Abstract: Exploring the Use of Informal Conversation Groups As a Support Strategy for International Social Work Students (Society for Social Work and Research 24th Annual Conference - Reducing Racial and Economic Inequality)

47P Exploring the Use of Informal Conversation Groups As a Support Strategy for International Social Work Students

Thursday, January 16, 2020
Marquis BR Salon 6 (ML 2) (Marriott Marquis Washington DC)
* noted as presenting author
Yiwei Zhang, MSW, Doctoral Student, Fordham University, New York, NY
Yael Gil'Adi, MA, MS, Doctoral Student, Fordham University, New York, NY
Background and Purpose: The past two decades has seen a growing number of international students attending social work schools in the U.S. Research discusses topics like isolation, lack of social capital, and social-emotional barriers these students face, as well as learning challenges of international students in American universities. One strategy for overcoming such challenges is to create social events such as conversation groups, where mixed groups of students will be encouraged to interact with each other outside of class and establish foundational networks of support. However, little consideration has been given to understanding the experience of international students in attending such intercultural conversation groups. This paper explores international students’ experience in a weekly conversation lunch session. The three study aims are: (1) to identify challenges international students face in the university; (2) to describe international students' experience in the lunch session and how the session influenced their adjustment to college life; (3) to explore how to support international students’ adjustment in social work schools and universities.

Methods: This qualitative study gathered data from 6 BASW international students who attended the conversation lunch session. One-on-one semi-structured interviews were conducted. Data were coded line-by-line by authors separately with open codes, then discussed by authors to generate categories and themes.

Results: We identified three themes about the challenges international students face in the university: social isolation, cultural differences in academic expectations, and language barriers.

Four themes related to international students’ experience in the lunch session and its influences on their adjustment were identified: (1) promoting intercultural conversation and language adjustment: students were provided a comfortable communication environment to practice language skills; (2) learning enhancement: topics covered in the session enhanced student’s understanding of social work-related areas, but making more connections with courses are needed; (3) language barrier: limited language skill are perceived as a challenge when delivering their opinions; and (4) lack of continued interaction: time made it difficult to have in-depth conversations with native peers and continued interaction after the session.

Although students received various types of support from the university, they still experienced challenges such as unclear administrative responsibilities. Two themes are generated regarding the future support students expected to receive: (1) support for career development (e.g., employment resources); (2) support for building social networks in the university (e.g., academic-related clubs).        

Conclusions and Implications: This study conveys the value of conversation groups in facilitating international students’ intercultural communication and learning enhancement. Despite gains, international students skill face challenges continuing relationships formed in the lunch session into sustainable relationships after the session.

To better support international students, this study identified three implications for social work schools: (1) the design of conversation groups warrants a consideration on three principles: a comfortable communication environment, a sustainable relationship, and a connection with academic development; (2) adopting a holistic perspective to address the needs of international students. More efforts are needed to help students build their social network and prepare for career development (e.g., job interview skills seminar). (3) Improving the cultural competency of university personnel.