Multicultural Orientation and Coping Strategies among International Students
Nowdays, individuals more often cross borders for study or work purposes. This increased may transform societies in a more intercultural context with individuals from different backgrounds and nationalities. A foreign visitor in any country is subject to stressors that natives may never experience, such as language difficulties, new norms and social customs and challenges to one’s self-views and beliefs. In this context, higher education students need to cope with difficult or stressful circumstances in the new host culture. However, there are students who have developed skills to manage more effectively intercultural situations than others (Van der Zee and Van Oudenhoven, 2000, 2001). In particular, multicultural effectiveness has been explained by the Multicultural Personality Model (MPQ) in different contexts showing that factors as Cultural Empathy, Openmindedness, Emotional Stability, Social Initiative, and Flexibility are related to physically and emotionally adjustment in different countries (Van Oudenhoven & Van der Zee, 2002; Van der Zee, 2005).
Regarding stress situations as an exam, natural disasters or life-threatening stressors, study abroad also shares the elements of many life stressors as the preparation for the event, the event itself, a period of uncertainty about the outcome, and a period of dealing with the outcome (Carver & Scheier, 1994). Thus, the way students cope with this new and uncertain situation, study abroad, it is quite relevant to adapt successfully. Previous research on coping has categorized “coping strategies” according to two appraisal processes of stress: appraisal of threat or challenge and appraisal of how to respond (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). That is, students could focus on different avoidance or direct coping strategies in order to adapt to the host society. Therefore, the main purpose of this study is to examine whether international students with more developed multicultural skills use different coping strategies to adapt abroad. In addition, we investigated whether English language skills and contact frequency with other students (international, co-national and native) were related with the way students dealt with the situation and their multicultural skills.
Data collection was carried out in the second month of students arrival at the university. The sample was composed by one hundred and fifty international university students who went to The Netherlands for a short term study period. In particular, students were in the first year (29,3%), third year (27,3%), fourth year (27,3%) and second year (10%) of different university degrees from different European and non European countries. Fifty-three percent were female and the average age was 22 (SD = 2.93). The 60% of the students were enrolled in an Erasmus Programme, 27,3% in a Master Programme and 12% in another International Programmes.
The instrument used consisted of a questionnaire with several scales that measured language skills (4 items), contact frequency (3 items), multicultural competences-MPQ developed by Van der Zee and Van Oudenhoven (2000) with 95 items grouped in five factors; and coping strategies- the Coping Stres Indicator (Amirkham, 1994; Suanet & Van de Vijver, 2009) with three factors and an additional subscale from the COPE (Carver, Scheier, & Weintraub,1989).
In general, results indicated a significant and positive relationship between English language skills and four factors of the Multicultural Personality Orientation (cultural empathy, openmindedness, social initiative, and flexibility), except for emotional stability that was not related. Regarding coping strategies and multicultural orientation, findings indicated that students who used more often avoidance as a coping strategy were less emotionally stable and less flexible. However, students who used problem-solving and seeking social support scored higher in cultural empathy, openmindedness and social initiative. Interestingly, we also found that international students had in first place more often contact with international students, second with co-national students and almost no contact with Dutch students. In addition, we found that students who were more open-minded had less contact with co-national students. In conclusion, these preliminary results show that international students had less contact with Dutch students although were in general well adapted to the new and uncertain context with the difficulty of living abroad.
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