An exploratory analysis of sociocultural adjustment among four major cohorts at a Thai university

PhD Thesis

Rhein, Douglas. 2018. An exploratory analysis of sociocultural adjustment among four major cohorts at a Thai university. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland.

An exploratory analysis of sociocultural adjustment among four major cohorts at a Thai university

TypePhD Thesis
AuthorRhein, Douglas
SupervisorPark, Sang-Soon
Green, Jonathan
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages261

This series of inter-related studies, conducted at Mahidol University International College, intended to gain further insight into the international student adjustment experiences among four ethnic groups; Japanese, Korean, African American and Burmese in Thai higher education. The identification and description of positive and negative student sociocultural adjustment to international programs in Thailand has direct implications for program design, curriculum development, participant recruitment, marketing and ultimately to the assessment of student needs and goals. To that end, this research was informed by a pilot study which was designed with the intent of identifying which adjustment issues are of primary impact and which groups of international students experience the greatest adjustment demands. This was necessary as there are approximately four hundred international students attending MUIC each academic year from over fifty countries of origin. The pilot study employed Ward Sociocultural Adjustment Scale and confirmed the previous research which claimed that Western (White) students report the least adjustment barriers during the adjustment process. This led to the selection of the four ethnicities for further investigation using qualitative measures. In-depth interviews were conducted with sixty participants (fifteen from each ethnic group) to gain further insight into their adjustment experiences in Thailand. The data from these interviews was then analyzed and five themes emerged in the positive experience category for all of the ethnic groups involved in the research. However, the themes which emerged regarding the adjustment barriers were not uniformly agreed upon. The participants reported that their ethnic background was a major factor in their adjustment experiences in Thailand. Each group of participants reported different experiences of racialized or ethnically based interactions with the host nationals.

Given the insufficient accumulation of knowledge on the stages of adjustment or the range of factors involved in student sociocultural adjustment to international higher education within the Thai context, the primary purpose of this series of studies is to explore areas of higher education where scarce information is available. The choice of ethnicity as a primary area of exploration in relation to international student sociocultural adjustment experience is intended to avoid the homogenization of all international student experiences. Ethnicity and one’s ethnic identity was chosen, as opposed to race or nationality, as ethnic identity is a multidimensional concept which is based on an individual’s identification with a group’s behavior, history, culture, belief system and tradition with little importance being placed on national identity or country of birth. As previous research on international students tended to homogenize the American, European or Asian identity, this series of studies eschews such an approach and relies on each of the ethnic groups to share their perceptions of the international higher education system in Thailand.

To that aim, the research questions for this series of studies were:
1) How did international higher education in Thailand develop and evolve into the primarily Thai student centered yet expensive and elitist educational segment it is today?
2) How are the international visiting students from the four selected ethnicities adjusting to this system and perceiving their experiences in the new environment?

This series of studies makes an original contribution to knowledge in adjustment research by providing a thorough analysis of the experiences of ethnic group’s adjustment to Thailand. The results of this investigative analysis of the causes of student adjustment issues can be further utilized in areas within the host country, will benefit multiple stakeholders including students, international relations departments and university programs recruiting international students as well as in orientation sessions prior to student departure from their home country. Additionally, the process of eliminating or decreasing stressors should create a more positive learning and travel experience for inbound students.

Keywordsinternational students, Thailand, adjustment, ethnicity, higher education, qualitative
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020390303. Higher education
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Linguistics, Adult and Specialist Education
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