‘A melting pot of cultures’ –challenges in social adaptation and interactions amongst international medical students.
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Background: The internationalisation of higher level education and the profiles - nationalities, ethnicities and cultural identities - of students who migrate to undertake higher level education programmes in a different country are increasingly complex. This article explores the way in which cultural backgrounds impact the student’s experiences of an international medical school, and how these experiences have the potential to inform the development and design of student support services for those students who are not coping well with the transition.
Methods: Thirty one first year students were interviewed by sixteen second year students who were trained and supervised by an experienced researcher. Three focus group discussions were also held.
Results: While many international students had lived in more than one country and region and spoke several languages, most reported difficulties in forming intercultural friendships, especially interactions outside of the academic setting. Some of the challenges faced were similar to what has been reported in the literature, such as difficulties with language and loss of established friendship networks. Other challenges to emerge in this study were the complex interrelatedness of the daily life challenges facing international students regarding the forming and importance of intercultural relations, which is impacted by gender, the presence of alcohol, languages spoken (in addition to English, which was the language used for medical education), and the dominance of the regional grouping the student belongs to.
Conclusion: The challenges of adaptation and intercultural relations are increasing in complexity and it is important for higher level institutions who enrol international students to understand the nature of the pressures these students experience, outside as well as within the academic environment, and to support them in managing these transitions.