Defense Date


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Counseling Psychology

First Advisor

Shawn Utsey


This qualitative study investigated attitudes among international students prior to their departure and following their arrival in the United States through a phenomenological research approach. Eight participants completed individual interviews in Accra, Ghana, and four participants completed follow-up email correspondence. The purpose of the study was to explain pre-migration expectations, post-migration experiences, and compare similarities and differences between perceptions and actual encounters. The researcher investigated five principle components of pre-migration: satisfaction with life prior to departure from the country of origin, impressions and expectations of the host country and predominate influences, awareness of discrimination in the host country, and culture-specific coping strategies used to overcome challenges related to acculturation. The researcher also investigated similar components of post-migration. The results of this study are consistent with those of prior acculturation research. Regarding pre-migration, participants acknowledged the following: the importance of preparation prior to departure, the likelihood of an adjustment period upon arrival, specific goals to strive for during the time abroad, and the emotional impact of discrimination and racism. Regarding post-migration, participants acknowledged the following: stress related to unfamiliar experiences with discrimination, stress related to overwhelming academic responsibilities, and the importance of culture-specific coping strategies, (e.g. family support and religiosity). The results of this study also identified new information regarding pre- and post-migration. Participants discussed a yearning to meet new people and gain exposure to foreign perspectives and viewpoints; however, they also expressed a strong desire to return home afterward and impart knowledge to others. Upon their arrival, participants recalled unanticipated causes of stress including transportation, time management, and communication with foreign counterparts. This study draws attention to the steadily increasing population of international students from Ghana living in the United States. The findings indicate that mental health professionals and academic advisors must consider the geographic and cultural context from which international students arrive and gather insight to enhance social, emotional, and academic resources prior to departure and immediately following arrival. This study also makes the case that current resources do not adequately account for the array of cultural differences between the United States and West African countries.


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VCU Theses and Dissertations

Date of Submission

August 2011