Academic adaptation: mainland Chinese students in graduate programs at a Canadian university

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Canada is one of the main destinations for international graduate student a it has a great variety of graduate programs and, at least in medicine, the natural sciences and engineering, it also provides generous funding. Perhaps the most difficult task that a foreign student has to face is adaptation to the new academic setting, an adaptation that involves both cultural and academic adjustments on the part of the student. Perhaps less understood is the adaptations that a receiving institution has to make in order to accommodate and welcome the students coming from abroad to do graduate study. The present thesis is concerned to study an important example of such mutual adaptation in order to understand better in what strategies a student might engage in order to be successful, as well as to better understand what strategies a host university institution might engage in so that incoming international students might be helped to be successful. The primary method for studying such adaptation was by means of interviewing both successfully graduated masters and doctoral students and students still in graduate programs at a major Canadian university, the University of Calgary, a medical-doctoral university with approximately 28 thousand full time students at the time of writing (December 2003). As well, a large number of administrators and graduate supervisors were interviewed in order to get their perspective on the adaptation processes of international students from their vantage point. The graduate students studied were all from Mainland China and span the period from 1987 to 2003. Thirty-seven graduate students were interviewed about their own adaptation processes. Of these 24 had already completed masters and doctoral degrees at the University of Calgary and the remaining 13 were still in their programs. The literature of adaptation is historically concerned with cultural adaptation and not specifically with academic adaptation, the primary focus of this thesis. Generally adaptation is treated as a relatively linear process in which the primary task of the student is to make adjustments on arrival, in order to be successful in the host culture. The main discovery and conclusion of the present research is that adaptation is a very individual matter, each student adapting in a very complicated way, depending upon the degree of readiness they have at each step in their academic progress to go to the next step. This adaptation begins before the student comes to Canada and continues throughout the program. There is also a very complicated interaction between the student's cultural adjustments and adaptations and their academic ones. Thus such standard analyses of adaptation and adjustment processes, such as the well-known U-curve, are considered by the present author to be a very limited description of the adaptation processes necessary for graduate students to be successful. As a replacement for the standard pictures of adjustment a multi-part flow chart is developed which better reflects the adjustments that an international student must make in order to be successful. A flow chart characterization of such processes better approximates to the actual decisions that such a student must make and actions that must follow in the course of receiving a Canadian graduate degree. A secondary conclusion of the research is the importance of the institution being as flexible as the students in adjusting to the varieties of cultural backgrounds the students bring.
Bibliography: p. 297-305
Liang, S. X. (2004). Academic adaptation: mainland Chinese students in graduate programs at a Canadian university (Doctoral thesis, University of Calgary, Calgary, Canada). Retrieved from doi:10.11575/PRISM/23824