Electronic Theses and Dissertations


The Relationship Between Discrimination, Acculturation, and General Psychological Functioning in International Students

Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Ph.D. in Psychology

First Advisor

Laura R. Johnson

Second Advisor

Michael T. Allen

Third Advisor

Marc Showalter


International students come from all over the world to study in the United States. Cultural differences they experience can make the transition difficult, resulting in acculturative stress. Encountering discrimination is, unfortunately, a common concern for international students which may compound acculturative stress. The aim of the current study was to better understand discrimination felt by international students, and how it is related to pre-contact factors, acculturation factors, and adjustment factors. A more thorough understanding of this important, but often overlooked, aspect of acculturation could lead to future interventions designed to improve international student experiences while abroad. Pre-contact factors such as place of origin, physical appearance, age, and religion were examined in addition to acculturation factors such as acculturation strategy, length of time in the United States, English proficiency, and social support. Adjustment factors considered included acculturative stress, perceived discrimination, and inclinations to attribute discrimination. General psychological health was used as an overall outcome measure in order to provide a picture of the importance of the adjustment factors and to allow for comparisons to be made between them. Results suggest that feeling discriminated against is unfortunately common for international students. Country of origin, physical appearance, connectedness to mainstream culture, and English proficiency were found in the study to be particularly important regarding international student experiences. Efforts targeting these variables could improve experiences, and some ideas for such interventions are provided.

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