Publication Date

Spring 2016

Degree Name

MA in International Education

First Advisor

Peter Simpson

Abstract

Inspired by the prevalent negative perceptions of cultural communities, this study seeks to better understand the phenomenon of informal cultural communities formed by international students at institutions of higher education. Specifically, this study looks at how cultural communities shape the experiences of undergraduate African students at Yale College. Using a phenomenological approach, 11 undergraduate African students were interviewed about their experiences in various cultural communities, and two focus groups were conducted: one prior to the interviews in order to decrease interviewer bias and shape the interview questions, and one subsequent to the interviews in order to decrease bias in data analysis. The research finds that African student cultural communities form based both on internal factors such as cultural similarities and external factors such as ignorance and discrimination from the host community. Cultural communities help to bridge the gap between home and host culture throughout the adjustment process, help students to maintain their cultural identity away from home, and provide a haven for individuals to connect and comfort each other over similar experiences of prejudice and stereotyping from classmates, faculty, and administrators. They provide a crucial role as support networks, filling the gaps where institutional support services do not go far enough. While they can make it easier for their members to avoid meaningful interaction with the broader campus community, this isolation is in major part a symptom of a larger problem rooted in ignorance and ethnocentrism by the dominant culture in the US, not a problem created by cultural communities. Furthermore, cultural communities can be beneficial in promoting cross cultural interaction on university campuses by providing the support students need to persist to graduation and providing students with a social safety net which gives them the confidence and support to branch out socially. As students, educators, members of the dominant culture, we must all recognize our role in creating the existing campus climate. Only after acknowledging our individual roles can we seek to create a more inclusive campus environment for all students and eliminate the external factors that push African students into cultural communities.

Disciplines

International and Comparative Education

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