Supporting the needs of Korean international students

By So Jung Kim

    Supporting the needs of Korean international students

    About the Practitioner-Researcher

    So Jung Kim
    School counselor
    San Diego, CA, US
    So Jung Kim

    After growing up in Sydney Australia, I went back to South Korea and attended college there. Upon graduation, I worked as a teacher for almost five years, and it was my interactions with students that motivated me to pursue a higher education. I decided to come to America for my masters, and I am pleased to say that I have successfully completed the school counseling program at the University of San Diego. My reason for wanting to become a counselor is because I worked with students in a highly stressful, academically competitive environment, and I wanted to help students address all of their needs, including academic, social/emotional, and career concerns. Recently, I conducted an action research project on supporting the needs of international students through group counseling.

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    Project Summary

    There is minimal research on group interventions with Korean international students. It is hoped that this project will provide other practitioners with some knowledge of what to expect when working with the Korean international student population. Research outcomes include: (a) group counseling can be effective in addressing international students’ needs by allowing them to have an easier transition into a new culture, creating a new support system, having a sense of belonging and a safe space to open up, decreasing certain stress levels, and triggering feelings of inspiration; (b) with the proper environment and constant encouragement, even the more reluctant students were able to open up. I, as a future school counselor, have learned that I can improve my practice by being open to change, educating myself through various resources, and asking questions about different cultural needs. This intervention helped strengthen my group counseling skills. A handbook for working with international students in high school, developed in conjunction with the project, will be distributed to other schools in the district that have a substantial number of international students.

    Project Context

    I conducted my action research project in a comprehensive, high achieving public school, with a student population of over 2,700. The high number of international students at this school, combined with my own experience and knowledge of being an international student, triggered the idea to provide support for those who might be struggling with adjustment-related concerns. The purpose of my action research project was twofold: 1) to provide support for Korean international students through group counseling; 2) to examine and strengthen my developing group counseling skills. Students were able to share personal experiences, connect with others, enhance their personal understanding of American culture, and learn coping strategies to build resilience. Students were also given opportunities to address any personal concerns they faced. Through reflective journaling, participant questionnaires and exit cards, data was collected and analyzed to assess the development of my group counseling skills and the quality of the support provided to participating international students.

    Project Goals, Methods and Outcome

    Purpose: The purpose of my research was to use group counseling as an intervention to support Korean international students in a high school setting and to examine my developing group counseling skills.

    Method and Process: This intervention was part of an action research project. Qualitative research methods were used to examine the needs of participating students. Small group counseling was utilized to provide student support and enhance the cultural understanding and group counseling skills of the researcher. I created a 2-cycle support group to provide a safe environment for Korean students to open up and share their experiences as international students. Each cycle consisted of four group sessions, and each session was held for 45 to 50 minutes. I also conducted individual interviews as part of my participant recruiting process.

    Although the students were reluctant to join a support group in the beginning, I made some improvisations by changing the term ‘support group’ to ‘research team,’ which generated more interest. I recruited 12 students, Grades 9 to 12. Although the name of the group had changed, my intent and purpose remained the same. Using multiple data sources including a self-reflective journal, field notes, observations, pre/post questionnaires, and participant exit cards, I gathered qualitative data from both cycles and used coding to interpret the data.

    During the first week, the group met for introductions and to discuss group rules, group goals, and personal expectations. During Week 2, participants were able to share their personal experiences of their cultural transitions, and the third week consisted of discussions based on specific cultural differences between Korea and the U.S. During the last week of Cycle 1, we focused on the importance of communication, and some of the issues international students face when communicating.

    Findings in Cycles: According to findings from Cycle 1, students indicated having the most issues with loneliness, speaking in English, and being too self-conscious to participate or ask for help during class. One interesting point came up where participants wanted to focus on how to deal with the challenges, rather than simply discussing them. After reflecting on what improvements can be implemented, modifications were made in Cycle two in order to address solutions to common concerns international students have.

    Keeping my Cycle 1 reflections and the reflective question in mind, I made certain modifications for Cycle 2, and developed a reflective question: How can I help international students feel supported outside of group? Cycle 2 topics included self-care and balance, college and career, and solutions on how to have a smoother transition to America. All students agreed that they need to be more open-minded and assertive, and they also acknowledged the importance of utilizing resources such as counseling.

    Conclusions: Based on my overall findings, I was able to create new knowledge supporting that group counseling can be effective in addressing international students’ needs by allowing them to have an easier transition into a new culture, creating a new support system, generating a sense of belonging and a safe space to open up, decreasing certain stress levels, and triggering feelings of inspiration. Also, with the proper environment and constant encouragement, even the more reluctant students were able to open up. Although I ran into some challenges, especially during the recruiting process, I learned that I can improve my practice by being open to change, educating myself through various resources, and asking questions about different cultural needs. I also learned through this entire research that I have a deep passion for working with international students, and I will continue to advocate for this population and gather as much data as possible to support the counseling profession and contribute to future research. Importantly, this intervention helped strengthen my group counseling skills.

    Limitations: Limitations include the lack of female participants in terms of the dynamics of the group and the outcomes. More literature on support groups for Korean international students would have helped me develop a more concrete plan for this research. Another question that still remains is whether group interventions would be effective with other Korean students. I was fortunate to connect with the students due to my Korean background, but I wonder if I would have received the same positive findings if I were to work with a different group of Korean students. Other limitations include unexpected timing and scheduling complications.

    Future Actions: Based on group discussions, student ideas and feedback were compiled to form a handbook for international students, and plans are now being made to translate the booklet into Korean, Chinese, and Spanish in order to address other international students. Some of the contents in the handbook include common fears, common challenges, American values, and survival tips. The high school I interned at will distribute the handbook to other schools in the district that have a substantial number of international students. Since mental health is still considered taboo for discussion in many countries, especially in certain Asian cultures, this can be a type of resource to EL students who are struggling to navigate through cultural transitions, and are reluctant to utilize other resources such as counseling.

    References:

    Carr, J. L., Koyama, M., & Thiagarajan, M. (2003). A women’s support group for Asian international students. Journal of American College Health, 52, 131-134.

    Kim, H. J., & Okazaki, S. (2014). Navigating the cultural transition alone: Psychosocial adjustment of Korean early study abroad students. Cultural Diversity And Ethnic Minority Psychology, 20(2), 244-253. doi: 10.1037/a0034243

    Lee, S. M., Suh, S., Yang, E., & Jang, Y. J. (2012). History, current status, and future prospects of counseling in South Korea. Journal Of Counseling & Development, 90(4), 494-499. doi:10.1002/j.1556-6676.2012.00061.x

    To cite this work, please use the following citation:

    Kim, S. (2015). Supporting the needs of Korean international students. Retrieved from https://www.socialpublishersfoundation.org/knowledge-base/supporting-the-needs-of-korean-international-students/

    Copyrighted by Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

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