Sociocultural and academic adjustment experiences of Omani international students at a New Zealand university

Promoting international student mobility is a key consideration in the internationalisation of higher education. Due to this attention, it has become increasingly important to understand international students’ experiences. Previous research on international students’ adjustment experiences has reported various issues and unique aspects depending on the context of their adjustment. However, there is a need for research on Omani international students in New Zealand to provide insight into what might affect students’ academic, social, and cultural adjustment. This study explored how Omani students described their sociocultural and academic adjustment experiences and how they gave meaning to these from their viewpoints. A qualitative phenomenological approach underpinned by an interpretive research paradigm was used to investigate the adjustment experiences of 12 Omani student participants. Data were gathered through semi-structured interviews from January to September 2020 at one New Zealand university. Two rounds of interviews were held for each participant. During data collection, Omani participants were enrolled in bachelor degree programmes in Engineering, Education, Earth Science, and Management. NVivo 11 was used to assist in organising and analysing data from the interviews using a thematic approach. Findings suggest that Omani students experienced adjustment as an interactive social, cultural, and academic experience. For most of them, their initial experience was facilitated by their homestay, attendance at language school, and participation in the Omani Students’ Association. This triad of interactions and support meant Omani students felt happy and included in the local community. However, after this initial stage of comfort, many experienced negative emotions, such as homesickness, especially during Islamic holidays. Omani students’ sociocultural adjustment was made easier by them engaging in social interaction and seeking out friendships. However, they reported little interaction with hostnational students; most interactions and friendships were with co-nationals and international friends. Omani students did not experience cultural distance as a barrier to their adjustment process despite the move from a Muslim-majority country to a Western country. Thus, overall, students reported being satisfied with their lives in New Zealand. They were conscious they had developed self-discipline and self-reliance, which they viewed as important in their successful adjustment. Academic adjustment was promoted by interaction with other students in group work and academic support from their lecturers. Group work was reported as an opportunity to interact with degree programme classmates and make new friends, but six of the 12 students described difficulties interacting in group work. Interactions with lecturers were described as informal and positive for academic success. Across both their social and academic lives, the participating Omani students identified their proficiency with English as a barrier to communication and adjustment. As a result, they were eager to improve their English levels to integrate into the host culture and community. The U-curve model (Lysgaard, 1955) and the ABC model (Ward et al., 2001) were used as lenses to explain the above findings. The U-curve model describes the adjustment process as four stages: “honeymoon”, “culture shock”, “adjustment”, and “mastery”. The U-curve model was able to describe and explain the adjustment experiences of eight of the 12 students in this study in suggesting a honeymoon period on arrival. However, four students reported difficulty in terms of homesickness and loneliness upon arrival. This fits with the ABC model, which proposes that adjusting to a new culture can be initially difficult and stressful, but, over time, individuals can manage stress and learn the social skills needed for effective interactions, leading to adjustment. Hence, the study findings indicate the need for a model that allows for two different initial experiences and acknowledges that international students move through stages of adjustment. The culture learning process in the ABC model can explain the mechanism of moving between the stages of the U-curve model. Findings have implications for Omani scholarship providers, future Omani international students, New Zealand policy makers, and New Zealand universities. They are advised to consider the importance of homestays in providing a comfortable, safe environment for students to interact with host nationals. It is also recommended that the value of having intercultural friendships and being open to other cultures is promoted to Omani students, as this can ease the adjustment process.
Type of thesis
The University of Waikato
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