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  • Social Support and Acculturative Stress Among Korean International Students
  • Young-An Ra (bio)

The United States is the most popular destination for international students to achieve their degrees in higher education (McMurtrie, Bollag, & Maslen, 2001); the number of international students in the US has increased continuously during the past decade, from 586,323 in the 2002–2003 academic year to 886,052 in the 2013–2014 academic year (Institute of International Education, 2014). Previous studies have reported that international students in the US experience unique difficulties and acculturative stress related to cultural differences, language barriers, academic pressure, and interpersonal relationships (Mallinckrodt & Leong, 1992). Berry, Kim, Minde, and Mok (1987) defined this acculturative stress as “one kind of stress, that in which the stressors are identified as having their source in the process of acculturation.” (p. 492) Acculturative stress refers to a response by individuals to life events that stem from intercultural contact (Berry, 2006).

To understand acculturative stress, it is critical to consider the international students’ cultural backgrounds. Researchers (e.g., Mori, 2000; Yang & Clum, 1994) have supported that students from Asia have reported more acculturative stress than European international students, because there is a greater cultural difference between Asian cultures and American culture. In addition, past studies (e.g., Bhattacharya, 1998; Trimble, 1995) have posited that subgroup differences among the Asian students should be emphasized; hence, all Asians cannot be treated as a homogeneous group. Some research (e.g., Mori, 2000; Ra, 2014) has been done on acculturative stress in Asian or East Asian international students, but [End Page 885] few studies have been conducted acculturative stress in Korean international students. A focus on Korean international students is important because the number of Korean international students in the US has grown rapidly from only 290 in 1979 (Klineberg & Hull, 1979) to 68,047 in 2013–2014 (Institute of International Education, 2014). In addition, Kim and Ra (2015) noted that South Korean international students have reported significant stress while in the US, although they are one of the most well-adjusted and highest achieving populations in the US.

In line with this, a significant issue is how to deal with the acculturative stress of these international students from Korea. Research has shown that levels of acculturative stress can depend on personal and demographic characteristics, such as gender, age, and degree sought. Sumer, Poyrazli, and Grahame (2008) found that younger international students were less likely to report acculturative stress than were their older counterparts. Additionally, Misra, Crist, and Burant (2003) revealed that female international students experienced more general acculturative stress than did male students. Further, previous studies (e.g., Dunkley, Sanislow, Grilo, & Glashan, 2006; Finch & Vega, 2003) have reported that social support has a positive impact on facilitating healthy reactions to stressors and on decreasing stress in general. The American Psychological Association (2007) defined social support as “the provision of assistance or comfort to others, typically in order to help them cope with a variety of biological, psychological, and social stressors” (p. 869). Dunn and O’Brien (2009) noted that social support includes surrounding individuals with a community of people who care about and love them, creating a sense of reassurance through the provision of a community on which they can rely during times of need. Researchers (e.g., Misra et al., 2003; Yeh & Inose, 2003) have demonstrated the positive effect of social support on reducing the acculturative stress of international students. Lee, Koeske, and Sales (2004) noted that social support significantly predicts decreasing levels of acculturative stress, compared with international students who perceived high levels of social support. Misra et al. (2003) also observed that social support from US peers, academic programs, and universities had the largest impact on reducing stressors of international students. Additionally, Berry (1997), in his stress-coping model of acculturation, supported this positive role of social support in mitigating acculturative stress. Having social support is especially important for the mental health of international students who are from collectivist cultures, such as those from East Asia, including Korea, because people from the collectivist cultures emphasize the social relationships and the networks created between people around them (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). Thus, finding appropriate social support that minimizes the...


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