Developing a theory concerning the intercultural academic adaptation of Chinese graduate students at an American university

Date of Completion

January 1996


Education, Bilingual and Multicultural|Education, Sociology of|Sociology, Ethnic and Racial Studies|Education, Higher




The purpose of this study is to investigate various dimensions that are critical to the academic adaptation of graduate students from the People's Republic of China at an American university, and to generate a theory to interpret these students' experiences of intercultural academic adaptation. This research reveals the philosophical and cultural roots of Chinese graduate students' intercultural academic adaptation at the University of Connecticut: Confucian tradition, Marxist viewpoint, and the Soviet model of education. It delineates the historical background of individual Chinese graduate students' intercultural academic adaptation regarding their educational values, the way they were trained in Chinese schools, their knowledge structure, and the Cultural Revolution's overall affect on their education. The research provides a pluralistic viewpoint on intercultural academic adaptation, looking at the issue from various perspectives including financial, technical, linguistic, ideological, social, and philosophical. It presents an opinion that intercultural academic adaptation goes far beyond the language issue. The research combines the methods of oral history interviewing and the generation of grounded theory which well fits a qualitative study regarding a social-cultural phenomenon.^ The oral history interviews were conducted with the ten UConn Chinese graduate students using a semi-structured format. Following the grounded theory research procedure of Glaser and Strauss, the researcher developed a theory based on the data collected from the interviews.^ The present grounded theory consists of a core category, intercultural academic adaptation, and its eight related domains. Intercultural academic adaptation means either a continuity of education from a lower level to a higher level of learning accompanied with discontinuity of relevant education, or a continuity of learning through a second language in a new academic society. Knowledge relevance, linguistic attainment, methodological tradition, and framework of thinking, conceiving, and theorizing are considered to be internal factors of intercultural academic adaptation; public sources, research network, academic technology, and financial resources are considered to be external factors.^ The research adds to the literature on the academic adaptation of foreign students and Chinese students in particular. The ICAA Theory is a potentially useful tool of analysis for researchers in similar areas. ^