“Don’t Change Yourselves"

International Students’ Concepts of Belonging at a Liberal Arts College


  • Christopher Bjork Vassar College, USA https://orcid.org/0000-0001-8230-2552
  • Anna Abrams Vassar College, USA
  • Lilia S. Hutchinson Vassar College, USA
  • Nora I. Kyrkjebo Columbia University, USA




higher education, international education, liberal arts, study abroad


While international students face many similar challenges, regardless of their location of study, the unique aspects of learning institutions may lead to different outcomes. Cognizant of this situation, we conducted a study designed to analyze the experiences of 28 students attending an undergraduate liberal arts college. The comments expressed by our informants underscore the sense of agency students developed as they responded to challenging circumstances that did not always recognize their unique perspectives. The subcultures they formed with other international students helped them adjust to their new surroundings without feeling obligated to discard unique aspects of themselves. Although the lived experiences of the students we interviewed rarely matched the images they carried with them when they matriculated, their comments indicated that they ultimately achieved of their goals for studying abroad. These findings offer insights into the identities and experiences that are often overlooked in research on international education.

Author Biographies

Christopher Bjork, Vassar College, USA

CHRISTOPHER BJORK, PhD, is a professor in the Education Department at Vassar College. His research focuses on the translation and implementation of education reform, education reform in Asia, and high stakes testing

Anna Abrams, Vassar College, USA

ANNA ABRAMS is currently a Community Lead at WeWork in San Francisco. She graduated from Vassar College with a BA in International Studies and French and Francophone Studies. Her major research interests lie in international education and environmental justice.

Lilia S. Hutchinson, Vassar College, USA

LILIA S. HUTCHINSON is a business development associate at the New York City strategic communications firm Rubenstein. She graduated from Vassar College with a BA in Urban Studies, with concentrations in Education and Media Studies. Her major research interests include international education and urban education reform.

Nora I. Kyrkjebo, Columbia University, USA

NORA KYRKJEBO is an MA candidate at Columbia University. She previously received her BA in Science, Technology, and Society from Vassar College. Her major interests lie in climate policy, environmental justice, and international education.


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How to Cite

Bjork, C., Abrams, A., Hutchinson, L. S., & Kyrkjebo, N. I. (2020). “Don’t Change Yourselves": International Students’ Concepts of Belonging at a Liberal Arts College. Journal of International Students, 10(3), 553–570. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v10i3.969



Research Articles