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Coping Strategies of International Chinese Undergraduates in Response to Academic Challenges in U.S. Colleges


by Tang Heng — 2018

Background/Context: One in three international students in the U.S. comes from China, propelled by a steep increase in undergraduate enrollment in U.S. colleges. This phenomenon has been accompanied by negative media discourse that portrays them as needy, passive, and unable to cope with their new educational demands.

Purpose/Objective: Using a hybrid sociocultural framework that privileges student agency and locates students within their sociocultural milieu, this study investigated strategies Chinese international undergraduates used to cope with challenges they faced in U.S. colleges.

Population/Participants: Eighteen participants—nine freshmen and nine sophomores—from three liberal arts colleges situated in an urban context took part in the study.

Research Design: This qualitative study followed participants through one academic year. Participants completed a demographic questionnaire, engaged in three semi-structured interviews at the beginning, middle, and end of their academic year, and wrote four journal prompts.

Findings/Results: Results reveal that student strategies cluster around themes of agency and self-reliance, as well as outreach and support. Students spent more time studying, used a range of learning techniques, developed self-help and psychological strategies, tapped into institutional and technological support, and reached out to teachers and peers for help.

Conclusions/Recommendations: Students’ coping strategies reveal fluid responses to intersecting and changing sociocultural expectations, nimbleness in their adaptations, and transience in the challenges faced. Other than contesting stereotypes around Chinese students, findings spell implications for differentiated and responsive college policies serving international students, faculty members, and local peers. It also points to the need to incorporate more longitudinal studies with clear conceptual frameworks so that novel and nuanced understanding of international students can emerge.



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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 120 Number 2, 2018, p. -
http://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 21989, Date Accessed: 9/24/2017 10:35:54 PM

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About the Author
  • Tang Heng
    Nanyang Technological University
    E-mail Author
    TANG HENG is an assistant professor at Singapore’s National Institute of Education, Nanyang Technological University. Her research explores how sociocultural contexts shape learning and teaching as well as the ways in which learners navigate the tensions of differing sociocultural contexts. Recent publications include: “Different is Not Deficient: Contradicting Stereotypes of Chinese International Students in US Higher Education” and “The Nature of Interactions between Chinese Immigrant Families and Preschool Staff: How Culture, Class, and Methodology Matter.”
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