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The Journal of Psychology

ISSN: 0022-3980 (Print) 1940-1019 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/vjrl20

An Exploratory Study of Perceived Discrimination
and Homesickness: A Comparison of International
Students and American Students

Senel Poyrazli & Marcos Damian Lopez

To cite this article: Senel Poyrazli & Marcos Damian Lopez (2007) An Exploratory Study of
Perceived Discrimination and Homesickness: A Comparison of International Students and
American Students, The Journal of Psychology, 141:3, 263-280, DOI: 10.3200/JRLP.141.3.263-280

To link to this article: https://doi.org/10.3200/JRLP.141.3.263-280

Published online: 07 Aug 2010.

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An Exploratory Study of Perceived
Discrimination and Homesickness:

A Comparison of International Students
and American Students

SENEL POYRAZLI
Pennsylvania State University–Harrisburg

MARCOS DAMIAN LOPEZ
Northern Illinois University, DeKalb

ABSTRACT. The authors examined group differences in perceived discrimination and
homesickness in a sample of 439 college students (198 international and 241 U.S. stu-
dents) from 2 campuses of the same university. Within the international student group, the
authors also examined relationships between homesickness, discrimination, age, English
proficiency, and years of residence in the United States. Results indicated that interna-
tional students experienced higher levels of discrimination and homesickness than did
U.S. students. Age, English proficiency, and perceived discrimination predicted home-
sickness among the international students. Younger students, students with lower levels of
English proficiency, and students with higher levels of perceived discrimination reported
having higher levels of homesickness. Also, years of residence and race or ethnicity pre-
dicted international students’ level of perceived discrimination. Being a European inter-
national student predicted lower levels of perceived discrimination than did being an inter-
national student from other regions of the world. The authors discuss implications for
higher-education institutions and counseling personnel.

Keywords: discrimination, homesickness, international students, U.S. college students

HOMESICKNESS, A COMPONENT OF CULTURE SHOCK, is a major prob-
lem for college students, particularly those new to the university system (S. Fisher
& Hood, 1987; Tognoli, 2003). Homesickness is a psychological reaction to the
absence of significant others and familiar surroundings (Archer, Ireland, Amos,
Broad, & Currid, 1998). The effects of homesickness are typically negative and can
include loneliness, sadness, and adjustment difficulties for students entering the
university environment (Constantine, Kindaichi, Okazaki, Gainor, & Baden, 2005;

Address correspondence to Senel Poyrazli, Penn State Harrisburg, W-311, Middletown,
PA 17057; [email protected] (e-mail).

263

The Journal of Psychology, 2007, 141(3), 263–280
Copyright © 2007 Heldref Publications

263-280 Poyrazli May 07 4/28/07 10:41 AM Page 263

Stroebe, van Vliet, Hewstone, & Willis, 2002). Another problem faced by college
students is ethnic and racial discrimination, which still seems to be prevalent on
U.S. university campuses (Biasco, Goodwin, & Vitale, 2001; D’Augelli & Hersh-
berger, 1993; Hodson, Dovidio, & Gaertner, 2002; Hurtado, 1992; Rankin & Rea-
son, 2005). Although university officials have tried to reduce ethnic and racial dis-
crimination, researchers have not found significant reductions (McCormack, 1995,
1998; Phenice & Griffore, 1994). This combination of ethnic and racial discrimi-
nation and homesickness can produce feelings of loneliness, alienation, depression,
and anxiety for college students, particularly non-White students (S. Fisher &
Hood, 1987; Leong & Ward, 2000; Stroebe et al.; Zheng & Berry, 1991). Howev-
er, non-White students are not the only students at risk for experiencing ethnic and
racial discrimination and culture shock. International students are also at great risk
(Ying, Lee, & Tsai, 2000; Zheng & Berry). Our main purpose in the current study
was to determine if international students perceived more discrimination and expe-
rienced more homesickness than did U.S. students. We also examined differences
in levels of homesickness and perceived discrimination, age, gender, race or eth-
nicity, grade point average (GPA), years of residence in the United States, and Eng-
lish proficiency among international students.

Homesickness and Culture Shock

Homesickness in college students is usually discussed as a byproduct of cul-
ture shock, which can induce feelings such as alienation, anxiety, depression,
homesickness, rejection and loss, hopelessness, and low self-esteem (Pedersen,
1995; Ward, Bochner, & Furnham, 2001). Homesickness is a longing and desire
for familiar environments and can sometimes take the form of depressive symp-
toms (Pedersen; Van Tilburg, Vingerhoets, & Van Heck, 1996, 1997).

Many researchers have found that homesickness affects individuals’ behav-
iors and physical and psychological well being. S. Fisher and Hood (1987) found
that college students who were homesick received low scores on adaptation to the
college environment and higher scores on physical complaints, anxiety, and
absentmindedness. Tognoli (2003) found that college students who lived farther
away from their families experienced more homesickness and visited their fam-
ilies more often than did students whose families lived closer. Students who were
homesick received lower scores on self-esteem measures and internal locus of
control measures as compared with students who were not homesick. Depression
is also a common side effect. Several researchers (e.g., Beck, Taylor, & Robbins,
2003; Stroebe et al., 2002) found a positive correlation between homesickness
and depression. Furthermore, Van Tilburg, Vingerhoets, Van Heck, and
Kirschbaum (1999) reported that people who were homesick had more physical
complaints, exhibited poorer mood (e.g., greater depression and anxiety), and
experienced greater cognitive failures (e.g., difficulty with memory and concen-
tration) than did people who were not homesick.

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Evidence indicates that age and gender are related to homesickness; that
younger people tend to experience more homesickness than do older people (e.g.,
Kazantzis & Flett, 1998); and that women experience more homesickness than
do men (Stroebe et al., 2002). However, other researchers found that age and
homesickness do not have a linear relationship, but that particular age groups are
more likely to experience homesickness than are others (Eureling-Bontekoe,
Brouwers, & Verschuur, 2000).

Another factor related to homesickness is social support. Van Tilburg et al.
(1997) indicated that individuals with plenty of social support are less likely to
suffer from homesickness than are individuals who lack social support. Urani,
Miller, Johnson, and Petzel (2003) conducted a path analysis and similarly found
that social support was negatively related to homesickness in undergraduate stu-
dents from a U.S. university.

Although culture shock and homesickness seem to affect the majority of col-
lege students, some groups seem to be affected more than others. For instance,
Loo and Rolison (1986) postulated that non-White U.S. students entering the
university environment in the United States would experience feelings such as
alienation and isolation because of their entrance into a new culture where White,
middle-class values are the norm. They concluded that the academic difficulty
and alienation experienced by non-White students in the university setting
stemmed, in part, from culture shock (Loo & Rolison). Nora and Cabrera (1996)
hinted at the same conclusion but also indicated that the level of perceived dis-
crimination would likely affect the adjustment process for non-White U.S. stu-
dents, increasing the difficulty of adjustment. If culture shock does occur in non-
White U.S. students, as the literature suggests, then international students may
experience more culture shock because of the transition into a new country that
may be far from home. This is important to note because, if culture shock and
discrimination elicit similar emotions (e.g., homesickness, depression, anxiety,
alienation; Ward et al., 2001), they may work in conjunction with compound
feelings of negativity.

International students have trouble adjusting to their new surroundings, pri-
marily because of culture shock, which stems from confusion about the norms of
the new culture (Chapdelaine & Alexitch, 2004; Pedersen, 1995; Ward et al.,
2001). Chapdelaine and Alexitch determined that international students experi-
enced more culture shock, or a greater sense of social difficulty, than did host stu-
dents. In addition, students who experienced greater cultural differences had less
social interaction with host students, and lower levels of social interaction with
host students intensified culture shock. Chataway and Berry (1989) found the
same result in a population of Chinese, French Canadian, and English Canadian
students studying in Canada. They determined that Chinese students, the major-
ity of whom was international, experienced the greatest cultural difference, poor-
est mental and physical health, and highest acculturative stress and tended to
have less social interaction with host students.

Poyrazli & Lopez 265

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Homesickness may be more pronounced depending on the country of origin of
the sojourners. Greater differences between one’s culture and the host culture will
result in more homesickness experienced (Eurelings-Bontekoe et al., 2000). Yeh
and Inose (2003) found that European students reported less stress from culture
shock than did Asian, African, and Latin American students. Students who were
more fluent in English and had more social support also experienced less stress.

Racial and Ethnic Discrimination

Researchers have studied racial and ethnic discrimination in the United
States, particularly on college campuses, since the civil rights movement (Hur-
tado, 1992). Results indicate that, although the United States has become a
more multicultural society, large disparities exist between White and non-
White individuals’ perceptions of discrimination, its effects, and those affected
by it (e.g., Biasco et al., 2001; D’Augelli & Hershberger, 1993; Hodson et al.,
2002; Hurtado; Rankin & Reason, 2005).

Gossett, Cuyjet, and Cockriel (1998) found that, compared with White stu-
dents, African American students perceived significantly more discrimination
from the administration, their peers, and faculty. Ancis, Sedlacek, and Mohr
(2000) found that African American students perceived significantly more racial
tension and separation than did White and Asian American students. African
American, Asian American, and Latino participants reported more pressure than
did White participants to conform to their racial and ethnic stereotypes, as well
as to reduce any physical differences to gain acceptance by the campus culture.
African American and Asian American students were also more likely to perceive
faculty racism than were White students (e.g., faculty promoting unfair treatment
toward a group of individuals or promoting a hostile and racist atmosphere).
Ancis et al. (2000) also found that African American and Latino students were
more comfortable with both racially similar and racially diverse situations than
were White students.

McCormack (1995) studied changes over time in discrimination at a north-
eastern American university. She found that about one in four non-White students
experienced a direct incident of discrimination on campus. She also found that
the percentage of discrimination over time increased, particularly for African
American and Latino students. Other researchers have obtained similar results
(e.g., McCormack, 1998; Phenice & Griffore, 1994). The major factors involved
in someone being a victim of discrimination were (a) belonging to a group that
has historically been discriminated against, (b) spending more time at the uni-
versity, and (c) living on campus.

In another longitudinal study, McCormack (1998) found that limited lan-
guage fluency in Latino participants resulted in more perceived discrimination
than in participants with greater language fluency and that limited language flu-
ency in Asian American participants resulted in more self-segregation than in

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participants with greater language fluency. B. J. Fisher and Hartmann (1995) also
found that discrimination may lead non-White students to segregate themselves
from White students.

The effects of discrimination or perceived discrimination on victimized racial
and ethnic minorities are varied but are typically negative. Cabrera and Nora
(1994) found that in-class discriminatory experiences (e.g., being singled out in
class and treated differently from other students or being discouraged to partici-
pate in class discussions), prejudiced faculty and staff, and racial climate were
related to alienation in African American, Latino, and Asian American students.
Suen (1983) found that alienation in African American students was significantly
correlated with their dropout rates. Other effects of discrimination are lower self-
esteem (Phinney, Madden, & Santos, 1998; Romero & Roberts, 2003), higher lev-
els of stress (Pak, Dion, & Dion, 1991), higher levels of anxiety and depression
(Phinney et al.), higher levels of identity problems (Leong & Ward, 2000), and
chronic medical health problems (Williams, Spencer, & Jackson, 1999).

Similar to non-White U.S. students, immigrant and international students
experience discrimination. Some researchers have suggested that both of these
groups experience or perceive more discrimination than do non-White U.S. stu-
dents (e.g., Ying et al., 2000). Ying et al. compared Chinese immigrant students
with Chinese American students. They found that Chinese immigrant students
were more likely to be separated or alienated from mainstream culture and more
likely to experience discrimination than were Chinese American students. These
results do not hold true only for immigrants; international students are also at risk
for experiencing discrimination. Sodowsky and Plake (1992) found that Asian
and South American international students spoke less English than did European
international students, and Asian, African, and South American international stu-
dents perceived more discrimination than did European international students.
Constantine, Kindaichi, et al. (2005) found that Asian international students
experienced prejudice and discrimination. In some cases, discrimination experi-
enced by international students is brought on by non-White students from the
host nation or other international students (e.g., Constantine, Anderson, Berkel,
Caldwell, & Utsey, 2005).

Discrimination experienced or perceived by international students can be
harmful to their identities. Schmitt, Spears, and Branscombe (2003) found
through path analysis that, in international students, perceived discrimination led
to lower self-esteem and higher identification with other international students.
They also found that identification with other international students led to an
increase in self-esteem, which suggests that, under the stress of feeling discrim-
inated against, international students seek out identification with other interna-
tional students to counteract the negative effect of discrimination on their self-
esteem. Pak et al. (1991) found that discrimination was correlated with
self-esteem, group attitudes, and stress; experiencing more discrimination led to
lower levels of self-esteem, higher levels of in-group pride, and higher levels of

Poyrazli & Lopez 267

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stress. They also found that women had lower self-esteem than did men when
they experienced discrimination.

Study Objectives

Although international students are important to the academic field for the
different perspectives they offer, few services are typically provided to them by
their host university. This situation is unacceptable because international students
are very susceptible to culture shock. In a study of international students in 11
countries, Klineberg and Hull (1979) found that about 70% of international stu-
dents either experienced or knew someone who experienced discrimination.
Loneliness, a component of homesickness, seemed to be related to perceived dis-
crimination because those who perceive more discrimination also feel lonelier.
Few researchers have focused on the level of homesickness and perceived dis-
crimination international students experience while in the host nation.

Our main purpose in this study was to explore discrimination and home-
sickness among a group of international and U.S. college students and examine
within-group differences in the international student group. We asked three
research questions: (a) What are the group differences between international and
U.S. students in homesickness and discrimination? (b) What are the relationships
between age, English proficiency, length of residence in the United States, per-
ceived discrimination, and homesickness among international students? and (c)
What are the predictors of homesickness and discrimination for international stu-
dents? On the basis of the literature on discrimination, culture shock, and home-
sickness, we formed four hypotheses (H):

H
1
: International students would report higher levels of homesickness and perceived

discrimination than would U.S. students.

H
2
: International students who have lived in the United States longer would report

higher levels of perceived discrimination than would international students who have
lived in the U.S. for less time.

H
3
: Level of perceived discrimination would predict the level of homesickness that

international students experience.

H
4
: Race or ethnicity would predict the level of discrimination that international stu-

dents experience.

Method

Participants

College students (N = 429; 198 international and 241 American) studying
at two different campuses of one university participated in this study. In the U.S.

268 The Journal of Psychology

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group, 29% were men and 71% were women. Their ages ranged from 18 to 48
years (M = 23.38 years, SD = 5.33 years). The majority (81%) of students
reported that they were White, 10% were African American, 4% were Asian or
Pacific Islander, 2% were Latino, and 3% reported that they belonged to anoth-
er racial or ethnic group. In the international group, 58% were men and 42%
were women. Ages of these students ranged from 18 to 46 years (M = 26.1
years, SD = 4.78 years). Sixteen percent of the students were undergraduates,
41% were master’s students, and 42% were doctoral students. In regard to race
and ethnicity, 19% were European, 65% were Asian or Pacific Islander, 4%
were Middle Eastern, 3% were African, 5% were Latino, and 4% belonged to
another racial or ethnic group.

Procedure

We selected random courses and advanced English-as-a-second-language
courses from which to collect data. American and international students received
separate survey packages. To achieve more equal samples, we contacted the pres-
idents of international student clubs and asked them to distribute the survey to a
randomly selected group of their members (i.e., every third person on the list of
student members). We also instructed them to make sure that students had not
previously received the survey through a class. Each survey packet contained a
copy of the measures and a self-addressed, stamped envelope for the students to
send us the completed surveys. All students had the opportunity to enter a gift
certificate drawing, regardless of their decision to participate in the study. We dis-
tributed 400 surveys to U.S. students and 360 surveys to international students;
return rate for U.S. students was 60%, and for international students it was 55%.

Measures

Demographics. We prepared a demographics questionnaire to ask the partici-
pants about several variables, including age, gender, ethnicity, grade point aver-
age (GPA), and the length of time they had lived in the United States. The ques-
tionnaire also contained a single item asking the students to rate their English
proficiency on a scale ranging from 1 (poor) to 4 (excellent).

Homesickness. We used the Homesickness Questionnaire (Archer et al., 1998) to
measure level of homesickness. Participants answer 33 items on a 5-point Likert-
type scale ranging from 1 (strongly disagree) to 5 (strongly agree). The survey mea-
sures homesickness among adults and young adults. Possible scores range from 33
to 165, with higher scores indicating higher levels of homesickness. Items include,
“I dream about my friends at home” and ”I get really upset when I think about
home.” S. Fisher and Hood (1987, 1988) used factor analysis and found the scale to
be valid and reliable. The correlation between the scale scores and a single-item

Poyrazli & Lopez 269

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measure of homesickness was r = .58, and internal consistency (α) of the measure
was .88 (S. Fisher & Hood, 1987, 1988). In our study, internal consistency of the
scale was .90 for U.S. students and .84 for international students.

Discrimination. To measure perceived discrimination experienced, we asked
students to indicate their response, on a 4-point Likert-type scale ranging from
1 (strongly disagree) to 4 (strongly agree), to the statement, “I feel that I receive
unequal treatment because of my race or ethnicity.” Higher scores indicated
higher levels of perceived discrimination.

Results

Group Differences in Discrimination and Homesickness

We conducted an analysis of variance (ANOVA) to determine if international
and U.S. students differed significantly on the demographic variables of age, gen-
der, and GPA. We found a significant difference between international and U.S.
students in age, F(1, 431) = 30.48, p < .001; gender, F(1, 434) = 40.58, p < .001;
and GPA, F(1, 370) = 62.27, p < .001. Thus, we used an analysis of covariance
(ANCOVA) to partial out the variables of age, gender, and GPA. To answer our
first research question and test H

1
, we conducted an ANCOVA to examine group

differences between international and U.S. students. We found a statistically sig-
nificant difference between these groups for homesickness, F(1, 335) = 57.59, p <
.001, and discrimination, F(1, 364) = 26.57, p < .001. The following statistics are
means and standard errors that we adjusted to account for the partialed-out demo-
graphics variables. International students reported higher levels of homesickness
(M = 81.26, SE = 1.52) than did U.S. students (M = 65.55, SE = 1.19). They also
reported higher levels of perceived discrimination (M = 2.09, SE = .07) than did
their U.S. counterparts (M = 1.59, SE = 0.06).

Correlational Analysis for the International Student Group

To answer our second research question and test H
2
, we conducted a Pear-

son product-moment correlational analysis for international students to examine
bivariate correlations among gender, age, GPA, years of residence in the United
States, English proficiency, and level of perceived discrimination and home-
sickness (see Table 1). Discrimination was positively correlated with age (r =
.15, p < .05), years of residence in the United States (r = .17, p < .05), and home-
sickness (r = .27, p < .01). Older students and students who had lived in the
United States longer reported higher levels of perceived discrimination. Stu-
dents who reported higher levels of discrimination also reported higher levels of
homesickness. We also found that homesickness was negatively correlated with
age (r = −.23, p < .01). Younger students reported higher levels of homesickness

270 The Journal of Psychology

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Poyrazli & Lopez 271

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263-280 Poyrazli May 07 4/28/07 10:41 AM Page 271

than did older students. English proficiency was correlated with gender (r = .22,
p < .01), age (r = −.19, p < .01), GPA (r = .31, p < .01), and discrimination (r =
−.16, p < .05). Female students, younger students, and students who had higher
GPAs reported higher levels of English proficiency. Students with lower English
proficiency reported higher levels of perceived discrimination.

Multiple Regression Analyses for the International Student Group

To answer our third research question and test H
3

and H
4
, we performed two

separate, simultaneous multiple regression analyses. We regressed age, years of res-
idence in the United States, English proficiency, and level of perceived discrimina-
tion onto the level of homesickness for international students. Table 2 presents the
results of this regression analysis for variables predicting homesickness. The model
predicted 15% of the variance in homesickness, F(4, 160) = 6.92, p < .001, R2 = .15.
Length of residence in the United States was not a significant predictor; however,
age, English proficiency, and level of perceived discrimination significantly con-
tributed to the variance. Examination of the beta signs indicated that younger stu-
dents, students with lower English proficiency, and students who perceived higher
levels of discrimination reported higher levels of homesickness.

Next, we regressed age, years of residence in the United States, English pro-
ficiency, and race or ethnicity onto the level of perceived discrimination (Table
3). The model predicted 19% of the variance in perceived discrimination, F(8,
178) = 4.83, p < .001, R2 = .19. Age and English proficiency were not significant
predictors, but years of residence and race or ethnicity significantly contributed
to the variance. Students who lived in the United States longer reported experi-
encing higher levels of discrimination. In addition, compared to the other stu-
dents, European students reported less perceived discrimination (see Table 4).

Discussion

The results supported H
1
, that international students would report higher lev-

els of homesickness and perceived discrimination than would American students.
Because of cultural and language differences, international students may have a
harder time adjusting to their new environments, and this could lead them to
think about and miss their family and friends in their home countries. We found
that, compared with their U.S. counterparts, international students are at greater
risk of perceiving or experiencing discrimination. International students may per-
ceive more discrimination because of their non-American status, because they
may speak English with an accent, and because they may belong to a visible
racial or ethnic minority group. Regardless of the reason, it is important to note
that a higher level of perceived discrimination could impede students’ accultura-
tion or adjustment into their new environment and negatively affect students’
mental health (e.g., lower their self-esteem).

272 The Journal of Psychology

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Poyrazli & Lopez 273

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