Intercultural relationships: assessing East and South East Asian international students' adaptation levels at universities in Aotearoa/New Zealand

Benson, Stephanie Jeanette
Crothers, Charles
Verbitsky, Jane
Item type
Degree name
Doctor of Philosophy
Journal Title
Journal ISSN
Volume Title
Auckland University of Technology

“Everywhere is home, if you know enough about how things work there” (Bennett, 2011, p. 5). This thesis critically assesses the relationships formed by East and South-East-Asian international students as they sojourn in New Zealand and attend university during that period. As the students gradually alter and develop their cultural perceptions toward a framework that enables them to learn, live and make sense of their intercultural relationships, they make friends among their East and South-East-Asian international student peers, domestic students, host-families, work-colleagues, flatmates and university and educational support-staff in Aotearoa/New Zealand. To critically assess these relationships, the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (Bennett and Hammer, 1998), or the DMIS, was used. There are six levels of the DMIS. These begin with the three ethnocentric stages of denial, defense and minimization where the individuals maintain the supports where possible from their own home-country cultures, rather than accessing the social supports offered in the immediate host-country context. The ethnorelative levels are acceptance, adaptation and integration and in these levels the individuals are able to access and draw from the cultural resources in their host-country cultural context.

International students from AUT University, the University of Auckland and the University of Waikato comprised the sample of 50 participants, and they were interviewed in groups where possible and individually in some cases. The analysis of the interviews involved two types of analyses drawn from the interview data. Firstly, the students’ intercultural adaptation level was assessed from the interview transcripts, supplemented by field notes and sound files from which key moments of intercultural self and other-awareness were noted. The second analysis involved a close exploration of students’ reflections on their own intercultural adaptation and experiences. These were looked at across the five DMIS levels that were present in this sample. The relationships between the students and their various social networks of both fellow nationals, and other East and South-East-Asian international student peers and social groups in Aotearoa/New Zealand were examined because intercultural adaptation is premised upon intercultural communication confidence and the creation of relationships in the unfamiliar host-country.

Overall, the findings showed that intercultural adaptation levels were internally regulated by the students, who were strong agents of their own intercultural adaptation levels. This suggests that intercultural adaptation is reliant upon the motivation of the individual rather than an external process created by host-country experiences. For some students, maintaining their study goals and returning to their home-countries to work was the main priority and their intercultural adaptation levels were typically lower. Those hoping to extend their sojourn had increased reliance upon intercultural relationships and established social groups in Aotearoa/New Zealand. This emphasis on agency showed that the students were more reliant upon maintaining the integrity and structures of their home-country culture than had been previously suggested within the frameworks of the DMIS.

To better understand the agency of the students and the prevailing influence of their home-country culture, an alternative model for the sociological examination of the students is proposed in this thesis. This is the Adapted Model of Intercultural Skill-Sets for East and South-East Asian international students (AMISS). The AMISS was specifically developed for East and South-East-Asian international students as, in addition to intercultural communication, it incorporates the key experiences of negotiating from adolescence into young or emergent adulthood (Arnett, 2004) that is usually part of university experiences. The emphasis on a young sample undergoing emergent adulthood was combined with the Confucian family values (Hwang, 1999) of filial piety that are so important to the East and South-East-Asian region. Notions of guanxi that are prevalent among the Chinese diaspora throughout South-East Asia (Lew and Wong, 2004) were incorporated because the expectation of reciprocity and the duty of returned favours and services lies at the heart of many intercultural miscommunications between the student sojourners and their host-country. Although this project became methodological in focus and resulted in the development of a new model, this process was made possible by examining the relationships that ESEA students formed with their peer networks as well as their relationships and, in addition, provides some of the sojourners’ direct observations on the ethnic relationships between Pākehā and Māori groups in New Zealand.

Intercultural adaptation , Sociology , Asian international students , International education , Intercultural communication , Research models
Publisher's version
Rights statement