends
that it is the socio-linguistic structure surrounding the Japanese language
which causes international students the most problems. Both Tsunoda and Natatsu are referring to culturally specific aspects of the
Japanese language that effect and cause problems for Japanese returnee children
who have lived overseas. It can still be postulated from their research that if
the Japanese language is so culturally distinct that it incorporates a unique
thought process, then those individuals who have lived their whole lives
speaking Japanese in
international students bring unique characteristics and habits that are
products of their linguaculture and educational
socialization. In the
The freshman composition essay that is highly philosophical and generalized instead of being highly specific and personalized as the professor expected; the political science paper that has elaborate language and irrelevant materials that do not address the point; the research paper that has been copied from one or two sources.
Problems like these are not the result of a student’s lack of understanding English but rather the lack of being familiar with the culturally accepted conventions of academic prose. In order to succeed academically international students must learn the correct code for communicating in the host country’s linguaculture. Japanese students may take longer to learn this code because massive linguacultural differences, like those between Japan and the United States, cannot be quickly bridged (Agar, 1994).
The argument thus far has been that the cultural differences of society, schooling and language create a great cultural distance between Japan and the United States. This cultural distance makes it more difficult for Japanese international students to culturally adjust to the academic environment of an American college or university. This difficulty could result in attrition or poor academic performance. However, there are measures institutions can take to ease the cultural adjustment period for all international students, not just Japanese students studying in the United States.
This section will first discuss informal support systems, also called friendship networks. In this part of the discussion some findings will be related specifically to the cultural adjustment of Japanese international students. The second part of this section will discuss the benefits of institutions taking measures to increase social integration between international students and domestic students as well as between international students and faculty. It can be postulated that increased social interaction could affect the cultural adjustment positively so as to lessen the downward dip in an individual’s U-curve. The final part of this section will discuss the implications for policy change that universities and colleges could consider to create equity for international students. Both the section on social integration and policy implications discuss ways of shortening the cultural adjustment period in general for all international students rather than Japanese students specifically because any measures to create equity for one group of international students should actually benefit all international students.
Much research has been done on how friendship networks effect the cultural adjustment process of an individual. Although some friendship networks can provide support and knowledge to help a sojourner develop positive feelings about the new culture, others have the potential of dilating ill feelings toward the host culture. An examination of the types of friendship networks that a Japanese international student is likely to have will yield an understanding about how friends can influence an individual’s perception of the host culture.
Lysgaard (1955) reasoned that in the beginning of a person’s stay in another culture social contacts are coincidental and usually superficial. The contact situation is usually limited to a specific situation that does not involve an individual’s complete personality. This superficial involvement can give the sojourner an initial positive feeling of goal accomplishment and a sense of being accepted in the new culture. A Japanese student is likely to have this type of interaction when first arriving in America. Some examples might be a short conversation with an American on the bus, receiving directions from a stranger, talking with neighbors or discussions class schedules or housing arrangements with academic advisors. This pattern is consistent with descriptions of the Honeymoon Stage.
Gullahorn and Gullahorn (1963) further discussed initial contact between foreign sojourners in the United States and their hosts. They found that sojourners were usually overwhelmed at first by the seemingly genuine openness and friendliness of their American hosts. Gullahorn and Gullahorn add that when the sojourner discovers an invitation to an American’s home does not actually translate into “strong affective sentiments they tend to characterize American friendship relationships as ‘superficial’”(p. 36).
Bochner et al. (as cited in Furnham, 1997) offer a functional model for a longer-term perspective of international students’ friendship networks. They identified three types of social networks that were found to be common among most sojourners. The primary network is monoculture. It consists of close friendships with fellow countrymen and provides the support and environment where groups can express their ethnic and cultural heritages. Bicultural relationships between sojourners and host nationals form the secondary friendship network. These ties may be with host nationals that demonstrate some kind of authority such as teachers, advisors, counselors or officials. Relationships with significant host nationals have the function of assisting sojourners with their professional or academic goals. A third, or multicultural friendship network provides companionship for recreational activities or relaxation.
The monoculture network of co-national friendships is necessary for easing the process of cultural adjustment, but could also hamper the process if an individual became too reliant on the compatriot friendships. Bochner et al. (as cited in Furnham, 1997) claim that the co-national bonds are of vital importance to international students. Although conflicting research exists, Alexander et al. (as cited in Pedersen, 1991) found contact with co-nationals to be an important factor in helping international students cope with cultural differences. Pedersen (1991) adds that co-national friendship networks also tend to be the most immediate and readily available.
Data collected by Sandhu and Asrabadi (1994) reveal that international students in the U.S. often feel socially alienated. They reasoned it is the natural response of international students to seek out fellow countrymen during the cultural adjustment process. This is partially because foreign students were unlikely to make special efforts to reach out to Americans and contrariwise American students “do not feel the need to go out of their way to socialize with the foreign students” (p.444). Sudweeks et al. (1990) cite additional reasons for the lack of social intimacy between Japanese international students and North American students. Studying a small sample of Japanese and North American females, they found that cultural differences were used to explain why friendships did not develop moderate or high levels of intimacy. Limited language and limited cultural knowledge were also found to be barriers.
There is some danger of stifling the cultural adjustment process if an individual’s coping strategies are restricted to association with the monoculture friendship network. A malcontent sojourner may be consoled by compatriots with similar negative feelings toward the host culture. Negativity could become a snowball of emotions and perceived cultural tensions that might preclude further adjustment for the sojourner. Gullahorn and Gullahorn (1963) describe a typical reaction they observed among American students in France:
In order to reduce his dissonance, while remaining in the cultural context, he might maximize the negative component in his ambivalent feelings towards others in his environment and withdraw as much as possible from interaction with them. To bolster this decision he may join a clique of fellow malcontents (p. 44).
This reaction may be even more common among Japanese international students. According to Bennet (as cited in Gullahorn and Gullahorn, 1963) Japanese students react to some situations of perceived cultural tensions by completely withdrawing. This response is part of the Japanese cultural norm to be restrained and undemonstrative in situations of conflict. The implications for stifled cultural adjustment are evident when considering Sandhu’s and Asrabadi’s findings (1994) that perceived discrimination and alienation were identified as major contributing factors for acculturative stress of international students. The danger is that rejection or perceived unfriendliness can lead a Japanese international student to pursue too many friendships with co-nationals where all communication is in their mother tongue.
Most international students must develop some defense mechanisms to deal with rejection, alienation and discrimination whether they are real, or not. Perhaps further study of preferred defense mechanisms used by people from different cultures would be an area for additional research to explore how people negotiate cultural adjustment.
Even if a group of sojourners do not have negative feelings toward the host culture, over-association with a monoculture network of friends could impede language development. Language development can be closely related to the amount of interaction with members of the host culture. Without sufficient interaction with native speakers, second language acquisition may take place more slowly causing a prolonged period of cultural adjustment. The relationships between language learning, social integration and cultural adjustment will be discussed in the next section.
Although the causes of the problems relating to a prolonged cultural adjustment period may be unique to international students, some of the solutions may be similar to those that address attrition of domestic students. Tinto (1975) considers the need for academic integration and the need for social integration. He claims that high levels of academic and social integration lessen the chances for dropping out. Tinto describes social integration as interaction that takes place between students and others in the academic arena. Tinto (1998) cites various studies (e.g., Astin,1984; Mallette and Cabrera, 1991; Nora, 1987; Pascarella and Terenzini, 1980; Terenzini and Pascarella, 1977) that support the positive effects of social interaction. These studies give evidence that the more students are involved with their peers and their educators; the higher the chances they will persist.
These findings have certain commonalties with cultural adjustment and acculturation. Social integration can be seen as a way all students ease their “adjustment” into a new environment--the culture of higher education. The acculturation process must involve the same elements of social integration. A sojourner living in a second culture must have social interaction with the members of that culture in order to assimilate. The importance of these commonalties is seen in Schumann’s Acculturation Model (as cited in Gass and Selinker, 1994). This model states that if learners acculturate, they will learn; if learners do not acculturate, they will not learn. Since Schumann is specifically talking about second language learners, it is can be inferred that academic and social integration could have double benefits for international students.
This inference is supported by other research on cultural adjustment. Furnham (1997) cites several studies that reported a significant relationship between social interaction of sojourners with members of their host country and feelings of satisfaction with their sojourn (see Furnham, 1997 for Sewell and Davidson, 1961; Richardson, 1974; Sellitz and Cook, 1962; Au, 1969). More recent studies found moderately strong evidence that social interaction between international students and domestic students had direct correlation to facilitating cultural adjustment and reducing stress (Kagan and Cohen, 1990; Mallinckroft and Leong, 1992; Wan, Chapman, and Biggs, 1992; Tompson and Tompson, 1996). Socializing or interacting with members of the host culture can lead to a feeling of acceptance into the new group. International students can learn how to function in new social and academic environments through interaction with peers from the host culture. (The term social interaction in these studies is consistent with Tinto’s definition of social integration.)
Social interaction involves making friends and socializing with English speaking domestic students in the U.S. so this interaction should help to improve international students’ communicative ability in English as well as better their understanding of the linguaculture. Group acceptance and positive attitude about living in a new culture lead to increased input and interaction which are necessary both to acculturate and increase levels of fluency (Brown 1992; Schumann as cited in Gass and Selinker, 1994). For international students, cultural adjustment support systems or friendship networks can provide an environment for social integration or social interaction to take place. Social support and social networks of foreign students can reduce stress and facilitate cultural adjustment by providing the individual with informational, emotional and moral support (Furnham,1997).
To be able to have social interaction with members of the host country, international students must be able to communicate in the host language. As previously stated, communicative ability is important for both academic success and social interaction. The reciprocal is also true. Social interaction improves communicative competence (Oxford and Ehrman, 1993). Kagan and Cohen (1990) found that for international students in the United States, speaking English at home was the most important factor that contributed to cultural, personal and social adjustment. Speaking English in their home environment was an obvious characteristic of international students that had high levels of assimilation into their American hosts’ culture. The study also revealed that students who did not speak English at home were in the resistance level and were described as poor cultural adjusters. This evidence is valid support for any policy that encourages international students to live in English speaking environments.
Colleges and universities could take steps to promote more interaction between international students and domestic students. Although it is impossible to force individuals to form friendships, situations could be created to foster friendships. One situation might be to require unmarried international students living on campuses to share housing with native speaking domestic students. Also international student affairs counselors could encourage students to take part in clubs and social gatherings with domestic students.
Perhaps, a more effective policy would be for institutions to create situations that not only require international students to interact with domestic students, but could provide academic benefits as well. Supplemental Instruction (SI) has worked to reduce student attrition for two decades in institutions of higher education (Burmiester, 1996). Special SI programs could be developed for international students. These programs could give academic credit or financial reimbursement (such as work/study) to domestic students who act as SI group leaders. Ideally, the SI student would have already passed the course that the SI focuses on with a top grade. International students that might be at risk would be required to have SI for all their courses. The SI group would meet several hours a week and the leader would help the students with assignments and learning strategies.
Blakely (1997) describes this type of
program. The English Language Fellows
Program at the
Teachers and professors can make certain changes to create a more equitable environment for international students. Tompson and Tompson (1996) suggest that classroom policies and procedures could be modified to ensure social integration and accommodate multiple learning styles. Educators could use more in-class exercises, visual aids with lectures and put notes on library reserve or websites. Snow (1997) suggests similar modifications and adds others that involve short-term faculty training for teaching academic literacy skills. Such training could involve identifying and confronting stereotypes as well as discussing cultural differences. For more in-depth literature on intercultural training see Landis and Bhagat (1996).
Cultural differences make it more
difficult for international students to adjust to the new academic environment
of American colleges and universities.
The inability to adjust can hamper an international student’s academic
performance and may result in failure.
Academic failure among international students increases dropout rates
and lessens the external efficiency of the educational system. If colleges and universities in the
Although much research has been done on the cultural adjustment process there are still areas where further research could provide educators with information to better understand the dilemmas that international students face. One topic for further study might be the idea that more than one new environment actually exists for an international student to adjust to when first arriving in a new country. As mentioned in a previous section, there exists the possibility that a foreign student might have to simultaneously adjust to more than one environment. A student may have a high level of acculturation to the new geographic environment, but a very low level of acculturation to the new academic environment or visa versa. Additional research could try to answer questions about how dependent a person’s adjustment to one new environment is on that person’s adjustment to a second new environment.
A second topic for additional research could be the variations of adjustment strategies used by people from different cultures. This would include the aforementioned study of preferred defense mechanisms used by people from different cultures. Data collected in this area of research might further the development of teachings in the field of intercultural training.
The issue of how well TOEFL tests are indicative of Japanese students’ real ability to comprehend classroom lectures, communicate with their academic peers and write term papers remains in question. Additional research could be done to reveal a correlation, or lack of correlation, between TOEFL test scores and academic performance. The findings could be used to develop additional methods for testing what educators could use to better place Japanese international students into the appropriate classes.
Another possible area for future research
that has not been mentioned yet is the effect the Japanese-American community
has on the cultural adjustment of Japanese international students. In places like
More research is also needed on the
outcomes for Japanese international students who have studied abroad. Because some students have opted to study in
the US as a result of not passing entrance exams to Japanese universities there
is question as to whether degrees from U.S. institutions are considered as
prestigious by Japanese employers. There
is also a question as to whether students are enrolled in programs that will
increase their chances of finding gainful employment upon returning to
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