Intercultural Communication of International Students Print E-mail
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Written by By Monique Yearwood, National Taiwan Normal University.   
Thursday, 17 May 2012 00:00

Monique Yearwood, Belizean Studying in Taiwan, and friendsBy now, it is no secret that the world is becoming increasingly global. Resources, whether in the form of people, products, or services, are now more readily accessible, as they continue to cross international borders. Undoubtedly, the exchange of resources and various goods from one country to another requires human interaction. People from diverse echelons of society, cultures, and countries interact with each other in the exchange process. Zhao & Wildermeersch (2008) state, “Internationalization is one of the most important and fast growing driving forces for higher education in the new century” (p.2). They believe that by incorporating an intercultural/international approach into the teaching and other functions of the institution, then the entire environment of the institution shifts to that of an international one, whereby it is aligned with international protocols, and its national as well as international standards are strengthened (Zhao & Wildermeesch, 2008). Thus, it is evident that schools are welcoming internationalization, because of the many benefits it offers them. More and more universities worldwide are seeking accreditation for this puts them on the international forefront, and they are able to build their reputation as a world-renowned institution and recruit international students. Still, it must be noted that the internationalization of higher education does not guarantee positive intercultural interaction.

It is said that humans’ first response to any noted difference is usually to avoid it. This can be seen throughout history. When colonizers were unsuccessful in avoiding different people, they tried to convert them. When they could neither avoid nor convert them, they would kill them. However, people do not need to psychically harm others to eliminate them. When a vast majority, or anyone, who has the upper hand, goes out of its way to make the lives of the less privileged “Others” miserable, in an organization or neighborhood, they also “Kill” them, for  they cannot flourish and often times,  they do not survive (Bennett, 1998).

One way to avoid killing anyone, because of notably differences, is through the understanding of intercultural communication. Intercultural communication is a “Symbolic process in which people from different cultures creates shared meanings" (Lustig & Koester, 2003, p. 51). It occurs when large and important cultural differences create dissimilar interpretations and expectations about how to communicate competently. Intercultural communication entails face-to-face or person-to-person interaction among human beings. For communication of this magnitude to take place, each participant must view him/herself as being perceived by others. Thus, all participants must see themselves as possibly engaged in communication and capable of giving and receiving feedback. Effective intercultural communication is vital to not only the establishment, but also the maintenance of positive intergroup relations. Some main factors that are believed to be critical to intercultural communication competence, for they strongly impact the favorability of intergroup contacts, include cultural knowledge and awareness, communication skills, and tolerance for ambiguity (Giles & Johnson, 1981; Gudykunst, 1986; Lustig& Koester, 1996).

As has been noted, people of different cultures must find ways to get along for communication is vital to everyday survival as well as positive intergroup relations. Intercultural communicators must equip themselves with the necessary skills such as cultural awareness and tolerance for the unfamiliar, because they strongly impact the favorability of intergroup contact.

Far too many times, international students experience feelings of uncertainty and anxiety about how to integrate into their host society. They often question the deeds that prescribe social norms, in their host country and whether or not they are adhering to these norms. It is quite obvious to most visitors to a foreign country that there are notable differences in various aspects of the way of life such as dress, food, sports, and leisure activities, of that foreign country. Other differences exist in the way they carry themselves, their personality, and interests. In regards to international students, all of these differences, between the host country and their country of origin, can result in incompatibility among students, intercultural conflicts, and social alienation.

According to researchers, having a local or domestically based social support system is significant in the acculturation process and for the successful adaptation of international students into their host culture, because it easies the transition process.(Hayes & Lin, 1994; Yeh & Inose, 2003).Berry (1997a, 1997b) emphasizes that the atmosphere, as well as, the attitude of the host country nationals are important in the acculturation process, for these provide the framework, in which acculturation will span out and relations will be developed.

When intercultural communication of internationals is looked at, a lot is left up to the host country to decide if the experience of the international personnel will be a favorable one. If it is the culture of the host country or dominant society to marginalize minority groups, then the minority groups will have less successful relationships and more conflicts in their interactions. There is more than enough evidence, which supports the notion that unfavorable relations with host nationals have drastic consequences for the psychological well-being of international students (Leong & Chou, 1996; Paige, 1990; Pedersen, 1991).  According to Ward & Rana-Deuba(2000), there are substantial variations in U.S. American students’ reaction to international students. Some will befriend internationals students, while others will not (Ward, 2001). On the other hand, international students may also bring about a number of positive outcomes among members of the host country. Some research proposes that domestic students feel curious, interested, and inspired by their foreign guests (Spencer-Rodgers& McGovern, 2002).

The literature on international-host student interactions propels the idea that there is generally low interaction between the two groups (Abe, Talbot &Geelhoed, 1998). It is mentioned that while international students would prefer interaction, host students prefer low levels of interaction (Beaver & Tuck, 1998). In a research conducted on New Zealand university students, Beaver and Tuck found that the host students and internationals students, alike, desire for cross-cultural interactions dropped from their first year to their second year of undergraduate study, and the two groups tend to go through the rest of their university years unaware of each other’s existence (Nesdale & Todd, 1993).

Studies indicate that international students, who feel a sense of connectedness towards their host country’s social network, are less likely to experience acculturation related stress but are more likely to adjust successfully (Yeh & Inose, 2003). Although it has been proven that close relationships with host country nationals result in enhanced cultural adjustment, many international students tend to maintain close social contact with those of their own kind, i.e., ethnicity or other international students (Constantine & Sue, 2005). There are two main reasons behind such behavior. For one, international students try to create a subculture or support group for themselves, while away in the host country. Since people are accustomed to living with those who are similar to themselves, this is an effective way for them to share feelings of homesickness, insecurity, loneliness, and so on. Secondly, local students come off as rather passive and most time wait for international students to initiate conversations and friendships. It has been said that trying to make friends, with local students, is extremely difficult and sometimes disappointing. According to Arthur, “People here ask how you are, but then keep on walking by!” (Arthur 2004, p. 41).

Thus, it is evident that communicating with people from different cultures is commonly associated with adverse emotional responses. Because of various communication obstacles, many individuals may feel uncomfortable and anxious, when interacting with culturally different others (Stephan & Stephan, 1985). Although accented speech is at times viewed as socially attractive, the process of accented speech is somewhat demanding. Thus, members of the dominant group may feel a sense of impatience and frustration when communicating with non-native speakers of a language (Dodd, 1998). Additionally, non-native speakers of a language are regarded as less favorable than native speakers, on a broad spectrum of attributes, including competence and trustworthiness, just to name a few (Edwards, 1982). Group differences in emotional expressivity, non-verbal communication styles, and cultural variations in norms, and customs also add to the confusion of intercultural encounters (Kim, 1986; Gudykunst& Hammer, 1988). In the long run, constant repeated communication failures and emotionally burdened cultural misunderstandings can eventually give rise to a negative mindset toward the culturally different.

Quite a few researchers mentioned the need for intervention to create contact between local and international students (Todd&Nesdale, 1997; Ward, 2001). Lack of such intervention may result in the two groups (local and international students) spending their time at the university completely unaware of the other, rather than making the most of the opportunities to interact. It must be mentioned that any discussion of the challenges facing international students cannot be generalized, simply because of the fact that international students come from diverse backgrounds and are significantly different (Ryan & Louie 2007). It is evident that, in order to promote cross-cultural interactions, more information is needed about the barriers facing intercultural friendships and the paths that lead to successful intercultural friendships.

In short, the difficulties that international students face, while studying abroad can result in intercultural conflicts and social alienation. It has been noted that having a local or domestically based social support system is significant in the acculturation of international students into their host culture, because it soothes the transition process. Despite the number of difficulties involved with integrating local and international students, in the same classroom, international students can also help to bring about a number of positive outcomes among members of the host country.