Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Health Education

First Advisor

Jones, Dr. Sosanya

Second Advisor

Wallace, Dr. Juliane


AN ABSTRACT OF THE DISSERTATION OF Mehrete Girmay, for the Doctor of Philosophy degree in Health Education, presented on September 18th, 2017 at Southern Illinois University Carbondale. TITLE: UNDERSTANDING THE ADJUSTMENT NEEDS OF INTERNATIONAL GRADUATE STUDENTS at SOUTHERN ILLINOIS UNIVERSITY CARBONDALE MAJOR PROFESSORS: Drs. Sosanya Jones and Juliane Wallace In the recent decades, the United States has attracted the highest numbers of international students to attain an education with the majority of students sojourning from China, India, and South Korea (Valenzuela, Palacios, & Intindola, 2015). It is important that the particular needs of this population are understood and met by the universities that house them, primarily in regards to its effect on the student’s health. Through the offering of both support and services, visiting students are more likely to feel welcomed and valued during their stay. Consequently, retention rates of this population have the potential to also be positively affected as fewer students will drop out of their program prematurely due to adjustment challenges. The international graduate student population is a unique one that has specific needs that differ from domestic students and other acculturating groups. International graduate students face social, financial, and other stressors rooted in language proficiency while dealing with academic performance demands that accompany being a graduate student (Sullivan & Kashubeck-West, 2015). Furthermore, many international students studying at American universities tend to experience major adjustment challenges dealing with the unfamiliarity with American customs and traditions in addition to the lack of emotional and social support provided by individuals within the host culture (Chavajay, 2013; Valenzuela, Palacios & Intindola, 2015). The goals of this qualitative, narrative case study were to first explore the needs of international graduate students in regards to their adjustment in obtaining their graduate degree at Southern Illinois University Carbondale (SIUC) and how both their mental and physical health are affected. Currently, at SIUC, there are over 98 countries represented by both undergraduate and graduate students. More specifically, the number of international graduate students studying at SIUC continues to increase. In 2005, there were 882 international students and in 2015 that number grew to nearly 1000 (Southern Illinois University Carbondale, 2016). As this number continues to rise in conjunction with shifting societal factors that have the potential to affect the international graduate students experience while at SIUC, it is important that University staff, which include but are not limited to full and part-time employees who work in (on and off) campus housing, student affairs, security, student rights and responsibilities, as well as Carbondale community members, are aware of the particular needs attached to this population and the ways in which they can play a role in fostering a welcoming environment. Secondly, I explored what services SIUC offers to meet these needs. Whether the needs of this population are being met was significant for this particular study, specifically in regards to retention. After speaking with University staff in several departments in an effort to attain retention information on international graduate students, I learned that SIUC does not currently track retention statistics of their graduate student population. This directly speaks to the importance of this study as it can be used to shed light on potential links between retention and the lack of services offered by the University. Lastly, through both the review of literature and data collection process, I hoped to gain insight into the ways in which SIUC might be able to address the needs of their international graduate students. In hearing the participants’ stories, I was enlightened on the varying ways in which stressors have affected them and to what extent. This, in turn, allowed me to offer recommendations to the University regarding addressing these needs. I used the narrative, case study approach to serve as a guide in the research process. After recruiting 15 international graduate students from the SIUC student body and narrowing down to 10, I held two focus group sessions followed by individual interviews with each participant. In order to get the richest data, I asked participants to share their experiences since arriving at SIUC. The primary factors that I focused on in my questioning process were centered on the student’s health and included: 1) academic, social, and financial stressors; 2) social connectedness and support; 3) language proficiency; and 4) culture shock. This study is important for not only the international graduate student population but also for any university that houses or seeks to house international students at their institution. Furthermore, this study’s significance rests in its ability to provide institutions and its select staff who work alongside this population with valuable inputs that they will be able to utilize as they welcome their visiting students. Overall, the goal of this study was to yield results that will open the door to dialogue regarding this population’s needs, the impact that poor acculturation might have on the student’s mental and physical health, and how bridges between the international and non-international communities can be built and more importantly, sustained.




This dissertation is Open Access and may be downloaded by anyone.