International Student Stress

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Academic Stress Among College Students: Comparison of American and International Students Ranjita Misra and Linda G. Castillo
Texas A&M University

This study compared academic stressors and reactions to stressors between American and international students using Gadzella’s Life Stress Inventory (B. M. Gadzella, 1991). Five categories of academic stressors (i.e., frustrations, conflicts, pressures, changes, and self-imposed) and four categories describing reactions to these stressors (i.e., physiological, emotional, behavioral, and cognitive) were examined. The sample consisted of 392 international and American students from 2 Midwestern universities. American students reported higher self-imposed stressors and greater behavioral reactions to stressors than international students. Respondent’s status (American or international) and interaction of status and stressors emerged as the 2 strongest predictors of their behavioral, emotional, physiological, and cognitive reaction to stressors. Five stressors attained statistical significance in the regression model. The findings emphasize the need to recognize cultural differences in stress management. Implications for mental health providers in the university arena are discussed. KEY WORDS: academic stressors; American students; international students; reactions to stressors

The international student population in the United States has been growing steadily since the 1950s and constitutes a significant proportion of higher education students. For example, international students represent 12% of all master’s degrees and 26.7% of doctoral degrees earned in the Ranjita Misra, Department of Health and Kinesiology, Texas A&M University; Linda G. Castillo, Department of Educational Psychology, Texas A&M University. This study was funded by the National Office of Eta Sigma Gamma. Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to Ranjita Misra, Department of Health and Kinesiology, Texas A&M University, College Station, TX 77843-4243. E-mail:

International Journal of Stress Management 2004, Vol. 11, No. 2, 132–148 Copyright 2004 by the Educational Publishing Foundation 1072-5245/04/$12.00 DOI: 10.1037/1072-5245.11.2.132

Academic Stress


United States (Davis, 1996). According to the Institute of International Education (2002), a total of 582,996 students representing more than 186 nations attended 2,500 institutions of higher education in the United States in 2001. Economic, cultural, and political factors indicate an increase in future enrollment (Hayes & Lin, 1994; Huang, 1994). College is a stressful time for many students as they go through the process of adapting to new educational and social environments. College may be even more stressful for international students who have the added strain of learning different cultural values and language in addition to academic preparation (Essandoh, 1995; Mori, 2000). As stressors accumulate, an individual’s ability to cope or readjust can be overtaxed, depleting their physical or psychological resources. In turn, there is an increased probability that physical illness or psychological distress will follow (Lazarus & Folkman, 1994; Pearlin, 1999). Although numerous studies have evaluated the impact of stress on college students (e.g., Edwards, Hershberger, Russell, & Market, 2001; Misra, McKean, West, & Russo, 2000; Reifman & Dunkel-Schetter, 1990; Zaleski, Levey-Thors, & Schiaffino, 1999), there has been a dearth of studies on international students. Both American and international students share common academic stressors such as family-related pressures, scholarship requirements, financial burdens, competition in class, and course-related stress (Cheng, Leong, & Geist, 1993). However, perceptions of academic stress and coping strategies might differ across cultures. Hence, American and international students may differ in their perceptions and reactions to academic stressors. A recent...
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