Social adaptation of foreign students.
Social adaptation is a process directed at the preservation of the balanced status of individuals or groups, with the purpose of adjustability to conditions of a new cultural environment and obtaining relative autonomy from the previous environment, for the prospective provision of basic needs by means of academic or professional work.
The term "Social adaptation" can be found in scientific literature devoted to social research with increasing frequency in recent years. However, toward foreign students, many aspects of this theme are still in the process of development. A couple of words about the theory: the term “adaptation” has come to social sciences from biology not without reason. What a person in a new cultural environment experiences is very similar to what a biological unit experiences as well, having been placed into unusual or adverse conditions. The biological organism enters into a crisis condition from which it has only 2 choices: either to escape from the influence of new conditions or to redistribute energy with the subsequent purpose of reorganization, i.e. to respond to an environmental challenge correspondingly. Unfortunately, with respect to a human being, this scheme gives a very general idea, but actually everything is much more complicated than that. Adaptation of a person is defined by a set of social, cultural, psychological, emotional and even biological factors. Indeed, these biological factors do not play a minor role. But what we should understand is that in all of the above mentioned spheres, with long-term immersion of a person into an alien cultural environment there is an inevitable crisis as a response to new social norms and rules, or better said, the inability to understand those norms and rules. In this respect, international scholars are not an exception. A usual international scholar, from the moment of being immersed in a new cultural environment, represents an individual from 19 to 40 years of age. Therefore, his or her outlook is presented by a rigid enough scheme in which his or her self-identification is not less rigidly interwoven. As the person changes his outlook for more effective interaction with the new environment, there is a simultaneous change of self-identification, and observation shows that it is a very painful process, because of resistance, that is undergone by some individuals faster than others. Also, those who cannot pass through this process at all or get stuck in it in such a way that ultimately exhausts their spiritual and biological resources, are a statistical norm. They create a serious threat for themselves and sometimes for the people who surround them. Our task is to bring a feasible contribution to help such individuals. In general, individuals representing extreme cases (those who adapt extremely poorly and also those who adapt very easily), represent only about 10-15 % of the general number of people. The majority falls into a wide range of about 70-80 %. Thus, the question is, what represents those factors which help international scholars to adapt better and what inhibits this process? In order to understand this better, after a thorough content-analysis, a study of personal experience of scholars, and the personal experience of the researchers themselves, we have divided these factors into two basic groups:
1. The factors favoring S.A. and
2. The factors impeding S.A.
We have broken them into subgroups of subjective and objective factors. In total there are 20 factors.
On the basis of these factors there were questions created for the purpose of revealing the indicators of intensity and depth of these factors in the everyday practices of scholars. Another part of the survey consisted of the questions aimed at finding out the levels of stress, anxiety, depression, self-esteem and self-efficacy. As a matter of fact, self-esteem and self-efficacy are factors influencing SA so we would include them in the survey anyway. As independent variables, gender, age, conformism vs individualism, introversion vs. extraversion, and time of stay in the USA were used. Almost all of the questions in the survey have been presented with a Likert scale, with the purpose of facilitating the process of the of respondents’ answers. The survey has been placed on a web site:
The survey will be open for a week on the site, just in case somebody wants to get familiar with the list of questions. During the process of the survey, we received results from 63 respondents, but unfortunately after a filtration of incomplete questions we had 43 qualitative respondents remaining; nevertheless we consider that the basic research objectives have been met. Respondents represented 23 countries (ppt insert country list) from age 19 to 42 years (insert ppt of age scale). The majority of respondents have spent from 4 to 6 months in the USA, which is just a semester, and this makes the research very relevant for participants of international programs for whom it is their first year in the USA, the most critical and important one.
We tried to learn from respondents if they moved with their families from one place to another often in their childhood as we presumed that people with such a history would adapt to new conditions more easily. Moreover, we tried to ascertain if they had the experience of an independent life (to show qns at the moment), the intention to improve linguistic abilities, interest in local culture and history, relationship with the mentor, level of activity in the social life of the community in and outside of campus, and their professional and academic activity level.
Also, we tried to reveal how well people had been informed on forthcoming psychological difficulties which they could expect in their new country. Furthermore, we have considered health as a factor of importance, and also accommodation problems, such as a climate, food, and cohabitation with a member of the local culture. The attitude to members of the local culture as to potential sexual partners, quality and quantity of social bonds left in the homeland, and even the international policy of the USA toward the country of the international scholar were taken into consideration.
As a result of the comparison of data, we have found that all respondents fall into groups with an average and low theoretical level of adaptation. Nevertheless, there is an interesting fact that despite the theories stating that adaptation capabilities decrease with age, in our case in the age range between 20 and 40, we have not found any correlations between age and adaptation. It is possible to assume, then, that in this range individuals represent the case in which the natural decrease of abilities to adaptation because of aging is still compensated by life experience, social communication skills growth, and also the ability of self-organization. It is also necessary not to forget, that we are dealing with people who are connected to the educational system. The intellect has always been an important helping factor.
Gender, as a contributing factor to the adaptation process was another question in which we were interested. First of all, random sampling gave us 2\3 respondents as females and 1\3 respondents as males. Among each gender group we calculated an average adaptation score and found that there is just a small correlation between the gender of the respondent and their ability to adapt. The given question was already discussed, but let me repeat it once again; it is presumed that higher linguistic abilities give women a slight advantage. Besides, women build social communications more easily, more willingly give social support to each other, and are not a secret that females by default always have more offers and possibilities for the creation of intimate connections. Besides, there is an assumption that women reconstruct their world view more easily, so at a certain level they are less resistant to alien cultures’ norms and rules and therefore mental reorganization is faster and easier, which in its turn fosters the process of social adaptation.
But as for the difference between natives of individualist and conformist cultures, we see a notable difference in abilities to adapt. After the analysis of answers of respondents we concluded that individualists show a higher level of adaptation than conformists. Having compared answers, we concluded that a sub-factor allowing individualists to reach a higher level of adaptation is the experience of a previous independent life. Besides, in the individualistic countries, as a rule, their more developed economies are reflected in educational quality and the propensity of language study. Furthermore, people from individualistic cultures travel more often starting from early years.
One of the most contradictory questions in our research was who adapts better: introverts or extroverts? Theoretically both parties had equal chances of superiority. Extroverts are known as those who more willingly get into a community, constantly search out new sensations and aspire to explore new aspects of life of the new cultural environment. However, they are more fragile and if they do not receive positive results in one direction at once then they try to make efforts in other, in other words they lack solidity and persistence in comparison with introverts. Introverts in their turn have another advantage. They can stay a longer time without social communication, which is inevitable during certain moments of social adaptation. Besides, introverts practice a more profound analytical approach to a problem. In other words, where extroverts use emotional and spiritual resources to advance their social adaptation, introverts use intelligence. Both ways have both pros and cons. And so, research had shown that there is a considerable difference between the adaptation abilities of introverts and extroverts. Introverts demonstrated 23 % higher results.
Last, another variable which we were interested in is how the longevity of the stay in another country influences adaptation level. Respondents were given the possibility to choose one of five variants of terms of stay in the country.
As it was found again there is no direct correlation between term of stay in the USA and level of adaptation. The results show that there are people who have stayed in the USA about one year and still show a rather low level of adaptation.
In further analysis, we have divided the respondents into 3 conditional groups. Respondents that were entered into the 1st group received the greatest quantity of points for adaptation, the 2nd included the majority of respondents with relatively average amount of points and those who received the lowest points were put into the 3rd group. We extracted those answers in the 1st group for which respondents received the greatest quantity of points. We then imposed these answers of each respondent against each other and allocated repeating answers. After this we did the same with answers of the respondents from the 3rd group of people, with the difference being that we extracted answers for which they received the lowest points. Then we compared the allocated answers’ results from those two groups. We saw that there is a very accurate pattern which allows us to say that the following factors are critical for the successful adaptation of international students:
1. First of all, the factor of the presence of stable psychological conditions and possibility to sustain stresses.
2. Origin from a cosmopolitan family, those people who had often moved from one place to another and travelled a lot showed high adaptability.
3. Deep knowledge of the concept of culture shock and comprehension of what to expect gives a really big advantage.
4. Experience of an independent life, in other words experience of self-organization, ability to budget time and money.
5. Sporty lifestyle (improves state of health, provides higher level of natural dopamine that helps to overcome stress).
6. Level of relationships with mentors. Mentors are the major source of information both in academic and social spheres.
Having summed up all of the above mentioned factors, it is possible to tell that there is a direct interrelation between adaptation level, academic and professional success, and level of mental and physical health. So now we can describe a typical person with a high level of adaptability. This one is a female, between 20 and 40, sporty, who originates from a cosmopolitan frequently traveling family from an individualist society, introvert, organized, having an experience of independent life, and managing to create effective relationships with mentors. I hope that this presentation will help those from us who are engaged in academic activity far from our native lands, and also will allow OSI, by use of the given conclusions, to help to those newcomers who will be recruited in the future. Because for me doing this research is at least something that I can do for OSI in order to reciprocate with gratitude to OSI for those 3 wonderful semesters that I have spent in the US. Thanks.