Frederick T.L. Leong and Willliam E. Sedlacek

Research Report # 1 -85

We would like to acknowledge the assistance and cooperation of the Office of International Education Services, especially that of the Director, Valerie Woolston, in conducting this study.

Computer time for this study was provided by the Computer Science Conter of the University of Maryland, College Park.


Frederick T.L. Leong and William E. Sedlacek

Research Report # 1-85


A questionnaire listing 12 help-sources was administered to 194 international students during their orientation program, and to 179 U, S. first semester freshmen. Students were asked to imagine they were faced with a particular problem that they had tried unsuccessfully to solve alone.

Using multivariate analysis of variance at the .O5 level, significant differences between U.S. and international students were found.

Compared to U.S. students, international student were more likely to prefer help on educational/vocational problems from a faculty advisor, faculty member, relative or a male or female counselor. However, international students were less likely than U.S. students to seek help from parents or a student or non-student friend.

Compared to U.S. students, international. students were more apt to prefer a faculty member, faculty advisor, male or female counselor, psychiatrist or physician for emotional/social problems. However, international students were less likely to seek help from parents o r a friend (alder student or non-student) than were U.S. students.

Implications for providing services to U.S. and international students were discussed.



A recent survey conducted by the Institute of International Education found a lack of consistent, coherent policies toward international students at U.S. colleges and universities (Goodwin & Nacht, 1982). This situation exists despite the fact that international. students are likely to experience more adjustment problems than U.S. students because of cultural differences (Alexander, Workneth, Klein & Miller, 1976; Dillard & Chisholm, 1983; Hull, 1978; Seltiz, Christ, Havel & Cook, 1963; and Sharma, 1973). These cultural differences also may serve as barriers to seeking and receiving help with adjustment problems (Altscher, 1976; Kiell, 1951; Morris, 1960; Sue, 1981; Torrey, Van Rheenan, & Katchadourian, 1970).

Previous research has indicated that studying college students` preferences for help-sources may provide useful information for designing and developing relevant and effective services for these students (Christensen & Magoon, 1974: Snyder, Hill & Derksen, 1972; Tinsley, de St. Aubin, & Brown, 1.982; and Webster & Fretz, 1978). Also, several. studies on U.S. students have shown that preferences for help-sources vary by ethnic group (Caraveo-Ramos, Francis & Odgers, 1985; Pilner & Brown, 1985).

           Despite the increasing number of international students in the U.S. (Boyan, 1981), and the range of problems experienced by them, very little is known about where international student- turn for help with academic and emotional problems.  Two studies (Tau, 1967; Yuen & Tinsley, 1981) have examined the counseling expectations of international students, but as indicated by Dadfar & Friedlander (1982, p. 338), "international students inexperienced with professional help perceive it as a nontrustworthy,

inappropriate means for solving personal difficulties." Pedersen (1975)



found that students' "fellow countrymen" were the most common sources of help for personal problems for international students, but information was reported on only four help-sources (i.e., International Student Advisor's office, Faculty advisor, boy/girlfriend, and countrymen), one class of problems (personal), and no comparison group such as United States students was included.

The purpose of the present study was to determine the sources of help sought by international students for both emotional-social and educational-vocational problems across a wide range of sources, while providing a comparison to U.S. students.


     A questionnaire listing 12 help-sources (Christensen & Magoon, 1974) was administered to 194 international students during their orientation program and to 179 U.S. first semester freshmen. The international sample was 64% male and 361 female, 39% were from East Asia, 27% from the Middle East/West Asia; and 55% had immigrant status. These characteristics are very similar to those of the national sample reported by the Institute (Goodwin & Nacht, 1982). The United States sample was 43% male, 57% female, all white and all were U.S. citizens.

Students were asked to imagine they were faced with a particular problem that they had tried unsuccessfully to solve alone. They were told to assume that they would seek help from someone else. They were then asked how often they would use one of 12 given help sources for an educational-vocational and an emotional-social. problem. They were directed to indicate their choices on a 5-point scale, ranging from "never" to "very often."

Data were analyzed by multivariate analysis of variance (MANOVA) for each type of problem at the .05 level.




Educational/Vocational Problems

Table 1 shows that international students indicated they were most likely to prefer a faculty advisor, a parent, an older friend or student friend for help with educational/vocational problems. They were least likely to seek help for educational/vocational problems from a psychiatrist, clergyman or minister.

Compared to U.S. students, international students were more likely to prefer help on educational/vocational problems from a faculty advisor, faculty member, relative, or a male or female counselor. however, international students were less likely than U.S. students to seek help from parents or a student or non-student friend (MANOVA p .05).

Emotional./Social Problems

           Table 2 shows that international students would seek help with emotional/

social problems from parents, an older friend or a student friend. They were least likely to prefer a clergyman, psychiatrist, physician or faculty member for help with emotional/social problems.

           Compared to U.S. students, international students were more apt to prefer a faculty member, faculty advisor, male or female counselor, psychiatrist or physician for emotional/social problems. However, international students were less likely to seek help from parents or a friend; older student or non­ student) than were U.S, students (MANOVA p.05).


The results of the present study clearly indicated that there are differences in the help-seeking preferences of international and U.S. college students. International students tended to prefer formal help



sources (such as faculty member, faculty advisor, counselor and physician), while U.S. students preferred informal help-sources (such as parents, student friend, or older friend). This pattern was consistent for both educational/ vocational and emotional/social concerns. There are several possible reasons for this pattern of differences, and each of these reasons will be presented,

with a discussion of their counseling implications.

That U.S. students preferred informal help-sources for emotional/social concerns is quite consistent with the existing literature (Carney & Savitz 1980; Christensen & Magoon, 1974; Kramer, Berger, & Miller, 1974; Sharp & Kirk, 1974; Tinsley, de St. Aubin, & Brown, 1982; Webster & Fretz, 1978). This finding highlights the need for more outreach and consultation programs in meeting the counseling needs of U.S. students.

            The international students’ greater preferences for “formal” help-sources for both sets of problems may be due to the fact that they are new in the country.  As incoming international students, they may not have had the opportunity to develop the personal-social networks that could serve as “informal” help-sources for them.  Furthermore, U.S. students in this study are more likely to have come to the university with some high school classmates or to be living at home.  It is not surprising that they are able to rely on “informal” help-sources.  On the other hand, when international students left their home countries, they also left behind much of their personal and social support systems.  Providing orientation programs to acquaint international students with the available “formal” help-sources until they develop their own personal “informal” networks appears to be important.  At the same time, efforts should be made to help these students develop informal networks.  This could be done through organizing social and cultural events for international students to attend to develop friendships with other students.  Counselors could either organize these activities themselves



or become more aware of where such activities are .available, and encourage international students to participate in theca. 11 Tot surprisingly, Hull (1978) has found that the quality of the contact and relationships between inter­national students and members of the host culture is important in the adjustment of international students and their satisfaction with their sojourn.

Another possible reason for international students' interest in formal help-sources may due to their sense of being socially isolated. Cultural differences on both sides may have prevented international students from easily developing social relationships with U.S. students (Brun & David, 1971; Church, 1982). These cultural barriers to relationships can exist at multiple levels, including pre-established groups among WS. students, language difficulties (i.e., foreign accents) arid international students' lack of knowledge concerning, social norms and behaviors unique to the host culture. Indeed, studios. have found that social isolation is a common adjustment problem among international students (Brut & David, 1971 ; Church, 1982; Hull, 1978; Spaulding & Flack, 19761. Given their social isolation, international students often are left with only the option of turning to "formal" help sources with their problems.

One way to  serve the counseling needs of international students would be to provide special training and consultation to these formal helpers for working with international students. Another way would be to develop peer group support systems at counseling canters, e.g., developing a discussion group specifically designed for international students, designating "walk-in" hours for groups of international students, or matching newly arrived international students with those who have been in the country for a long time in a "big-brother" or "big-sister"  program.



Further research on the help-seeking behaviors of international students should focus on some of the methodological issues raised in the present study. Since data for the present study were collected during an orientation program, when international students may have been more anxious and concerned about their adjustment than usual, data should be collected on their help-seeking preferences at different times. It could be hypothesized that international students undergo stages in their adjustment to their host culture, and that counseling interventions which would he appropriate to each of these stages should be developed. Future research could aim at identifying and delineating these stages.

     If replications of the present study find similar pattern of greater "formal" preferences for help-sources during the initial stages of international students' adjustment, several questions will have to be raised: How prepared and able to deal with the problems of international students are the “formal” help-sources?  Are the international students being helped? If not, who are they turning to as alternative helpers? In order to answer these questions, more process and outcome studies are needed to examine what   happens to international students during and after their attempts to seek help from faculty members, faculty advisors, and physicians.  Future studies should also consider the actual help-seeking behaviors of international students in addition to their preferences and attitudes.




Alexander, A.A., Workneth, F., Klein, M.H., & Miller, M.H. (1976). Psychotherapy and the foreign

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References (continued)

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seeking professional psychological help. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 29, 335-338.

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among students from four ethnic groups. Journal of College Student Personnel, 26, 147-151.

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foreign students in the United States.Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.



References (continued)

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Table 1

Means*, Standard Deviations and F-Values of Help--Source Preferences

For Educational-Vocational Problems


  Help –Sources                          International       U.S.


                                       Mean        SD        Mean        SD        F-Value

Faculty Member              3.15        .91         2.84        .91             6.81**

Faculty Advisor               3.60       1.02        2.91       1.18          22.85**

Parents                            3.57       1.18        3.91       1.11           4.88*        

Relatives                          2.82       1.08        2.51       1.18            4.58*

Male Counselor               3.10         .97        2.19       1.13          39.94**

Female Counselor            3.15       1.01        2.37       1.17         30.14**                              

Friend (older)                   3.54       1.00        3.53       1.01            .00          

Student Friend                  3.43         .96        3.80       1.04           7.95**        

Non-Student Friend          2.60       1.10       2.78        .98           1.59  

Psychiatrist                       1.50        .84        1.32        .73           2.82

Physician                           1.74        .89        1.49        .83           4.24

Clergyman or Minister      1.65       .90         1.47        .77            2.50


*  1=Never; 2=Rarely; 3=occasionally; 4 = Often; 5=Very Often

** P    .05 using MANOVA



-                                                                                                                        11

Table 2

Means*, Standard Deviations and F-Values of Help-Sources for

Emotional-Social Problems


Help-Sources                                  International                         U.S.

                                                         Mean         SD         Mean          SD             F-Value

Faculty Member                                2.15           .94         1.33          .55           52.85**


Faculty Advisor                                 2.42         1.05         1.38          .63            66.42**

Parents                                             3.50          1.20         3.81           1.09          3.88

Relatives                                           2.90         1.21          2.85          1.25           .08

Male Counselors                              2.52         1.04           1.65          .95             40.83**

Female Counselor                            2.61          1.08          1.73          .96             38.69**

Friend (older)                                  3.46          1.10           3. 84       1.03              6.50*

Student Friend                                 3.33           1.09          3.92         1.12             16.08** 

Non-Student Friend                         2.74          1.26          3.65         1.16             29.92**

Psychiatrist                                      2.07          1.20          1.72           1.00              4.88**

Physician                                         2.15           1.20         1.72          .91                 8.06**

Clergyman or Minister                     1.76            .99          1.73          .99                    .0          

*1=Never ; 2=Rarely ; 3=Occasionally ; 4=Often ; 5=Very Often

**P        .05 using MANOVA