“Native Speakers Do Not Understand Me”: A Phenomenological Study of Student Experiences from Developing Asian Countries at an American University


  • Wolayat Tabasum Niroo Old Dominion University
  • Mitchell Williams




international students, developing countries, English language, imperial tongue, language of the middle-class


International students from developing Asian countries where English is the second and foreign language are marginalized in some American Universities due to language barriers. Native English speakers often assume that whoever comes to the United States should be able to speak and write English perfectly. In developing Asian countries, such as South Asia, however, the English language belongs to the families of the Middle and Upper classes. They can get admission in English spoken countries’ higher education institutions. However, when those students come to English-speaking countries, they feel othered, left alone, and disappointed. This study utilizes a phenomenological research method to tell the
students' lived experiences from several Asian countries, including some isolated nations. Specifically, this study focuses on the writing challenges of students and how they utilize the limited resources to help them succeed.


Download data is not yet available.


Abasi, A. R. & Graves, B. (2008). Academic literacy and plagiarism: Conversations with international graduate students and disciplinary professors. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 7(4), 221–233. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jeap.2008.10.010

Altbach, P. G. (2007). The imperial tongue: English is the dominating academic language. Economic and Political Weekly, 42(36), 3608–3611 https://www.jstor.org/stable/40276356

Barriball, K. L., & While, A. (1993). Collecting data using a semi-structured interview: A discussion paper. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 19(2), 328–335. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1365-2648.1994.tb01088.x

Barker, M., Child, C., Gallois, C., Jones, E., & Callan, V. J. (1991). Difficulties of overseas students in social and academic situations. Australian Journal of Psychology, 43(2), 79–84. https://doi.org/10.1080/00049539108259104

Berno T, & Ward, C. (2003). Cross-cultural and educational adaptation of Asian students in New Zealand. Asia 2000 Foundation of New Zealand, 1-21. https://auckland.rl.talis.com/items/F4353363-9EC2-716D-2419-7BC50C464AE4.html

Braine, G. (2002). Academic literacy and the nonnative speaker graduate student. Journal of English for Academic Purposes, 1(1), 59-68. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1475-1585(02)00006-1

Braxley, K. (2005). Mastering academic English: International graduate students’ ‟use of dialogue and speech genres to meet the writing demands of graduate school.” In K. H. Hall, G. Vitanova, & L. Marchenkova (Eds.), Dialogue with Bakhtin on second and foreign language learning (pp. 11–32). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Carson, J. G. (1992). Becoming biliterate: First language influences. In P. K. Matsuda & T. Silva (Eds.), Landmark Essays on ESL Writing (pp. 58–137). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Campbell, J., Li, M. (2008). Asian students’ voices: An empirical study of Asian students’ learning experiences at a New Zealand university. Journal of Studies in International Education, 12(4), 375–396. https://doi.org/10.1177/1028315307299422

Chai, D. S., Van, H. T. M., Lee, J., & Wang, J. (2020). What do international students need? The role of family and community support for adjustment, engagement, and organizational citizenship behavior. Journal of International Students, 10(3), 571–589. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v10i3.1235

Dalhberg, K. (2009). The essence of essences – the search for meaning structures in phenomenological analysis of lifeworld phenomena. International Journal of Qualitative Studies on Health and Wellbeing, 1(1), 11–19. https://doi.org/10.1080/17482620500478405

Di Maria, D. L. (2020). A basic formula for effective international student services. Journal of International Students, 10(3), pp. xxv-xxviii. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v10i3.2000

Durkin, K. (2004). Challenges Chinese students face in adapting to academic expectations and teaching/learning styles of UK Masters courses, and how cross-cultural understanding and adequate support might aid them to adapt (Doctoral dissertation). British Council, London.

Eddles-Hirsch, K. (2015). Phenomenology and education research. International Journal of Advanced Research, 3(8), 251–260. http://www.journalijar.com/article/5631/phenomenologyand-educational-research/

Equipping children and young people for the future: Improving education in the countries of Central Asia. (n.d.). https://www.giz.de/en/worldwide/14383.html

Geary, D. (2016). How do we get people to interact? International students and the American experience. Journal of International Students, 6(2), 527–541. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1094887.pdf

Geertz, C. (1973). Thick description: Toward an interpretative theory of culture. In the Interpretation of Cultures. Basic Books.

Gresham, C., Symons, C., & Dooey, P. (2013). Nice to meet you: Creating a space for intercultural engagement. Paper presented at the 16th International First Year in Higher Education Conference, Wellington. http://fyhe.com.au/past_papers/papers13 C

Gurel-Cennetkusu, N. (2017). International students’ challenges in academic writing: A case study from a prominent U.S. university. Journal of Language and Linguistic Studies, 13(2), 309–23. https://www.jlls.org/index.php/jlls/article/view/676/317

Hays, D. G., & Singh, A. A. (2012). Qualitative inquiry in clinical and educational settings. Guilford Press.

Hu, M. (2014). Toward the Understanding of Chines ESL writing. English Today, 117(1), 55–59. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0266078413000576

Huang, R. (2007). “A challenging but worthwhile learning experience!” Asian international student perspectives of undertaking a dissertation in the UK. Journal of Hospitality, Leisure, Sport & Tourism Education, 6(1), 29–38. https://www.heacademy.ac.uk/assets/hlst/documents/johlste/vol6no1/huang_vol6no1.pdf

IIE. (2015). Enrollment by institutional type. https://www.iie.org/Research-and-Insights/Open-Doors/Data/International-Students/Enrollment

IIE (2012). The Institute of International Education. https://www.iie.org/Research-and-Insights/Open-Doors

Kachru, Y. (2009). Academic Writing in World Englishes: The Asian Context. In: Murata, K., Jenkins, J. (eds) Global Englishes in Asian Contexts. Palgrave Macmillan. https://doi.org/10.1057/9780230239531_8

Kaplan, R. B. (1966). Cultural thought patterns in inter-cultural education. In P. K. Matsuda & T. Silva (eds.), Landmark Essays on ESL Writing (pp. 11–26). Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Kaplan, R. B. (1972). The anatomy of rhetoric: Prolegomena to a functional theory of rhetoric. The Center for Curricular Development.

Koo. H. (2016). The global middle class: How is it made, what does it represent? Globalizations, 3(4), 440–453. https://doi.org/10.1080/14747731.2016.1143617

Kvale, S. (2008). Doing interviews. SAGE Publications.

Lo, Y. (2010). Assessing critical reflection in Asian EFL students’ portfolios: An exploratory study. The Asia-Pacific Education Researchers, 19(2), 347–355. http://philjol.org/index.php/TAPER/article/view/1602

Moustakas, C. (1994). Phenomenology research methods. SAGE Publications.

Obeidat, B. F. (2017). Perceptions and interactions of American university students with Arab international students (Doctoral dissertation,Wichita State University, USA). https://soar.wichita.edu/bitstream/handle/10057/14505/d17014_Obeidat.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

Okusolubo, G. S. (2018). Academic and social challenges faced by African international students in collegiate institutions in America. International Journal of Economic Management Science, 7(2), 514. doi:10.4172/2162-6359.1000514

Palmer, M., Larkin, M., Visser, R. D., & Fadden, G. (2010). Developing an interpretative phenomenological approach to focus group data. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 7(2), 99–121. https://doi.org/10.1080/14780880802513194 Phakiti, A., & Li, L. (2011). General academic difficulties and reading and writing difficulties among Asian ESL postgraduate students in TESOL at an Australian university. RELC Journal, 42(3), 227–264. https://doi.org/10.1177/0033688211421417

Saldaña, J. (2013). The coding manual for qualitative researchers (2nd ed.). SAGE Publications.

Sato, T., & Hodge, S. R. (2009). Asian international doctoral students’ experiences at two American universities: Assimilation, accommodation, and resistance. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 2(3), 136–148. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0015912

Singh, S. (2017). English as a tool of power, prestige and growth. International Research Journal of Commerce, Arts and Science, 7(2), 13–18.


Telbis, N. M., Helgeson, L., & Kingsbury, C. (2014). International students' confidence and academic success. Journal of International Students, 4(4), 330–341. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v4i4.452

Tran, L. T. (2020). Teaching and engaging international students: People-to-people empathy and people-to-people connections. Journal of International Students, 10(3), pp. xii–xvii. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v10i3.2005 Tufford, L., & Newman, P. (2012). Bracketing in qualitative research. Qualitative Social Work: Research and Practice, 11(1), 80–96. https://doi.org/10.1177/1473325010368316

Vagle, M. D. (2018). Crafting phenomenological research. Routledge.

Van Manen, M. (1990). Researching lived experience: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. The Althouse Press.

Vandrick, S. (2014). The role of social class in English language education. Journal of Language, Identity, and Education, 13(1), 85–91. doi: https://doi.org/10.1080/15348458.2014.901819

Wang, C., Janet, N. A., Hyojin J. K., & Xiaodong, L. (2017). Why do international students avoid communicating with Americans? Journal of International Students, 7(3), 555–582. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v7i3.288

Wang, Y. (2005). Experience of Asian-Chinese student in the United States: A case study. Research in the Schools, 12(1), 20–31.

World Economic Forum. (n.d.). Which countries are best at English as a second language? https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2016/11/which-countries-are-best-at-english-as-a-second-language-4d24c8c8-6cf6-4067-a753-4c82b4bc865b/

Wynne, D. M. (1997). School experiences of successful adults with blindness. (Doctoral dissertation). https://search-proquest-com.proxy.lib.odu.edu/docview/304382958?pq-origsite=primo

Yao, C. W., Garcia, C. E., & Collins, C. (2019). English as lingua franca: Exploring the challenges and opportunities of English language on Vietnamese graduate student learning. Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education, 4, 209–225. https://doi.org/10.28945/4391

Zhang, Y. (2016). International students in transition: Voices of Chines doctoral students in a U.S. research university. Journal of International Students, 6(1), 175–375. https://files.eric.ed.gov/fulltext/EJ1083276.pdf

Zhang, Z. (2018). Academic writing difficulties of Chinese students: The cultural issue behind Chinese and British academic writing styles. Studies in Literature and Language, 17(2), 118–124. http://www.cscanada.net/index.php/sll/article/view/10570/10930



How to Cite

Tabasum Niroo, W., & Williams, M. (2022). “Native Speakers Do Not Understand Me”: A Phenomenological Study of Student Experiences from Developing Asian Countries at an American University. Journal of Comparative & International Higher Education, 14(2). https://doi.org/10.32674/jcihe.v14i2.3215



Empirical Article