Affiliation: School of Information and Library Science
This qualitative study explores the cultural adaptation of international graduate students studying in the United States at three universities in North Carolina, focusing on how they conduct their academic research and writing, and how they perceive and negotiate issues of academic integrity. Critical incident technique and semi-structured interviews were used to collect and analyze data. Participants were asked to describe a specific critical incident, in this case the process of completing a major assignment that required research and writing. Findings were interpreted using Kim’s cross-cultural adaptation theory. When asked about the best aspects of living and studying in the United States, participants named the people (particularly their professors and classmates), opportunity to learn and grow, and educational environment. They identified language, cultural, and academic issues as the most challenging aspects. Many described similar research processes and difficulties. They struggled with issues like coming up with a research topic, and specific skills like finding and assessing resources. Academic writing proved to be challenging due to the lack of experience, familiarity with the American scholarly style, and English-language vocabulary. Participants were familiar with American academic integrity standards and expectations, and viewed paraphrasing and proper citation as the most important tools in avoiding plagiarism. Half of them learned about the concept of academic integrity upon arriving in the United States, and half learned about it in high school or undergraduate programs in their home countries. The majority acknowledged that they thought about these issues differently after spending one or two years in graduate school in the United States. The findings of this study have implications for faculty and staff on American college and university campuses, particularly academic librarians, professors, and writing center staff. It was clear that participants were eager to adapt and to learn new skills that would help them to succeed in their graduate programs. Librarians, teaching faculty and writing center staff can and should provide research, writing, and academic integrity support and training for international students. Recommendations include incorporating cultural perspectives into instruction, providing opportunities for international and domestic students to collaborate, and promoting on- and off-campus tools and resources.