This paper explores the incidence of stress in international students in relation to the requirements of an international Masters Programme. The data presented here were taken from a doctoral ethnographic study of the adaptation of international postgraduate students to life in the UK, involving individual interviews with thirteen students over the academic year 2003/4 as well as participant observation of the entire cohort of 150 Masters students. It is suggested that article stress related to the academic task 2is caused by academic cultural differences particularly in regard to critical evaluation and participation in discussion in class, and by language ability. This study shows that stress is intense at the beginning of the academic programme and declines gradually as a function of a reduction in the academic workload, rather than as a function of time.
It is widely agreed that at the start of their stay, most sojourners 1
will experience some degree of
culture shock (e.g. Kim 1988; Gudykunst 1998; Hofstede 2001). Culture shock is defined as anxiety that results from losing all our familiar signs and symbols of social intercourse, which we do not carry on the level of conscious awareness (Oberg 1958), and their substitution by other cues that are strange (Hall 1959). Among the many symptoms of culture shock are physical illness, low self-esteem, low morale, social isolation, dissatisfaction with life, bitterness, homesickness, disorientation, anxiety, depression, role strain, identity confusion, stress, loneliness, self-doubt, hostility, distress, personality disintegration helplessness, irritability, fear, and self-deprecation (e.g. Adler 1975; Alexander et al. 1976; David 1976; Detweiler, 1980; Jacobson-Widding, 1983; Furnham and Alibhai, 1985; Adelegan and Parks 1985; Kim 1988; Storti 1990; Hofstede 1991; Persaud 1993; Berry 1994, Gudykunst 1988; and many more). Sources of strain include racial discrimination, weather and food differences, language, accommodation, separation from home, dietary restrictions, money, diminished social interaction, role and status change and a different educational system (ibid). The severity and duration of the experience of culture shock are a function of cultural and individual differences (Kim 1988; Searle and Ward, 1990; Furnham 1993; Ward and Chang 1997; Ward et al 2001). Given that the purpose of visit of international students
in Higher Education is to achieve an educational
qualification, and that they have to become academically competent soon after arrival in the new country, the negative symptoms associated with culture shock are often very intense. In an ethnographic study of the adaptation experience of a sample of postgraduate international students in the UK, culture shock was suffered by nearly all students, with one of the most commonly cited symptoms being stress related to the demands of their intensive Masters course. Stress is considered to be a generalised physiological and psychological state brought about by the experience of stressors in the environment, identified as having their source in the process of acculturation (Zajonc 1952; Hamburg et al. 1974; Detweiler 1980; Berry 1994). In this study, the environmental stressors included the academic requirements of the postgraduate course of study, the need for a good level of English language and the dissonance between the academic conventions of the students’ origin country and those of the UK. According to Ballard and Clanchy (1997), students enter Higher Education with expectations shaped by their previous learning experience, which is often significantly different from the education system in the new country. Thus academic difficulties may arise not just because of...