Research suggests international college students face psychosocial adjustment challenges transitioning into college, which may be heightened for international student-athletes who also have to adjust to Division I (DI) athletics. Even so, there are no current articles that synthesize the research on this population. Thus, we sought to fill this gap by specifically examining studies focused on the adjustment experiences of international student-athletes. This qualitative interpretive meta-synthesis (QIMS) was guided by one primary research question: what are the psychosocial adjustment experiences of international student-athletes at DI National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) member institutions in the United States (U.S.)?
A comprehensive systematic search of the literature was conducted, including nine electronic databases and google scholar using inclusion criteria and key search terms, which produced a total of n=257 articles and dissertations. Two researchers engaged in abstract screening and full-text review to identify appropriate articles. Only qualitative articles that consisted of international student-athletes and their adjustment experiences were included in this review; 13 articles were identified, consisting of a sample of n=303 international student-athletes. Covidence and excel spreadsheets were used to manage the articles and data. QIMS is a method used in social work research to synthesize the findings of qualitative studies (Aguirre & Bolton, 2014). Thus, we used QIMS as a way to understand the experiences of international student-athletes.
From the QIMS of the data from the 13 articles, three overarching themes emerged with 12 subthemes: 1) acculturative stress: a) discrimination/racism, b) homesickness, c) language, d) culture, e) weather; 2) adjustment to the college experience: a) social and b) academic; and 3) athletic adjustment: a) relationships with coaches, b) relationships with teammates, c) time, d) training, and e) conversion of metrics.
Conclusions and Implications:
Within student-athlete transition literature, there is much attention placed on the stress of the negotiation between the dual identity of student and athlete. The findings of this QIMS suggest that international student-athletes experience not only transitional stress related to their identities as a student and as an athlete, but also from their acculturation experiences. Thus, we suggest that international student-athletes transitioning to DI sport in the U.S. experience a “ternary” role negotiation of student identity, athlete identity, and cultural identity. The understanding of the intersectional risk factors associated with the adjustment stress of international student-athletes can better inform both athletic and university programming targeted at this population. Furthermore, social workers employed at DI institutions, and within DI athletic departments, have the opportunity to advocate for the needs of this population. For example, social work’s attention to social justice issues (i.e., racism these students experience) as well as case management skills (i.e., connection to needed resources such as winter clothing) can provide a needed perspective in the care of international student-athletes in the U.S.
Aguirre R. T. P. & Bolton, K. W. (2014). Qualitative interpretive meta-synthesis in social work research: Unchartered territory. Journal of Social Work, 14(3), 279-294.