Author

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree

Doctor of Philosophy

Major

Adult & Higher Education

Date of Defense

12-16-2011

Graduate Advisor

Kathleen Haywood, Ph.D.

Co-Advisor

Kent Farnsworth

Committee

Charles K. Chui

Vernon Kays

Dixie Kohn

Abstract

International students not only have an economic impact on the United States in the billions of dollars, they culturally enrich college campuses and play a critical role in fostering U.S. foreign relations (NAFSA, 2006). The purpose of this study was to examine international students’ perceptions of the United States as a result of participating in a short-term ESL program at three campuses of a community college district in the Midwest, and to explore the influence of campus cultural attributes (diversity of the student body, breadth of support for international students, and setting) on these perceptions. This was a mixed-method study. Data was collected via a quantitative survey, four focus groups, and two case studies. The participants were sixty students from eight countries throughout East and Southeast Asia. The findings suggest that the students' perceptions of U.S. culture were altered as a result of their eight-week stay in the United States for each of the five perception areas examined: diversity, friendliness, safety, wealth, and quality of American higher education. The findings also suggest that perceptions of U.S. culture differed because of the cultural attributes of each campus. An important finding was that students from all campuses expressed appreciation for the open discussion and collaborative learning environment of their college classrooms. The class format contributed to increased perceptions of the quality of American higher education. Additionally, students from all three campuses were required to participate in a service learning project that connected academic and social experiences. This experience was integral in not only connecting students with their local communities, but also students reported a greater understanding of wealth stratification in the United States. The attributes from each campus that contributed to positive perceptions and experiences are presented in a model titled S.C.A.L.E. This is an acronym for the five key factors that influenced perception formation: Staff, Culturally-relevant Curriculum, American Student Contact, Local/regional Exploration, and Experiential Learning. All components impact perceptions to various degrees depending on the cultural attributes of the campuses. Implications and suggestions for international student programming, and suggestions for further research conclude the study.

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