Intercultural adaptation of sojourners in the era of social media: a case study of international doctoral students in China


Amid the accelerated process of globalization, cross-border mobility and complex cultural mixing have drawn scholarly attention to intercultural communication of immigrants, sojourners and separated ethnic groups. Since 2012, China's 'Belt and Road' initiative further pushed the globalizing process and hosted more sojourners from all around the world, among which international students are one of the fastest growing groups. They attempt to seek new knowledge and accumulate intercultural experience.

As early as in the era of mass communication, classical intercultural adaptation studies have explored whether mass media use can promote intercultural adaptation for sojourners (Lily a. Arasaratnam, 2015; Kim YY, Sohn D, Choi, S.M.,2011, etc.). Nowadays, 'new media's connection across time and space and the transmission of information have become the most advantageous communication tool for sojourners or immigrants'(Chen, 2012). As Kim putted it in his research, intercultural individual will experience a stress-adaptation-growth dynamic process. They are likely to acquire “intercultural identity” (Kim, 2015). But in social media era, existing modes of intercultural adaptation (Venkatesh et al.2016; Chen, 2012; Wen Bo Kuang & Xiao Li Wu, 2019) are not enough to explain how international students use social media platform to accelerate their own intercultural adaptation. Among others, the dynamic process of foreign students' acquisition of intercultural skills and intercultural adaptation has drawn continuous attention (Mitchell R. Hammer, Richard L. Wiseman, J. Lewis Rasmussen & Jon C. Bruschke, 1998; Yuefang Zhou, Divya Jindal-Snape, Keith Topping & John Todman, 2008; Guo-Ming Chen, 2012) Built on previous studies, this paper will explore the relationship between social media use and intercultural adaptation of foreign students in Chinese university by taking an empirical approach, and try to answer the following questions: whether social media use promote international students’ intercultural adaptation, and how does this happen.

The study will be conducted at Communication University of China in Beijing and adopt semi-structured interview and focus group as data collection methods. Ten doctoral students were already selected for semi-structured interview. Each student will be interviewed twice to get acquaintance with him or her first and dig deep into their social media use later on. Central to the questions are the relationship between social media use and everyday life, the cognition of their own cultural identity, and their views towards 'intercultural identity' and 'intercultural personality'. In addition, two focus group discussions, themed 'My study abroad life' and 'What has social media brought to my intercultural adaptation', respectively, will be conducted following the two stages of interview. Each focus group will consist of five international doctoral students from CUC.

Finally, the study aims to contribute to the understanding of how international students utilize social media in China to recognize his or her intercultural identification and adaptation on the one hand, and how China’s social media, which is supposed distinctive in the global sphere, interact with sojourners’ cultural adaptation on the other.

Keywords: Intercultural adaptation, sojourners, social media, China, international students