Understanding the cultural, academic, and social adjustment of Iraqi exchange students in the United States



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The purpose of this qualitative study was to analyze the cultural, academic, and social adjustment of seven international, undergraduate students from Iraq. Utilizing a multiple case study design, the dissertation included semi-structured interviews with the student participants of the study as well as the host university staff and academic advisors from the non-profit organization that administered the Iraq student exchange program. The interviews yielded comprehensive data regarding the individual and collective experiences of the Iraqi undergraduate participants. Through careful coding of the interview data, the author analyzed the emergent themes from the diverse group of study participants. The data revealed a strong balance between in-country familial support and new social capital built in the host country. The participants demonstrated resiliency factors upon arrival to the United States, after living through a high level of violence in their home country. The themes indicated a significant customized, individualized support from the host university in conjunction with the administering non-profit coupled with hope and determination from the students. Many of the students cited appreciation for the safety and freedom of their new environment as contributing directly to their success. Comprehensive and coordinated support across campus, and with the non-profit organization that administered the scholarship, was indicated as a fundamental factor in successful adaptation to academic, social, and cultural life in the United States. Findings from the study concluded that the student participant adaptation was strongly related to support networks, strength of character and determination, as well as an overarching natural aptitude and prior academic preparation from their high school in Baghdad. Broader conclusions indicated that comprehensive support on campus and pre-departure preparation led to successful academic achievements, strong acculturation, and success on a social level. Implications include suggestions for building social capital for students with traumatic past experiences, individualizing cultural adjustment support, and supporting international students that diversify campuses in the United States to increase retention rates.