We Are Not All the Same

A Qualitative Analysis of the Nuanced Differences Between Chinese and South Korean International Graduate Students’ Experiences in the United States





academic challenges, academic experience, acculturation, Chinese international graduate students, South Korean international graduate students


This qualitative study explored the experiences of six Chinese and South Korean graduate students in the United States. Semistructured interviews and an interpretive phenomenological approach were used in which three major themes emerged: (a) academic challenges and acculturation, (b) academic support from host institute, and (c) cultural and pedagogical nuances. Challenges included language barriers during lectures, discussions and writing assignments, and lack of support services for international students. One significant finding was Chinese and South Korean students do not have the same graduate experiences in the United States. Participants shared how their prior homeland learning experiences (course delivery, relationships with instructors and assessments) impacted their learning, relationships, and academic challenges in the United States.

Author Biographies

Chi Yun Moon, Texas A&M University, USA

CHI YUN MOON, PhD candidate, is a doctoral student in Teaching, Learning and Culture at Texas A&M. Her major research interests lie in the area of academic achievement, multicultural education, child development, early childhood, and international students

Shuai Zhang, Appalachian State University, USA

SHUAI ZHANG, PhD, is a Research Assistant Professor in the Department of Reading Education and Special Education at Appalachian State University. His major research interests include cognitive and linguistic profiles of poor readers and international students.

Patricia Larke, Texas A&M University, USA

PATRICIA J. LARKE, EdD, is a Professor in Teaching, Learning and Culture at Texas A&M. Her major research interests are educating teachers for diverse classrooms by using cultural sensitization, culturally responsive teaching, and cross-cultural mentoring.

Marlon James, Texas A&M University, USA

MARLON C. JAMES, PhD, is an Assistant Professor in Teaching, Learning and Culture at Texas A&M.  His major research interests are urban school reform, urban teacher education, African American male education, and urban community-school partnerships.


Alcón-Soler, E. (2015). Pragmatic learning and study abroad: Effects of instruction and length of stay. System, 48, 62–74. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.system.2014.09.005

Ammigan, R., & Perez-Encinas, A. (2018). International student services. In P. Teixeira & J. Shin (Eds.), Encyclopedia of international higher education systems and institutions (pp. 1–4). Springer.

An, S., Kulm, G., & Wu, Z. (2004). The pedagogical content knowledge of middle school, mathematics teachers in China and the US. Journal of Mathematics Teacher Education, 7(2), 145–172.

Andrade, M. S. (2006). International students in English-speaking universities: Adjustment factors. Journal of Research in International Education, 5(2), 131–154. https://doi:10.1177/1475240906065589

Astin, A. W. (1993). What matters in college: Four critical years revisited. Jossey-Bass.

Baba, Y., & Hosoda, M. (2014). Home away home: Better understanding of the role of social support in predicting cross-cultural adjustment among international students. College Student Journal, 48(1), 1–15.

Bardovi-Harlig, K., & Bastos, M. T. (2011). Proficiency, length of stay, and intensity of interaction and the acquisition of conventional expressions in L2 pragmatics. Intercultural Pragmatics, 8(3), 347–384. https://doi: 10.1515/IPRG.2011.017

Bella, S. (2011). Mitigation and politeness in Greek invitation refusals: Effects of length of residence in the target community and intensity of interaction on non-native speakers’ performance. Journal of Pragmatics, 43(6), 1718–1740. https://doi:10.1016/j.pragma.2010.11.005

Berno, T. E. L., & Ward, C. (2004). Cross-cultural and educational adaptation of Asian students in New Zealand. NZ Foundation.

Berry, J. W. (1995). Psychology of acculturation. In N. R. Goldberger & J. B. Veroff (Eds.), The culture and psychology reader (pp. 457–488). New York University Press.

Berry, J. W. (2005). Acculturation: Living successfully in two cultures. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 29(6), 697–712. https://doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2005.07.013

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:10.1177/1028315307299422

Clarke, D., & Xu, L. H. (2008). Distinguishing between mathematics classrooms in Australia, China, Japan, Korea and the USA through the lens of the distribution of responsibility for knowledge generation: Public oral interactivity and mathematical orality. ZDM, 40(6), 963–972. https://doi: 10.1007/s11858-008-0129-5

Clarke, D., Xu, L. H., & Wan, M. E. V. (2010). Student speech as an instructional priority: Mathematics classrooms in seven culturally-differentiated cities. Procedia-Social and Behavioral Sciences, 2(2), 3811–3817. https://doi:10.1016/j.sbspro.2010.03.595

Correa, C. A., Perry, M., Sims, L. M., Miller, K. F., & Fang, G. (2008). Connected and culturally embedded beliefs: Chinese and US teachers talk about how their students best learn mathematics. Teaching and Teacher Education, 24(1), 140–153. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tate.2006.11.004

Cross, S. (1995). Self-construals, coping, and stress in cross-cultural adaptation. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 26(6), 673–697. https://doi.org/10.1177/002202219502600610

Dong, T., Anderson, R. C., Kim, I., & Li, Y. (2008). Collaborative reasoning in China and Korea. Reading Research Quarterly, 43(4), 400–424. dx.doi.org/10.1598/RRQ.43.4.5

Durkin, K. (2008). The adaptation of East Asian masters students to western norms of critical thinking and argumentation in the UK. Intercultural Education, 19(1), 15–27. https://doi:10.1080/14675980701852228

Elliot, D. L., Reid, K., & Baumfield, V. (2016). Beyond the amusement, puzzlement and challenges: An enquiry into international students’ academic acculturation. Studies in Higher Education, 41(12), 2198–2217. https://doi.org/10.1080/03075079.2015.1029903

Fass-Holmes, B., & Vaughn, A. A. (2014). Are international undergraduates struggling academically? Journal of International Students, 4(1), 60–73.

Félix-Brasdefer, J. C. (2013). Refusing in L2 Spanish: The effects of the context of learning during a short-term study abroad program. Refusals in Instructional Contexts and Beyond, 25, 147–173. https://doi.org/10.1163/9789401209717_009

Furnham, A., & Alibhai, N. (1985). The friendship networks of foreign students: A replication and extension of the functional model. International Journal of Psychology, 20(3–4), 709–722.

Heggins, W. J., & Jackson, J. F. (2003). Understanding the collegiate experience for Asian international students at a Midwestern research university. College Student Journal, 37(3), 379–391.

Huang, Y. (2012). Transitioning challenges faced by Chinese graduate students. Adult Learning, 23(3), 138–147. https://doi: 10.1177/1045159512452861

Ing, M., & Victorino, C. (2016). Differences in classroom engagement of Asian American engineering students. Journal of Engineering Education, 105(3), 431–451. https://doi 10.1002/jee.20126

Institute of International Education. (2017). Open Doors data. Retrieved June 23, 2018 from https://www.iie.org/Research-and-Insights/Open-Doors/Data

Ishihara, N., & Cohen, A. D. (2012). Teaching and learning pragmatics: Response to Peter Grundy. ELT journal, 66(3), 377–379. https://doi:10.1093/elt/ccs035

Jang, H., Reeve, J., Ryan, R. M., & Kim, A. (2009). Can self-determination theory explain what underlies the productive, satisfying learning experiences of collectivistically oriented Korean students? Journal of Educational Psychology, 101(3), 644–661. https://doi: 10.1037/a0014241

Jia, F., Gottardo, A., Koh, P. W., Chen, X., & Pasquarella, A. (2014). The role of acculturation in reading a second language: Its relation to English literacy skills in immigrant Chinese adolescents. Reading Research Quarterly, 49(2), 251–261. https://doi: 10.1002/rrq.69

Kashima, E. S., & Loh, E. (2006). International students’ acculturation: Effects of international, conational, and local ties and need for closure. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 30(4), 471–485. https://doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2005.12.003

Kim, S. (2008). Silent participation: East Asian international graduate students’ views on active classroom participation. Journal on Excellence in College Teaching, 19, 199–220. https://doi:10.1016/j.esp.2005.10.001

Kim, U., & Park, Y. S. (2006). Indigenous psychological analysis of academic achievement in Korea: The influence of self-efficacy, parents, and culture. International Journal of Psychology, 41(4), 287–292. https://doi: 10.1080/00207590544000068

Kuo, B. C., & Roysircar, G. (2004). Predictors of acculturation for Chinese adolescents in Canada: Age of arrival, length of stay, social class, and English reading ability. Journal of Multicultural Counseling and Development, 32(3), 143–154. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-1912.2004.tb00367.x

Lee, G. (2009). Speaking up: Six Korean students’ oral participation in class discussions in US graduate seminars. English for Specific Purposes, 28(3), 142–156. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esp.2009.01.007

Lee, H. J., Lee, J., Makara, K. A., Fishman, B. J., & Teasley, S. D. (2017). A cross-cultural comparison of college students' learning strategies for academic achievement between South Korea and the USA. Studies in Higher Education, 42(1), 169–183. https://doi: 10.1080/03075079.2015.1045473

Leong, P. (2015). Coming to America: Assessing the patterns of acculturation, friendship formation, and the academic experiences of international students at a U.S. college. Journal of International Students, 5(4), 459–474.

Li, J. (2003). US and Chinese cultural beliefs about learning. Journal of Educational Psychology, 95(2), 258–267. https://doi : 10.1037/0022-0663.95.2.258

Li, J., Wang, Y., & Xiao, F. (2014). East Asian international students and psychological well-being: A systematic review. Journal of International Students, 4(4), 301–313.

Lin, S., & Scherz, S. D. (2014). Challenges facing Asian international graduate students in the US: Pedagogical considerations in higher education. Journal of International Students, 4(1), 16–33.

Littlewood, W. (2000). Do Asian students really want to listen and obey? ELT Journal, 54(1), 31–36.

Martin-Beltrán, M. (2014). “What do you want to say?” How adolescents use translanguaging to expand learning opportunities. International Multilingual Research Journal, 8(3), 208–230. https://doi: 10.1080/19313152.2014.914372

Masgoret, A. M., & Ward, C. (2006). Culture learning approach to acculturation. In D. L. Sam & J. W. Berry (Eds.), The Cambridge handbook of acculturation psychology (pp. 58–77). Cambridge University Press.

Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research: a guide to design and interpretation. Jossey-Bass.

Nguyen, A. M. D., & Benet-Martínez, V. (2013). Biculturalism and adjustment: A meta-analysis. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 44(1), 122–159. https://doi: 10.1177/0022022111435097

Okuda, T., & Anderson, T. (2018). Second language graduate students’ experiences at the writing center: A language socialization perspective. TESOL Quarterly, 52(2), 1–23. https://doi: 10.1002/tesq.406

Park, H. S., Lee, S. A., Yun, D., & Kim, W. (2009). The impact of instructor decision authority and verbal and nonverbal immediacy on Korean student satisfaction in the US and South Korea. Communication Education, 58(2), 189–212. https://doi: 10.1080/03634520802450531

Rafieyan, V., Sharafi-Nejad, M., Khavari, Z., Damavand, A., & Eng, L. S. (2014). Relationship between cultural distance and pragmatic comprehension. English Language Teaching, 7(2), 103–109. http://dx.doi.org/10.5539/elt.v7n2p103

Reynolds, A. L., & Constantine, M. G. (2007). Cultural adjustment difficulties and career development of international college students. Journal of Career Assessment, 15(3), 338–350. https://doi: 10.1177/1069072707301218

Sawir, E., Marginson, S., Forbes-Mewett, H., Nyland, C., & Ramia, G. (2012). International student security and English language proficiency. Journal of Studies in International Education, 16(5), 434–454. https://doi: 10.1177/1028315311435418

Seidman, I. (1998). Interview as qualitative research. A guide for researchers in education and social sciences. Teachers College Press.

Shin, J. C. (2012). Higher education development in Korea: Western university ideas, Confucian tradition, and economic development. Higher Education, 64(1), 59–72. https://doi: 10.1007/s10734-011-9480-5

Smith, J., Flowers, P., & Larkin, M. (2009). Interpretative phenomenological analysis: Theory, method and research. Sage.

Sorto, M. A., Marshall, J. H., Luschei, T. F., & Martin, C. (2009). Teacher knowledge and teaching in Panama and Costa Rica: A comparative study in primary and secondary education. Revista Latinoamericana de Investigación en Matemática Educativa, 12(2), 251–290.

Tan, C. (2017). A Confucian conception of critical thinking. Journal of Philosophy of Education, 51(1), 331–343. https://doi.org/10.1111/1467-9752.12228

Wang, C., & Mallinckrodt, B. (2006). Acculturation, attachment, and psychosocial adjustment of Chinese/Taiwanese international students. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53(4), 422–433. https://doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.53.4.422

Ward, C., Bochner A., & Furnham, A. (2005). The psychology of culture shock. Routledge.

Wei, M., Heppner, P. P., Mallen, M. J., Ku, T. Y., Liao, K. Y. H., & Wu, T. F. (2007). Acculturative stress, perfectionism, years in the United States, and depression among Chinese international students. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 54(4), 385–394. https://doi: 10.1037/0022-0167.54.4.385

Wilton, L., & Constantine, M. G. (2003). Length of residence, cultural adjustment difficulties, and psychological distress symptoms in Asian and Latin American international college students. Journal of College Counseling, 6(2), 177–186. https://doi.org/10.1002/j.2161-1882.2003.tb00238.x

Xu, L., & Clarke, D. (2013). Meta-rules of discursive practice in mathematics classrooms from Seoul, Shanghai and Tokyo. ZDM, 45(1), 61–72. https://doi 10.1007/s11858-012-0442-x

Yan, K., & Berliner, D. C. (2013). Chinese international students’ personal and sociocultural stressors in the United States. Journal of College Student Development, 54(1), 62–84. https://doi.org/10.1353/csd.2013.0010

Young, J. T. (2017). Confucianism and accents: Understanding the plight of the Asian international student in the U.S. Journal of International Students, 7(3), 433–448. https://doi:10.5281/zenodo.570022

Yu, B., & Shen, H. (2012). Predicting roles of linguistic confidence, integrative motivation and second language proficiency on cross-cultural adaptation. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 36, 72–82. https://doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2010.12.002




How to Cite

Moon, C. Y., Zhang, S., Larke, P., & James, M. (2020). We Are Not All the Same: A Qualitative Analysis of the Nuanced Differences Between Chinese and South Korean International Graduate Students’ Experiences in the United States. Journal of International Students, 10(1), 28–49. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v10i1.770



Research Articles