Cultural Value Orientation, Social Networking Site (SNS) Use, and Homesickness in International Students.

Date01 December 2020
AuthorPoyrazli, Senel

The global market has become more competitive, thereby increasing the demand for postsecondary education qualifications. Not surprisingly, then, the number of international students entering the United States (U.S.) has increased drastically in recent times, and continues to do so annually. According to the International Institute of Education, there were approximately 1.1 million international students enrolled in the United States during the 2018-2019 academic year--an increase from the previous year. (1) The U.S. economy benefits significantly from the contributions of international students, receiving approximately 30.8 billion dollars from this population in 2014-2015.2 Consequently, most U.S. colleges and universities want to attract and better cater to this growing (and lucrative) student population and have developed support programs or offices that provide services specifically to meet their needs. These international student services aid foreign students by ensuring that they are well-adjusted, coping with the challenges of higher education (e.g., more independent learning compared to high school, the education system being unfamiliar, etc.), and being away from home.

This research study aims to examine the unique situation of international students and to frame information that higher education institutions can use to better serve this population. Specifically, it examines how cultural value orientations (collectivism, individualism, familism), intensity of social network usage in general, and social network usage with individuals back in the students' home country can predict the level of homesickness in international students. This study also examines how these variables correlate with each other. To provide context, this study begins with variable definitions and a literature review.


The pursuit of a tertiary education often involves leaving home, hence one of the major challenges faced by international students and domestic students alike is homesickness. In their 1987 work, Shirley Fisher and Bruce Hood define homesickness as "a complex cognitive-motivational-emotional state concerned with grieving for, yearning for and being preoccupied with thoughts of home." (3) In her theory of homesickness, Shirley Fisher states that a person's level of homesickness is determined by their predispositional traits and adjustment to their new environment. (4) Similarly, Christopher Thurber and Edward Walton define homesickness as "the distress or impairment caused by an actual or anticipated separation from home. (5) Margaret Stroebe, Henk Schut, and Maaike Nauta, on the other hand, offer a more specific and detailed definition: Homesickness is a mini-grief where "a negative emotional state primarily due to separation from home and attachment persons, characterized by longing for and preoccupation with home, and often with difficulties adjusting to the new place." (6) In a different research paper, Stroebe, Schut, and Nauta indicate that while the theories of homesickness are relatively young, this phenomenon among college students needs studying. (7) Although anybody may experience homesickness, it is worth noting that an individual's personality characteristics, the circumstances preceding the departure from home, the relationship with people at home, support systems at the new place of residence, and other factors often cause persons to experience it in different intensities and durations. (8) As a result, homesickness is not necessarily a negative phenomenon, but rather a normal experience that a person may need to deal with as they are going through different developmental stages. However, as the literature points out, if an individual is not able to successfully cope with this experience, some negative consequences may emerge. (9)

Specifically related to international students, Senel Poyrazli and Marcos Lopez note in their comparative study of international and American students that international students experience higher levels of homesickness. (10) International students who were younger, who had lower levels of English language proficiency, and who reported higher levels of perceived discrimination also reported experiencing higher levels of homesickness. (11) According to Poyrazli and Lopez, older students may not have experienced such high levels of homesickness, despite higher levels of perceived discrimination, because of greater life experiences and higher levels of independence. (12) Thurber and Walton reach similar conclusions and provide information about how homesickness could have detrimental consequences. (13) Their review of the literature indicates that for both domestic and international students, homesickness could be problematic in that it could contribute to the students feeling anxious and depressed, developing new mental health and physical health related problems, and withdrawing from their academic studying.

International students may experience homesickness for a number of reasons, including exposure to a new culture, moving to a place with a different climate, facing a different political system and unfamiliar people, as well as having unfulfilled expectations of what life would be like in the U.S. (14) Moreover, factors such as difference in physical appearance (e.g., race-ethnicity or wearing of cultural clothing) and language barriers are thought to impact the higher levels of discrimination and social isolation, and consequently, homesickness among international students. (15) These findings are important as homesickness has been found to be detrimental to an individual's psychological and physical wellbeing and can result in depressive and/or destructive symptoms. (16)

The Importance of Social Support in Mitigating Homesickness

The majority of literature on adjustment and coping in a college/university environment emphasizes the critical role that friendship formation has on overall satisfaction and contentment in people, and has found this to be true for international students as well. (17) When international students leave home, they often experience feelings of loneliness due to a real or perceived loss of social support. (18) Thus, friendships provide a source of social support that aids in the reduction of stress among international students. (19) However, research suggests that whereas forming friendships with host country individuals is correlated with higher levels of satisfaction and lower levels of homesickness, most international students form friendships with other students from the same or similar cultures. (20) This finding is important, because as Nicholas Geeraert, Stephanie Demoulin, and Kali A. Demes report, having friends from the same group of origin (co-national) in a student's closest friendship circle could be stress-inducing. (21) Therefore, based on the literature, international students would benefit tremendously from social support, which could be established through social networking sites. Acknowledging that each international student is different, it may be important to explore how culture may play a role in the use of social networking sites and level of homesickness among international college students.

Cultural Value Orientation

Cultural value orientation is the beliefs and values that govern how an individual relates to others, and is an oft-studied concept. (22) Earlier research exploring cultural value orientation focused upon the individualism-collectivism dichotomy and its impact on life choices and interpersonal interactions. (23) Individualism is the mentality of placing the needs of self before others, while collectivism is showing greater concern for the needs and wellbeing of others (generally in the community). (24) Collectivism is a communal social structure where the person gives priority to the group goals over his or her individual goals, where a person's interdependence rather than independence is encouraged, and where harmonious relationships become the goal for group members. (25)

Most studies on individualism and collectivism are cross-cultural comparisons, typically comparing the U.S. to other countries. (26) Cultural value orientation research consensus is that Western societies (most often referring to the U.S. society) encourage individualism, whereas Non-Western societies (for example, Japanese and Korean cultures) praise collectivism. (27) While these studies examined cultures based on groups, other research explored cultures and cultural value orientation on an individual level, recognizing the possibility of intra-cultural differences. (28) Furthermore, researchers have begun to refute the idea that individualism-collectivism is dichotomous, and have instead posited that the constructs are more orthogonal and continual, regardless of the cultural background. (29) Thus, this implies that classing international students from traditional cultures as collectivistic and students from western countries as individualistic may be an inaccurate generalization. In fact, Stanley O. Gaines and colleagues conducted a study demonstrating the complexity of cultural value orientation, suggesting that, although people's orientations toward their community and family may be similar, they are not necessarily the same depending on socialization factors. (30) An individual may be a member of a number of in-groups and interact distinctly with each, placing the needs of one in-group over another (e.g. family over friends) based on the strength of the...

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