International Student Adjustment to College: Social Networks, Acculturation, and Leisure


  • Edwin Gómez Department of Human Movement Sciences Old Dominion University
  • Alfredo Urzúa Department of Languages & Linguistics University of Texas at El Paso
  • Chris R. Glass Department of Educational Foundations & Leadership Old Dominion University


international students, social adjustment to college/university, social network, leisure, acculturation


Executive Summary



 International students’ enrollment in institutions of higher education in the U.S. has expanded considerably in the last decades (Institute of International Education, 2012). A vast body of literature indicates that these students experience a process of acculturation that is complex, dynamic, and multidimensional (Smith & Khawaja, 2011), and often characterized by feelings of isolation, confusion, frustration, and a great deal of stress (de Araujo, 2011). An important aspect of students’ process of acculturation relates to their patterns of social interactions and their ability to establish meaningful relationships within their new communities. These interactions are mediated by students’ ability to communicate, thus the importance of language as a means of socialization and acculturation, as well as in facilitating access to and participation in social activities (Gallagher, 2013). This paper explores the connection between these various factors and includes leisure participation and leisure constraints as additional variables, an aspect seldom addressed in the college student adjustment literature. The study examines, within acculturation (Berry, 2006; Ward, Bochner, & Furnham, 2001) and leisure constraints (Crawford, Jackson, & Godbey, 1991) theoretical frameworks, the relationship among language, leisure, social networking, and international students’ adaptation to college. The sociocultural adaptation of international students is conceptualized by the Student Adjustment to College Questionnaire (SACQ) (Baker & Siryk, 1999), with data collected from a representative sample of international students enrolled at a mid-sized university in the U.S. mid-Atlantic region. Correlation and regression analyses indicate that students’ process of acculturation is positively related to participation in leisure activities (e.g., sports) and social events. These, as well as the establishment of a social network, constitute significant predictors of social adjustment to college. Acculturation was found to have a significant inverse relationship with leisure constraints, suggesting that as international students become more acculturated they perceive fewer constraints to leisure. No association was found between acculturation and social adjustment. The two most significant predictors of social adjustment were on-campus socialization opportunities and the establishment of strong host networks. Because many international students consider sport, recreation, and leisure pursuits as a marginal luxury, international educators could emphasize the centrality of leisure for a meaningful adjustment to the college experience. The results of this study advance contemporary models of acculturation by examining the relationship between acculturative processes, leisure, and international student adjustment to college. Implications and suggestions for further research are included, as well as recommendations for university and college administrators. 

Author Biography

Edwin Gómez, Department of Human Movement Sciences Old Dominion University

Associate Professor