Foreigners floored by dating game

March 27, 1998

THES reporters on the British Psychological Society's annual conference held in Brighton this week

OVERSEAS students in Britain are highly motivated and feel more in control of their lives than home students, new research has found.

They have healthy self-esteem and are generally more satisfied with the quality of their lives than British students. But they still face practical problems in coping with unfamiliar customs such as dating.

Those home and overseas students who are likely to find it hard to adapt to university life could be identified before they arrive on campus and offered help and guidance, researchers at Stirling University suggest.

There is a strong correlation between certain personality traits and "dysfunctional attitudes" and an ability to adapt to student life, a four-year survey of 1,200 home and overseas students found. Those who could be described as "worriers" are very likely to have difficulty in establishing new relationships and adjusting to university life, despite often trying harder than "non-worriers".

Before arrival newcomers completed a questionnaire designed to identify key personality traits and general psychosocial well-being. Thery were then questioned through their first year on how they were adapting and building relationships with others.

Students with low self-esteem, who were introverted or perceived themselves as socially less competent, were significantly more likely to be less well-adjusted to university life than others. They showed signs of anxiety, depression, psychosomatic problems, homesickness and intense loneliness.

Researchers found that, on average, overseas students were well-equipped in terms of personality and social attributes to adapt to university life.

"Overseas students appear to have a healthy self-esteem, to be overall more satisfied with the quality of their life when compared with home students, to feel more in control of their lives and to be highly motivated," Roi Halamandaris said.

This may be because they are academically successful in their own country and are confident, and are outgoing people who are attracted to the idea of venturing abroad. However, she added that overseas students appeared to experience practical problems in adjusting to university life, directly related to cultural distance from their home country.

"They appear to lack substantial information regarding life in Scotland and academic standards of their host university. Differences in things such as weather, food, customs, lifestyle and dating all affect the student's ability to adjust to their new surrounds," Dr Halamandaris said, adding that overseas students also show greater signs of homesickness.

"It's the student's perception of the extent and quality of their social network, not the reality of it, which correlates with how they adjust," she added.

More research is now needed to see the extent to which levels of social adjustment affect academic achievement, and whether certain personality traits could associate with students underperforming.

She suggested some students could be selected before entering university and offered counselling or orientation and coping skills before or on arrival.

More structuring of the university services, more course guidance in the academic environment, more information about university standards prior to arrival and more information about the societies and counselling services could help students to adjust.

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