How culture influences the experiences of international West African students enrolled in a two year college degree program
Crosson, Loretta Samuel
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ABSTRACT The purpose of this study was to examine how culture influences the experiences of international West African students enrolled in a two years college degree program. Three research questions guided this study: What cultural factors impact African international students’ educational experience? What strategies do African international students employ to negotiate their educational experiences? In what ways do these strategies help or hinder African international students’ educational experience? A qualitative case study methodology was employed for the research design, and in-depth, semi-structured interviews were chosen for data collection. Ten international students enrolled in degree seeking programs at an urban two year college located in central Georgia were interviewed about their learning experiences. All participants were international, undergraduate students pursuing their Associate degrees who had taken at least four core courses during the past year. An international student is defined as one who was born outside of the United States and for whom English is a second language. The phrases ‘international students’ and ‘foreign students’ will be used interchangeably throughout this study. The interviews were transcribed by the researcher herself, and the data were analyzed using the constant comparative method to generate major themes. Data analysis revealed that the West African students’ felt more or a greater sense of compliance as a result of their respect for their authority and their parental direction/expectations for them to succeed. Their experiences were characterized by the different levels of competitiveness they encountered in terms of economics and access to education. They also exhibited a higher level of anxiety because of inadequate language proficiency, communication skills, and processing/completing course work. The second category of findings delineated the strategies African international students employ to negotiate their educational experiences. African cultural values and school norms greatly influenced these African students’ educational experience. Based on the findings, three conclusions were drawn from this study: The first is that some West African students will experience conflicting messages from their African culture and the newly encountered Western, Eurocentric culture. The second conclusion is that the West African students interviewed clearly evidenced that cultural factors are important in influencing the educational experiences of West African students in American two year colleges. Last, learning for these West African students is a high-risk-taking enterprise that works better when they are made to feel more secure and centered in who they are and what they are already capable of doing before they are asked to take on new ventures.