Acculturation and Career Development of International and Domestic College Students.

Author:Hou, Pei-Chun

The authors examined the relationships between career and cultural characteristics among 53 international and 54 domestic students at a large university in the southeastern United States. One-way multivariate analysis of variance results showed an overall significant difference between groups for mainstream acculturation, but not for vocational identity, dysfunctional career thoughts, goal instability, or heritage acculturation. Regression results indicated that 71% of the variance in vocational identity of domestic college students was explained by dysfunctional career thoughts and acculturation, whereas dysfunctional career thoughts were the only significant predictor of vocational identity for international college students. Thus, a key implication from this study is for career practitioners to address and challenge the dysfunctional thinking of all students to improve their vocational identity. Future researchers should also explore how other potential moderator variables (e.g., age, gender, race/ethnicity, parental education) may influence vocational identity, as well as include more qualitative approaches to better understand an individual's worldview, including career and cultural characteristics.

Keywords-, career development, cognitive information processing theory, vocational identity, international college students, goal instability


Limited research exists on the career development concerns of international college students (Leong & Sedlacek, 1989; Reynolds & Constantine, 2007). However, researchers have shown that international college students tend to experience more stress and career development challenges compared with their domestic counterparts as a result of transitioning to new educational and social environments (Mori, 2000). To better serve an individual's career development needs in a culturally heterogeneous country such as the United States, researchers (Crockett & Hays, 2011; Mahadevan, 2010; Miller & Kerlow-Myers, 2009; Rivera, Chen, Flores, Blumberg, & Ponterotto, 2007) have advocated understanding the individual's worldview, including career and cultural characteristics. For example, Crockett and Hays (2011) suggested that research was needed to examine how international college students' acculturation level and career goals affect their use of career counseling and related services. Therefore, the purpose of this study was to contribute to the understanding of acculturation's potential relationship with career thoughts, goal instability, and vocational identity of international college students as compared with domestic college students.

Acculturation and College Student Career Development

Acculturation refers to a dynamic process of psychological and behavioral changes that occur when individuals integrate elements of their heritage and mainstream cultures into their sense of identity (Ryder, Alden, & Paulhus, 2000). In contrast to the unidimensional approach, in which both acculturation and assimilation are assumed to be linear processes, several researchers (Berry, 1980; Mahadevan, 2010; Miller, 2007; Ryder et al., 2000) have argued that individuals' heritage and mainstream cultural identities change independently and, thus, have advocated that acculturation should be viewed and measured as separate dimensions. In addition, Ryder et al. (2000) expanded the use of acculturation assessment from focusing only on racial/ethnic minorities to including Caucasian individuals, given that all individuals are influenced not only by their specific heritage culture but also by their family in previous generations. Exploring acculturation helps researchers and practitioners better understand clients' worldviews, focus on the psychological wellbeing of immigrants and racial/ethnic minorities (Chae & Foley, 2010; Engstrom & Okamura, 2007), and choose culturally relevant interventions (Flores, Ramos, & Kanagui, 2010; Leong, 1993).

Research suggests that acculturation influences one's career aspirations and career outcome expectations (Reynolds & Constantine, 2007) and vocational identity (Shih & Brown, 2000), but not career beliefs (Mahadevan, 2010). For example, Reynolds and Constantine (2007) conducted a study with 261 international college students and found that acculturative distress (i.e., interpersonal conflicts with mainstream and heritage cultures) was negatively correlated with these students' levels of career outcome expectations. In addition, intercultural competence concerns (i.e., concerns about social, academic, cultural, and career competence) were negatively correlated with career aspirations and career outcome expectations.

Purpose of the Study

To extend the understanding of the career development of diverse populations, we sought to explore both international and domestic college students' acculturation, career thoughts, goal instability, and vocational identity. Career thoughts are defined as "outcomes of one's thinking about assumptions, attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, feelings, plans, and/or strategies related to career problem solving and decision making" (Sampson, Reardon, Peterson, & Lenz, 2004, p. 91). According to cognitive information processing theory (Sampson et al., 2004), dysfunctional career thoughts are an essential component of career decision-making, which have been associated with vocational identity and calling (Galles & Lenz, 2013), career indecision and depression symptoms (Walker & Peterson, 2012), career and life stress, satisfaction with career choice, and career indecision (Bullock-Yowell, Peterson, Reardon, Leierer, & Reed, 2011) among college students. Goal instability is defined as "a lack of goal directedness and inhibition in work" (Robbins & Patton, 1985, p. 226) and refers to difficulty in having a cohesive sense of self to set goals, formulate plans, have persistence, and carry out action. Vocational identity is defined as "die possession of a clear and stable picture of one's goals, interests, personality and talents" (Holland, Daiger, & Power, 1980, p. 1). Individuals with a clear and stable vocational identity tend to display more confidence in their competence to make career decisions, especially when facing environmental ambiguities such as an unplanned career change (Holland, Johnston, & Asama, 1993).

Currently, no research has examined the relationships among all four variables identified in this study. However, several studies have investigated correlations between two or three variables. Specifically, studies have been conducted on decision-making confusion and vocational identity (Galles & Lenz, 2013), decision-making confusion and goal instability (Bertoch, Lenz, Reardon, & Peterson, 2014), and acculturation and vocational identity (Shih & Brown, 2000). Galles and Lenz (2013), for example, examined relationships among dysfunctional career thoughts, vocational identity, and callings in a sample of 329 college students enrolled in several sections of a career development course. Inverse correlations were found between dysfunctional career thinking and vocational identity.

Dysfunctional career thoughts have also been significantly related to goal instability (Bertoch et al., 2014). Using a sample of 257 college students, Bertoch et al. (2014) found that individuals with high levels of goal instability had difficulty in initiating action and moving forward with their career decision-making and problem-solving processes. Specifically, each dimension of dysfunctional career thoughts as measured by the Career Thoughts Inventory (CTI; Sampson, Peterson, Lenz, Reardon, & Saunders, 1996), including decision-making confusion (r = -.64, p

In this study, we used the bidimensional acculturation model (Berry, 1980, 2003) to more completely conceptualize individuals' worldviews in terms of heritage and mainstream cultural identities. On the basis of a review of the relevant literature, we examined the following research questions:

Research Question 1: Are there significant differences between international and domestic college students with respect to dysfunctional career thoughts, goal instability, heritage acculturation, mainstream acculturation, and vocational identity?

Research Question 2: How does the relationship between acculturation and vocational identity differ between domestic and international college students?

Research Question 3: What is the contribution of dysfunctional career thoughts, goal instability, heritage acculturation, and mainstream acculturation to the vocational identity of domestic and international college students?



Following institutional review board approval, we collected data using paper-based surveys from two different voluntary groups: domestic students and international students attending a large university in the southeastern United States. Data collection occurred during a 1-month period. Of the 120 initial respondents, five cases were not included in the final data analysis because of incomplete surveys. We also removed eight cases from the final data analysis because the participants indicated that they were U.S. citizens born outside of the United States. Therefore, final data analysis procedures included 107 participants (54 domestic college students and 53 international college students).

Participants in the domestic college student sample ranged in age from 18 to 42 years (M = 21.1, SD = 3.8). Of these participants, 77% were undergraduate students (20.5%...

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