Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Chinese Graduate Students’ Emotional Experiences and Adjustment in the United States: A Comparative Case Study
by Heckman, Chihiro, Ph.D., State University of New York at Buffalo, 2019, 168; 22617959
Abstract (Summary)

Although second language acquisition (SLA) researchers have studied second-language (L2) learners’ affective experiences as they learn the L2 (e.g., motivation, attitude toward L2 and L2-speaking populations), our understanding of their emotional experiences as they use it is still quite limited. To address this gap, the purpose of this case study is to understand the emotional experiences that international graduate students went through over the course of the first year of study abroad and explore the relationship between the emotional experiences and adjustment to their academic and social lives in the U.S. Adapting activity theory and emotion regulation, this study focused on these four research questions: 1) What types of emotions do international students report experiencing during the first year of their study abroad? 2) Which aspects of the students’ activity elicit such emotions? 3) How do international students report regulating emotions? 4) What is the relationship between the reported emotion regulation and students’ adjustment in their lives of study abroad in the U.S.?

The case study compared two Chinese students: A female master’s student (Kim) and a male Ph.D. student (Shaokang). The data were collected throughout their first year of study abroad in the U.S., and the sources included a written narrative, three sets of classroom observations and stimulated-recall interviews, monthly reflection journal entries, reflection interviews at the end of each semester, and a retrospective narrative two years after they started their programs. The first phase of data analysis was to identify the types of emotions and analyze them within the activity system to answer the first research question. Consequently, I examined emotion regulation strategies that were adopted by the participants to cope with the aforementioned emotions and how those strategies led to their intercultural adjustment.

The findings showed that Kim and Shaokang had some common emotional experiences; for instance, negative emotions such as fear and anxiety arose in the academic community due to the unfamiliar teaching/learning discourse in the U.S. higher education. Especially oral participation in class discussion and presentations was emotion-provoking. In contrast, different personal background and motives for the study abroad led them to different emotional experiences. Shaokang, who had his own family in China, experienced strong emotions such as helplessness for not being able to provide for his family during the pursuit of his Ph.D. degree. Kim, on the other hand, feared to speak in front of her American peers due to her admiration toward them and desire to become like them, which was her motive. In addition, their trajectories to adjustment showed a vivid contrast over the first year of their study abroad: Shaokang showed better adjustments to the activity of study abroad both behaviorally and psychologically. The differences seemed to derive from types of emotion regulation that they adopted. Shaokang tended to use adaptive strategies such as actively engaging in problem-solving, improving his skills, and attempting to change the situations that caused him negative emotions, whereas Kim tended to avoid facing her problems.

By adopting the activity system, this study could examine the intricacy of emotions that are not limited to the academic contexts. It highlights not only what emotions students experience and how the emotions affect them, but also how students cope with them leads them to different levels of adjustment. The study suggests that future studies should include emotions in analyzing internationals students’ experiences and to examine them holistically. Moreover, it informs educators of the importance of helping international students obtain emotional support during their studies.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Wang, X Christine
Commitee: Kearney, Erin, McVee, Mary
School: State University of New York at Buffalo
Department: Learning and Instruction
School Location: United States -- New York
Source: DAI-A 81/4(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Source Type: DISSERTATION
Subjects: Foreign language education, Education
Keywords: emotion regulation, emotions, graduate students, intercultural adjustment, international students
Publication Number: 22617959
ISBN: 9781687943279
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