Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Educational Studies

First Advisor

Dr. John A. Rossi


The purpose of this qualitative study was to describe and analyze the mechanisms of social support for international students in Ph.D. programs during an academic transition. Purposive sampling was used to identify participants, two each from the People's Republic of China, India, and Africa. This study employed a phenomenological research method to explore the social support networks that these six students established, the nature of their interactions with the host culture and the effect of social support on academic success. Data collection methods included individual interviews with international students and two staff members from the Office of International Education, one focus group with students and observations in classroom or cultural setting.Three theoretical underpinnings guided this study: cultural dimensions theory (Hofstede, 2001), social capital theory (McClean, Schultz, & Steger, 2002) and the transition theory of Schlossberg, Waters and Goodman (1995). Participant narratives revealed that international students in Ph.D. programs gravitated toward co-nationals because of their common language and culture. Other international students served as an important mechanism of social support because they provided information on how to navigate the university system. Faculty advisors were supportive because they understood the needs of international students while providing opportunities for socialization away from the university setting. Relationships were not occurring with the host culture because cultural differences contributed to the nature of the interactions and there was a perceived lack of empathy from the host culture, both in and out of the classroom. Programs offered through the Office of International Education, including the English Language Program, conversation and friendship partner programs and academic success seminars helped contribute to academic success. This study raises questions such as to what universities can do to promote global awareness and how universities can foster relationships with the host culture.


© The Author

Is Part Of

VCU University Archives

Is Part Of

VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

June 2008

Included in

Education Commons