Summer 2013 ISV Magazine Scholarship Finalist: Srinivasa Thatham Sampath Kumar

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Srinivasa Thatham Sampath Kumar from India studying at the University of Cincinnati is a finalist for the ISV Magazine summer scholarship! He explains the different types of stressors international students faces while in the US.

The Unites States is a host to significant number of international students who bring to the table a range of skills, knowledge and expertise and add value to the country, in return for the world class education that they are here for. However, there is much more to it. International students in the US are presented with an array of challenges, one of which is acculturative stress and the difficulties that they face in adapting themselves to the new environment.

Gone are the days when acculturation was a one way road when a student had to adopt the host country’s culture. It is now a two-way street where acculturative changes are seen in the host country also, and best example for this is the US which happens to be a multicultural society. The process involving psychological changes and cultural influences that are associated with mingling of cultures is called acculturation. The difficulties that accompany this process often manifest into anxiety and depression, otherwise called acculturative stress. Most common acculturative stressors are loneliness, language barriers, discrimination, educational stressors and other problems. Stable changes that occur in an international student helps him adapt to the new environment.

Types of adaptation:

In order to truly adapt to a new culture, one must adapt psychologically and socio-culturally. The former includes a sense of self-esteem, pride and well-being and the latter involves being able to be an integral part of the intercultural host society by imbibing various behavioral skills. In addition, the migrant’s thoughts towards the acculturative attitudes of the host society also play a vital role in helping him adjust to the culture.

Common acculturative stressors faced an international student

During his time in a country as diverse as America, an international student experiences a number of changes in life that, unless dealt with effectively, can become stressors. Some of them are:

  1.  Loneliness:Students world-over leave their parents and friends behind and travel to the US for the first time. Inability to make friends here can be due to various factors like cultural norms, language problems, introversion, etc. International students also have less local support. All these factors contribute to loneliness and as a consequence, homesickness. Another important factor is the collectivistic culture. Students from Asian countries form a vast majority of the international student crowd in America. Most of the Asian cultures consist of a close-knit support network without which, the Asian students feel lonely. This throws light on the fact that there might be conflicting views on acculturation between the international students that desire to be a part of a collectivistic culture and the domestic students that expect them to align their views in-line with the local culture.
  2. Language barriers:A major stressor that affects the academic life and the sociocultural life of an international student is the language barrier. Students have a tough time with their assignments, lectures, exams, etc. which manifests into low grades. Low levels of English proficiency hinder a student’s ability to make friends with the locals and relate to them.
  3.  Discrimination: Local students and international students from Europe are less subject to discrimination when compared to students from Africa, Latin countries, Asia etc. Innuendos, verbal abuse, physical attacks, employment discrimination etc. have a negative impact on a student’s ability to adapt to local culture, make domestic friends and increase homesickness.
  4. Educational Stressors: Adapting to a new educational system, overcoming the language barrier in a classroom setup, mismatch in their academic expectation and performances often lowers the confidence levels of an international student in the US, which again impedes his ability to adapt. Changes in the method of teaching, high expectation from parents back home only add to the stress.
  5.  Other problems: Apart from academic and social stressors, international students also face several other challenges like financial burden, juggling between their roles as a student and a student worker, bad accommodation or not having the comforts that were available back home, lack of or poor transportation etc.

All the aforementioned factors and challenges contribute to significant life changes and events that international students have to go through when they travel from their home countries to the US in pursuit for world class education. Acculturative stress, in my opinion, is the biggest challenge that we international students face in the US. If not dealt with adequate coping mechanism, acculturative stress can lead to loss of sleep and appetite, increase in blood pressure, fatigue, restlessness, isolation, low self-esteem, etc. It will render you unable to unable to act without help, leaving you with a feeling of being in competent. It’ll make you feel inferior, angry, disappointed and in certain cases may even lead to major depressive disorder.

Coping Mechanism

Studies have shown that social support can decrease acculturative stress and help in getting adapted to the new the new county and its culture. The more content we are with our social network in the US, the less distressed we are and the better our psychological well-being is. Having friends from the same nation can only do so much. Co-national friendship alone will not help in strengthening your cross-cultural ties and get accustomed to the US. Social bonding with the Americans plays a more vital role in acculturation.

Social activities and student groups on campus are other methods of coping with acculturative stress. These are ways to make local contacts, converse with them, participate in groups and engage in a talk which would make international students comfortable with expressing themselves better and hone their behavioral skills. This will enhance their ability to adjust socially and widen their social circle.

Universities offer counseling services to international students that deal with acculturative stress. Sadly, these services are under-utilized as international students may have an impression that seeking professional help would be embarrassing and would result in shame.

As a great admirer of Professor Richard Feynman, I believe life offers a lot and my idea of a well-rounded professional is more than being just book-smart. My long term goal is to become successful ‘well-rounded’ professional in the field of Chemical Engineering. I have never travelled outside India, my home country, prior to my trip to the US for my graduate studies. I haven’t really had the opportunity of interacting with individuals from other countries or cultural backgrounds until my graduate studies here at University of Cincinnati.

Here, having been a part of cross-cultural teams, I have realized that success in a global workplace requires effectively dealing with cultural differences. With the advent of new technology, rapid advancement of telecommunication and globalization of marketplace, organizations have begun to resort to teams whose members are geographically dispersed, often across time zones and cultures, in order to address time based competitive pressure and make full use of the local resources.  And I strongly believe that my acculturation with the diverse American culture as a student will decide the extent of my success as a global professional.

This scholarship, if I get it, will go towards my tuition at UC because I believe that as an international student, my university offers me a lot more than just quality education. Being an International Ambassador for UC and an iPAL (International Partner and Leader) has helped me be a liaison between the new students and the UC community including various student groups and build my capabilities around multicultural students’ greatest needs.  As the President of the Indian Students’ Association at UC, I get to interact with student heads from not just the US, but from other countries as well. UC has helped me to slowly become a part of the American society and this will pave to a bright and a successful future.

Featured photograph:

SPAN is a bimonthly general interest e-zine on India and the United States published in English, Hindi, and Urdu by the Embassy of the United States in New Delhi – Wikipedia.

I (Yellow circle on the photo) believe that universities in the US have what it takes to mold you into what you want to be. Sure, it’s tough. Acculturation is one of the toughest challenges that an international student faces here. But with the help of adequate coping mechanism and assistance provided by your university, you can not only overcome all the challenges, but also be a successful person in life. Study in the US!

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