The motivation behind an international student’s decision to study abroad can predict whether they will make the most of their experience, a new study has found.
And, researcher say, institutions can help students develop self-motivation.
Most people feel disorientated when immersed in an unfamiliar cultural environment – that’s culture shock.
But while some show more resilience and eventually adapt, for others culture shock can affect emotional wellbeing, prevent adaptation and ultimately jeopardise the whole experience.
It turns out it’s all down to the right type of motivation. To understand what causes international students to react differently to culture shock, a team of researchers from China, Russia and the US sampled responses from 131 international students enrolled at university in the US. They looked at personality traits, length of stay in the US, language proficiency, how happy they felt and motivation for studying abroad.
When they contrasted these variables with students’ self-reported experience of culture shock, the researchers found that self-motivation to study abroad was the best predictor of low shock and high subjective wellbeing.
Students who decided to study abroad because of their own personal drives, interests or curiosity showed more resilience than others who were guided by other types of motivation – family or peer pressure, for example.
Despite the limitations of the study – the authors think a longitudinal study could shed more light on how motivation influences cultural adaptation over time – the results could have valuable implications for international education professionals.
For example, counselling services could implement strategies to help students develop greater autonomy in their choices.
This would especially help students from cultures where family pressure is greater.
Even a simple suggestion like: ‘I know what it feels to study abroad to please your father, but let’s talk about what might be in it for you instead’ could help students identify a better rationale for their actions, the researchers explain.