How adapting to a new country is all about attitude

For students studying overseas and feeling homesick it turns out it isn’t the time spent in your new country that will change how you feel, it’s your attitude.

New Monash Business School research investigates how foreign students use the media and adapt to life at Chinese universities.

The researchers assumed that cultural adaptation would correlate to the time spent in China. This was not the case.

“It turns out that cultural adaptation is not so much based on time but rather if you want to fit in,” says Monash Business School’s Professor Rick Krever.

International student

“We found the American students who go to study in China because they are genuinely interested in Chinese culture, really immerse themselves and adapt well to the new environment. However, African students who are there simply to get a degree tend not to culturally adapt.

“We found that an American student may be far more adapted to Chinese culture within a year compared to an African student who may have been in China for seven years.”

Foreign student attitudes to life in China were very different depending on the reason why they were there. Unlike students who study in western countries that export their higher education, students study in China for vastly different reasons.

They may be very interested in Chinese culture or because they are from a less-developed country that may be supported by Chinese scholarships.

Different motivations help explain why Americans generally tended to spend a relatively short time in China, whereas Africans spent relatively longer.

We found that an American student may be far more adapted to Chinese culture within a year compared to an African student who may have been in China for seven years.

Professor Rick Krever

Professor Krever has jointly published the findings in a paper titled ‘Media use and cultural adaptation by foreign students in Chinese universities’, with Monash University colleague Runping Zhu.

“Feedback from Chinese students indicates that they are more likely to seek out and befriend Americans than other groups, no doubt contributing to cultural adaptation of this group,” the paper says.

For these reasons Americans tend to adapt faster than Asians and Europeans with Africans generally the least culturally adapted.

The research also found that Americans hold much more positive attitudes about China than Africans. Americans and Asians are more likely to have friendships with local Chinese than African and European students.

It is not surprising therefore that American students were found to be the most satisfied with their life in China, followed by those from Europe and then Africa.

The research was based on 288 survey responses and 28 detailed interviews of international students from eight different universities in Dalian. Most of the students surveyed were Asian, European and African with a smaller number from the United States.

The most popular area of study was business and around 68% of the students were between the ages of 21 and 25. Around 69% of the students had lived in China for three years or less. Only around 4% of respondents had lived in China for more than six years.

City life in China

The survey consisted of 55 questions falling into the categories of media use patterns, cultural adaptation process and demographic features.

The research also studied the changing use of media as students adapt to their new environment.

“We found the foreign students who were adapting were really reading the Chinese news. They had a genuine curiosity to find out where the Chinese were getting their ideas from,” says Professor Krever.

As students become immersed in Chinese culture, their use of media also changes. Those who felt they weren’t culturally adapted used the internet mainly for maintaining contact with people at home.

Those who had medium levels of cultural adaptation used the internet to read news in their home countries and also for study . Finally, students who were very culturally adapted used the internet primarily to study.

A similar pattern was seen with phone use. At the beginning most students used their phone to call family members or friends at home as well as to read information about their home country. Those who were culturally adapted used their phone to contact classmates and friends in China and to read news about China.

However, no matter how culturally immersed a foreign student was, it did not prompt them to move to using Chinese social media accounts. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are blocked in China as are many other online information sources.

“It was unexpected that the American students who were adept at getting involved in the local culture still didn’t pick up the local social media,” Professor Krever says.

“That is they would watch the Chinese soap operas on television but wouldn’t communicate in the same social groups as the local Chinese such as WeChat. There was no evidence of exclusion but they never made it into the tight social network.”

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