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Imperialism: Cultural Suppression in Education

According to Jensz (2012), by the end of the 19th century many governments in colonial lands took more active roles in providing secular education, which, created tensions between missionary groups, governments, and the indigenous communities for whom education was provided.  Historically, scholars attributed the education provided by missionaries as a humanitarian enterprise, although some more recently view these efforts to be based upon imperialistic intentions (O’Brien, 2008).  Work done by missionaries in colonies also is considered by some, ‘‘cultural imperialism’’ because it was viewed as an inseparable part of European empire building (Whitehead, 2005).
The concept of imperialism is perhaps most widely recognized as having its roots in the developing European nations.  However, as the U.S. became an established world power; imperialism ideologically encompassed the entire Western World (Wiarda, 2005).  “The question of whether the United States is an imperial power that, like other previous imperial powers, has been acquiring an empire of its own has been hotly contested in U.S. political history” (Wiarda, 2005, p. 663).  The concept of imperialism in the U.S. is the subject of both political and scholarly debates (Kaplan, 1993).  According to Wiarda (2005), Americans do not perceive the U.S. as an imperial nation.  Wiarda further asserted that there is a prevailing tendency to believe that the U.S. is an exceptional nation, and it is immune from the great power motivations of other imperial states.   According to Wiarda (2005), detractors of the U.S. reject this idea but instead project the following:
The United States intervenes frequently in the affairs of other states, overthrows governments it does not like, protects the corrupt, nondemocratic oil states (Kuwait, Saudi Arabia) on which the U.S. economy is dependent, and has sent military forces into dozens of countries to protect U.S. interests. (p. 663)
During the early twenty-first century, the U.S. was the sole remaining superpower with overwhelming military, economic, political, and cultural influence, which supported the accusation of imperialism and neocolonialism (Wiarda, 2005).  Middle Easterners have been the most outspoken accusers of the United States as it pertains to substantiating claims of imperialism.  Wiarda (2005) pointed to several factors that identify the imperialistic propensity of the U.S.:
The focus of the critique is not just about U.S. military power; which is overwhelmingly dominant, but also U.S. cultural influence (rock music, movies, styles of dress and behavior).  U.S. political power forces countries to change political institutions and practices they would often rather not change, and U.S. economic influences, which force countries to adopt neoliberal policies that often hurt their economies but work to the economic advantage of the United States itself.  (p. 664)
Wiarda (2005) further asserted that globalization overwhelmingly seems to benefit the U.S.
Cultural Imperialism
Cultural imperialism occurs when “powerful states force their culture and societal systems upon subjugated or less powerful people” (Lansford, 2007, p. 572).  Verma (2012) concluded that cultural imperialism is the rudimentary cause of cultural suppression.  Tomlinson (1991) noted a number of manifestations of cultural imperialism may be discussed in the literature such as media imperialism, structural imperialism, cultural dependency and domination, cultural synchronization, electronic colonialism, ideological imperialism, and economic imperialism.  According to Langford (2007), cultural imperialism distorts normal societal changes, whereas typically, when two divergent cultures coalesce there is a natural convergence that occurs in the way they live.  “Societies have historically adopted and integrated different religions, languages, political or legal systems, and traditions into their own cultural identity” (Lansford, 2007, p. 572).  Conversely, the ultimate aim of a dominant imperialist society is to suppress and possibly eradicate other cultures.  This was the case of Europe’s domination over the colonists in America, especially its native people.  Golding and Harris (1996) wrote:
Imperialism did not maintain its rule merely through suppression, but through the export and institutionalization of European ways of life, organizational structures, values and interpersonal relations, language and cultural product that often remained and continued to have impact even once the imperialists themselves had gone home.  In short, imperialism was in itself a multi-faceted cultural process, which laid the ground for the ready acceptance and adoption of mediated cultural products, which came much later. (p. 51)
Cultural imperialism did not begin with European colonization, but rather began with Ancient empires such as Greeks and Romans with a goal to spread their ideals, values, and languages (Lansford, 2007).  In assessing the development of imperialism in western civilizations, it appears to have begun with the empire building of Europe, although the term aptly applies to any society intent on pursuing domination.  Use of the term cultural imperialism applied more recently reflects radical criticism of the Western culture of capitalism that occurred during the 1960s (Tomlinson, 1991).
The overarching goal and intent of Western colonialism was to force the spread of culture, religion, and philosophy; subjugated cultures were forced to abandon their own religion and culture to adopt western values (Okon, 2014).  “It was speculated that through the process of intensive conversionism, a colony that excelled in adopting western values to the maximum may achieve a pseudo independent status and merit the description like overseas France or overseas Portugal” (Okon, 2014, p. 203).
According to Healy (2011), the U.S. was well established as an Imperialist state in 1898, as the country grew and its influence began to spread abroad.  Captain Alfred Thayer Mahan (1840-1914) was one of the more prominent leaders who advanced the cause for American expansionism.  Mahan was a lecturer in naval history and the president of the U.S. Naval War College.  He published, “The Influence of Sea Power upon History:  1660–1783”, an analysis of the importance of naval power as a factor in the rise of the British Empire (Tucker, 2009).  Mahan and his contemporaries helped progress imperialism in America, which was influenced by social Darwinism (Healy, 2011).

Effect of Imperialism on Cultural Development

Social Darwinism describes the profound influence Charles Darwin’s theories had on scientific thought as he postulated that persons, groups, and races are subject to the same laws of natural selection (Hofstadter, 2016).   During the “Darwin era”, his theories permeated all disciplines, including anthropology, sociology, politics, and economics.  Further, Social Darwinists held that the life of humans in society was an existence ruled by “survival of the fittest,” a phrase proposed by the British philosopher and scientist Herbert Spencer.  Darwin’s ideas were popularized at a time when U.S. political issues were more prevalent because of war and the country being settled; the mood of the time was one of acquiescence and acquisition (Hofstadter, 2016).  Mahan, an advocate of this theory, asserted that virile states compete in a process of natural evolution which inevitably breeds struggle and suffering” (Healy, 2011, p. 612).  He, as well as other enlightenment theorists of this age, maintained that principles of strategy remained constant over time.
Lansford (2007) contended social Darwinism was used as a justification for imperialism, where varied ethnic groups were at differing stages of intellectual and physical development.  “Pro-imperial politicians and officials would even use social Darwinism to contend that the imperial states had a duty to civilize the less-developed regions of the world by spreading European culture” (Lansford, 2007, p. 575).  Imperialism was further supported in the contemporary media of the period.  Lansford wrote that Social Darwinism was used to elevate the station of some groups such as the French and British while suppressing other people groups.  For example, colonial officials believed that people from the India and Asia were superior to Africans.
Fallace (2012) conducted a historical study of the most influential educational theorists of the pre-World War era, which highlighted the recapitulation theories of William Torrey Harris, Frank Lester Ward, Charles McMurray, John Dewey, Charles Hubbard Judd, and G. Stanley Hall.  Recapitulation is a biological hypothesis that humans develop from an embryo to adult, and animals go through stages resembling or representing successive stages in the evolution of their remote ancestors (Gould, 1982).   It gave further gave credence to the notion that there were inequalities in human evolution generally and specifically to evolutionary differences between races (Gould, 1982).  Fallace (2012) purported that the forms of recapitulation theories they espoused portrayed non-white cultures as childlike, which preceded “steps to a more advanced industrialized west” (p. 510).  Further, he asserted that recapitulation caused racism, and was enmeshed into the context of the new educational reform initiated 1894-1916 (Fallace, 2012).
Ernst Haeckel’s theory of recapitulation was yet another theory of the late 19th and early 20th centuries that relates the development of an organism to its evolutionary history and like Darwinism; it was used as a justification for racist and imperialistic policies (Gould, 1982).  According to Gould (1982), “Ernst Haeckel, had no qualms about applying a biological theory to sociological issues within human culture” (p. 31).
According to Haeckel and other social scientists at the time, Africans and other people deemed non-white cultural groups were in his view biologically deficient (Fallace, 2012).  Decidedly, anyone that was of a non-white culture represented a previous step to modern civilized man.  Fallace (2012) said, “the new education [progressive education] was inherently ethnocentric and racist because it approached non-White cultures and individuals thorough a deficient model that considered non-whites as backward, disadvantaged, and in need of development by Westerners” (p. 511).  This resulted in the prevalence of White supremacy being reflected in educational practices and policies in the U.S. and abroad.  Educational innovations were derived from “racist assumptions about how the mind worked, what counted as culture, how culture developed, and the cultural worth of individuals from non-white groups” (Fallace, 2012, p. 530).
The Structure of Imperialism
Galtung (1971) offered a theory of Structural Imperialism, purporting that there are two guiding facts undergirding this concept.  There is, “the tremendous inequality, within and between nations, in almost every aspect of human living conditions; and the resistance of this inequality to change” (p. 81).  Galtung (1971) did not support the view that imperialism was fueled by capitalism, but rather he understood the dominance associated with imperialism to have more to do with the “general structural relationship between collectives” (p. 81).  He proposed that “imperialism is a system that splits up collectives and relates some of the parts in relations of inequality, and other parts in relations of disharmony, or conflict of inequality” (p. 81).  Galtung defined conflict of interest as a condition where parties pursue incompatible goals, and an outsider of the collective stipulates these goals, although the outsider disregards the true or explicit values they pursue.
Galtung (1971) also defined two mechanisms of imperialism.  First is the pattern of vertical integration, whereby a dominating nation enriches itself more as a result its interaction with the other nation.  The second is feudal interaction structure, where the dominated parties [nations] in the periphery are kept apart and little or no trade occurs among them.  Galtung explained that because of imperialism there is among richer nations a psychological effect of self-reliance and autonomy, while there is a psychology of dependence in poorer nations.  He delineated imperialism into three phases.  There is a colonist phase, where the two centers belong to the same nation.  There is the neo-colonist phase where the centers are connected by international organizations and the neo-neo-colonist phase where future ties are established by rapid communication.  He further discussed what he believed to be five causes of imperialism:  economic, political, military, communication, and cultural.

Globalism, the Currency of Imperialism Today

According to Xue (2008), the concept of globalization bridges a connection between imperialism of the past and present day.  Alternatively, imperialism could be considered a process of globalization (Kaplan, 1993).  According to James (2008):
Modern and rich industrial societies are not used to thinking in imperial terms and bitterly resist the implications attached to the idea. They recognize that imperialism has clearly failed in the past, and that the legacy of imperialism is a world of resentments and hatreds. Debating empire and imperialism has become much more difficult than the old discussions about globalization. What results is a widespread sense of despair. It is unlikely to disappear until and unless participants in the globalization process lose their current obsession with producing institutional fixes, and think instead more intensely about what common values can hold a global community together. (p. 431)
Tomlinson (1991) defined globalization as complex connectivity and the rapidly developing and ever-deepening network of interconnections and interdependences that characterize modern social life (Xue, 2008).  Tomlinson (1991) reported, “in the case of cultural imperialism in the Third World, this term might point towards the links between present domination and a colonial past” (p. 19).
In a commentary on Tomlinson’s perspective, Xue (2008) said, “The term of cultural imperialism makes sense in a particular historical era in which there is distinct difference between America and Europe and Asia” (p. 112).  He pointed out that the term cultural imperialism is out of date because it cannot explain what is happening in this society and interpret the cultural meaning (Xue, 2008).  “Since the 1990s, the globalization has taken the place of imperialism and has been popular in the academic research and representation of the reality” (Xue, 2008, p. 113).
Xue (2008) reported there is a generally accepted view that diversity of national and ethnic cultures makes up a one-world culture.  This implies that the concept of “a national” will become obsolete, because being national is the same as belonging to the world (Xue, 2008).  Xue questioned this presumption.  “Skeptical viewpoints are that the cultural presentation of the realistic world is very complex and there are insufficient evidences to show its emergence” (Xue, 2008, p. 114).  Xue concluded that globalization produces a globalized culture rather than a global culture.
According to Özeki̇n and Ariöz (2014), globalization should be perceived as a process that brings economic unification of the globe through the integration of national economies under a single grid of market.  They regarded globalization as a “developing multidimensional process of complex interconnections between societies, cultures, economies and states on a global scale that generates a sense of global unicity in which social and cultural differences still exist within the wholeness of the world as a single place” (p. 189).  Secondly, Özeki̇n and Ariöz (2014) attested to what they saw as being multiple directions of cultural flows, resulting in hybridization/creolization of cultures as a translocal learning process and emerging transcultural identities and affinities in the complex global interconnectedness.

Imperialism:  Cultural Suppression in Education

“Formal schooling is a function of economic and social hierarchy and cannot be separated from them” (Carnoy, 1974, p. 343).  Imperialism has had a profound impact on the development of national educational systems.  People groups such as Native Americans in the U.S., Blacks in South Africa as well as non-Russian minorities in Russia, were colonized and serve as examples of nationals that were unequally absorbed in society after conquest (Ginsburg & Clayton, 2002).  These groups were exposed to educational systems that left their cultures both denigrated and dominated (Ginsburg & Clayton, 2002).  Cultural imperialism experienced by these people groups in some cases resulted in the people accommodating the negative messages they encountered hidden in school curriculums.
According to Hough (2014), indigenous peoples in Canada&article=true">Canada comprise First Nations people:  Inuit and Métis.  From the late 18th century onwards, European colonists forced these nomadic hunters and trappers onto tracts of land – reserves – and encouraged aboriginals to assimilate into their culture, which resulted in forced integration through a residential school system (Hough, 2014).  Government-operated residential schools were established in the 1840s; the ongoing impact of residential schools transcended many generations and has contributed to various social problems.  Children who were students in these schools were subjected to extreme cultural suppression, emotional deprivation, physical abuse, and at times, sexual abuse.
Tikly (2004) postulated that we are witnessing a new form of Western imperialism that is intended to incorporate populations within the “Second” and “Third” worlds to create a global government.  “Second World” refers to the former communist-socialist, industrial states (formerly the Eastern bloc, the territory and sphere of influence of the Union of Soviet Socialists Republic) today:  Russia, Eastern Europe, and some of the Turk States as well as China.  Third World countries include all the other countries, today often used to describe the developing countries of Africa, Asia, and Latin America. The term “Third World” also includes capitalist and communist countries as very rich (e.g., Saudi Arabia) and very poor countries.
According to Tikly (2004), education is central to the incorporation of First and Second world nations in the new imperialism.  Tikly saw education as another aspect in the development of the new imperialism.  “Discourses about the nature of social reality and of human nature itself, including those about education and development, provide the bricks and mortar, the final recourse in relation to which hegemony and counter-hegemony are constructed and contested” (p. 178).  Tikly (2004) argued in favor of an anti-imperialist approach for transforming the educational system to lessen the growing disparities for developing countries, the gap between “winners” and “losers” (p. 178).  He challenged educators to move away from “the core assumptions of the western episteme” [imperialism] (p.194).  Tikly (2004) advocated for change where curriculum and pedagogy are the focus for education in low-income countries, and where curricula are delivered in such a way as to foster critical thought and social transformation.

Internationalization of Higher Education

Globalization and internationalization are often used interchangeably in the literature, though there are subtle differences in how they should be understood (Kawar, 2012).  Globalization refers to activities concurrent to an erosion of borders. Internationalization denotes the increasing of cross-border activities amidst persistence of borders (Kawar, 2012).  Material prosperity has been a significant force that has resulted in what is considered globalization today, but it has also led to the ability to communicate and share ideas as well as goods across large geographical and cultural distances (Deardorff, de Wit, & Heyl, 2012).  While economists see globalization as factors such as production (labor, goods, capital) as well as ideas and technologies, political scientists see globalization as a limit to  traditional power as exercised by nation-states, or the diffusion of power through a web of international institutions and rules that establish a state of affairs (Deardorff et al., 2012).
Altbach (1998) described the university as an institution that has always been global because it is at “…the center of an inter-national knowledge system that encompasses technology, communications, and culture” (p. 347).  The end of the Renaissance marked the beginning of a period in the advancement of higher education (De Wit & Merkx, 2013).  This was also a time when European colonial powers exported academic systems to the world at large.  According to De Wit and Merkx, the focus of higher education was to support “the development of a national identity and serving national needs and less to amassing universal knowledge” (p. 41).  Further, the export of academic systems led to the internationalization of education; however, De Wit and Merkx asserted that it is better understood as academic colonialism.  Universities that began in the 18th and 19th centuries had a national orientation and function.  It was not until the latter part of the eighteenth century that European universities were identified in publications on the topic of internationalization.  “Between the 18th and 19th century, three international aspects of higher education can be identified: dissemination of research, individual mobility of students and scholars, and the export of higher education systems” (p. 44).
The research disseminated dealt with topics of national interest; ideas and information were disbursed through seminars, conferences, and publications (De Wit & Merkx, 2013).  De Ridder-Symoens (1996) characterized the mobilization of students as an attempt on behalf of the learner to glean knowledge from individuals who had mastered their field of study or discipline.  It was not until the 20th century that movement of students shifted from leaving the U.S. to Europe, to leaving Europe for the U.S. (De Wit & Merkx, 2013).  According to De Wit and Merkx (2013), in the past American students viewed study in Europe as a last phase of their “cultural integration into American society” (p. 46).
The international education began to be more evident at the conclusion of World War II (De Wit & Merkx, 2013).  Several factors contributed to the evolution of international education:  the creation of national scholarships for students and staff; the development of institutional study abroad programs, and; the conception of area studies, international studies, and foreign language training in the U.S.  The inception of scientific and cultural agreements between countries and the creation of national agencies further contributed to the internationalization of education.  According to De Wit and Merkx, there was significant development in the expansion of international education during the 1960s, but it was not until the 1980s that major changes began to take place:
The move in aid to trade in Australia and the United Kingdom; the development of the European programs for research and development and for transnational education; the presence of international in mission statements, policy documents, and strategic plans of institutions of higher education, in particular Europe, North America, and Australia; and the emergence of senior policy advisers or internationalization and their membership organizations (Association of International Education Administrators, IEA, NASFA, European Association for International Education, International Association of Australia) were clear manifestations of these changes. (p. 57)
This move, coupled with the fact that current societies are knowledge based, was undergirded by continually expanding of information technologies.  Changes in the global environment will add to the transformation of the internationalization of education that is currently underway (De Wit & Merkx, 2013).
The economics of globalization has caused a heightened emphasis on the internationalization of education in the 21st century (Jiang, 2010; Lam, 2010).   According to Tedrow and Mabokela (2007), it is imperative that institutions of higher education offer international experiences at the university because it is viewed as critical to student success.  In addition to the economic gains or benefits of internationalization, it also results in improving students’ personal general abilities and socio-cultural skills (Foster, Yao, Buchanan-Butterfield, & Powell-Brown, 2013).

Challenges Faced by International Students

According to Foster et al. (2013), “The presence of international students on most campuses of higher education in many countries now make it possible for students of the host country to gain cultural understanding and enhance learning without necessarily traveling abroad” (p. 168).  Students afforded an international education receive a more broad-based learning experience.  International education offers students experiences enriched by learning social nuances of other cultures, thus enabling them to confront learned misconceptions about other cultures (Foster et al., 2013).  Luo and Jamieson-Drake (2013) examined the influence of international student interactions among college students.  Their findings indicated that:
International interaction was consistently and positively correlated with college outcomes and that U.S. students who interacted extensively with international students reported higher levels of engagement in college activities, such as coursework outside class, ethnic or cultural clubs or organizations, and visiting speakers. (p. 99)
According to Guo and Jamal (2007), international students bring values, language, culture, and educational background that enrich our educational environments.
International student engagement benefits students from the host country/culture, but experiences for students coming from other nations may find significant challenges in making the cross-cultural transition.  The international student enters into a completely new world that will result in the student enduring substantial change in order to adapt and make a successful transition.  They tend to undergo a variety of challenges in the process of achieving their academic goals.  Social, physical, cognitive and psychological difficulties are among those that arise as they adapt to living and studying in their new cultural environments (Chavajay, 2013).
“Social identification theories focus on the cognitive components of the adaptation process, and with cross-cultural contact people perceive themselves in a much broader context – little fish in bigger ponds” (Zhou, Jindal-Snape, Topping, & Todman, 2008, p. 67).  According to Zhou et al. (2008), this may lead to a change in perceptions of self and identity, where identity was previously constructed largely from local social interaction.  Two major conceptual approaches used in social identification are acculturation and social identity theory (Phinney, 1990).  Social Identity Theory (SIT) assumes that social identity is derived primarily from group memberships (Brown, 2000).  According to Brown, people strive to achieve or maintain a positive social identity, and this positive identity derives largely from favorable comparisons that can be made between the in-group and relevant outgroups.  Zhou et al. (2008) stated, “Acculturation is the dual process of cultural and psychological change that takes place as a result of contact between two or more cultural groups and their individual members” (Berry, 2005, p. 698).  According to Wei, Liao, Heppner, Chao, and Ku (2012), international students experience variant levels of stress in the process of acculturation.  Araiza and Kutugata (2013) studied stress and stressors that international students experienced when attending a private Mexican university.  They identified specific stressors that affected international students:

  1.                Unfamiliarity with the language of the students from the cultural majority
  2.                The need to adapt rules governing attendance
  3.                Need to adapt to unfamiliar teaching strategies
  4.                Need to adapt learning skills to align with program outcomes and class

Assignments. (p. 3193)
There have been a number of studies on cultural adaptation that describe international students’ feelings of guilt and loneliness when leaving family and friends from their native countries (Cox, 1988; Furukawa, 1997; Hamboyan & Bryan, 1995; Oei & Notowidjojo, 1990; Ong & Ward, 2005; Pedersen, 1991; Sandhu & Asrabadi, 1994).  International students are confronted with new challenges when they leave behind their support structure to attend university in an unfamiliar cultural environment (Chavajay, 2013).  “Students attending universities in a culture different from their own have to contend with novel social and educational organizations, behaviors and expectations – as well as dealing with the problems of adjustment common to students in general” (Zhou, Jindal-Snape, Topping, & Todman, 2008, p. 63).  In describing and analyzing students’ adaptation problems, researchers generally offer two explanations to describe the association between migration and psychological problems (Zhou et al., 2008).  Researchers concluded mental health changes were a consequence of the migration experience, which included negative life events, a lack of social support networks, and the impact of value differences.
Yakunina,Weigold, Weigold, Hercegovac, and Elsayed (2012) surveyed 341 international students to assess the influence of five multicultural personality traits (i.e., social initiative, emotional stability, open-mindedness, flexibility, and cultural empathy) in predicting international students’ openness to diversity and cross-cultural adjustment to institutions of higher education in the U.S.  Yakunina et al. (2012) found that students that lacked social initiative and emotional stability would have difficulty in adjustment. Additionally, those less open-minded and flexible likewise struggled to adjust.  Finally, “cultural empathy was both directly and indirectly related to adjustment” (Yakunina et al., 2012, p. 538).
Most of the research on international student adjustment focuses on pragmatic, psychosocial, and cultural aspects of students’ experiences (Suspitsyna, 2013).  Suspitsyna (2013) interviewed 32 international students to examine cognitive aspects of their socialization from an organizational perspective.  According to Suspitsyna, little is known about how international students “make sense of their new academic and organizational settings and identities, selectively adopting some American norms and behaviors and rejecting others” (p. 1352).  Suspitsyna found that in some instances norms and practices that international students believed essential of their American peers could nullify the international students’ cultural identities.
Bartram (2008) sought to determine (1) What are the expressed support needs of the international student group and how do they prioritize them; moreover (2) What, if any, are the associations between student characteristics and support issues?  The findings of Bartram’s study revealed that international students’ primary needs were socio-cultural, academic and practical.  The international students’ social-cultural needs were expressed by their need for support from peers and a wish to integrate with their peer group.  The academic need was reflected in the international students’ desire to receive help with study skills and language, counseling from academic staff, and a supportive academic environment.  “The final category of practical needs included issues of information concerning the course, induction procedures, and sign posting procedures to locate information on accommodation, finance and careers” (Bartram, 2008, p. 660).
Cemalcilar and Falbo (2008) conducted a longitudinal study of international students attending university in the U.S. to determine how their psychological well-being and social and academic adaptation was affected in the process of making the cross-cultural transition.  They found that even international students with developed language skills consistent with the host-culture were still met with challenges.  The results of their study suggested there is a noticeable “decline in psychological well-being, increased identification with the host culture, and stable identification with home cultures” (Cemalcilar & Falbo, 2008, p. 799).  The study revealed that after completing about 3 months of their first year at a large U.S. university, the international student participants in the study experienced significant declines.  On a more positive note, the research results indicated that students had significantly increased their identification with their host culture while retaining consistent levels of identification with their home culture (Cemalcilar & Falbo, 2008).
McLachlan and Justice (2009) used the grounded theory method to investigate how international students successfully transitioned into a host nation’s culture in the pursuit of higher education.  McLachlan and Justice disputed the prevailing view in the literature that assimilation of these students into a host culture is problematic.  She did however concede that some international students are challenged and distressed by cultural differences, social isolation, academic differences, and difficulties with English language proficiency.  It is important to note that during the interviews, participants had expressed gratitude for the opportunity as this study provided them the first opportunity for their story to be heard.
Overall, McLachlan and Justice (2009) found that international students included in her study were burdened with being homesick, lonely, and isolated.  Most of the respondents (95%) reported feeling homesick upon entering the U.S.  Loneliness was also a struggle for these international students, and they reported having to adjust to being alone, as many were accustomed to living with extended family dwelling in their household in their homeland.  The loneliness was also fueled by isolation; language barriers presented a challenge “as they attempted to negotiate academic, cultural, and social differences” (p. 29).
According to McLachlan and Justice (2009), international students often experience mild depression and some may require treatment.  The mental wellbeing of these students may be further compromised by the fact that they tend to be reluctant to seek help.  The primary reason that Asian students in particular do not seek out counseling is that they are uncomfortable with the prospect of having to ask for this type of support.
McLachlan and Justice (2009) found that despite the challenges experienced by international students, they had a tendency to be resilient, and they persevered while remaining goal directed.  Overall, the majority (95%) of the sample “reported increasing comfort and competence in academic, cultural, and social aspects of their lives after 6-12 months of living in the U.S.” (p. 31).  None of the participants included in the study expressed regret in pursuing study in the States (McLachlan & Justice, 2009).
Many international students experience social isolation because they may have been raised and educated in an environment where the societal norms tend to reflect a collectivist rather than individualistic nature (Zhai 2002).  International students also tend to experience perceived and actual racial discrimination (Lee & Rice, 2007), limited English language ability (Zhai, 2002; Haydon, 2003), and opposition with cultural differences when they do not understand host culture norms and social rules (Chapedelaine & Alexitch, 2004).
According to De Nooij and Riedel (2010), “learning and study styles are part of an individual’s personal disposition and can be influenced by such factors as culture, upbringing, education and motivation” (p. 36).  They conducted a study to discover to what degree cultural differences exist in cognitive learning and study styles between students of different cultures at international schools.  Four hundred eighty-five students ranging from 15 to 16 years of age who completed the Step One Learning and Study Style Survey were included in the study.  Nooij and Riedel (2010) categorized their findings into four cultural groups that were comprised of Northern Europe (106 students), North America (U.S. and Canada, 110 students), Southern Europe (91 students) and South East Asia (with a focus on China and Taiwan, 178 students).  De Nooij and Riedel described culturally specific results; however, there were commonalities across all groups identified in the study.  The study revealed that with the exception of South East Asian students, all students across cultures preferred auditory learning.  Overall, students’ least preferred kinesthetic learning, but most favored systematic learning.  Gender differences were also revealed in the study.  Female students were more focused on producing and relating while the male students were oriented toward performing and thinking.
Nayak and Venkatraman (2010) explored the influence of the student’s home country’s academic culture on the performance of the international student in his or her studies.  They applied a narrative approach in order to provide a better understanding of international students’ academic culture (Nayak & Venkatraman, 2010).  The results of the study identified three main academic cultural gaps:  “(1) annual teaching versus semester teaching scheme; (2) lack of familiarity with writing assignments; and (3) lack of familiarity with the Australian accent” (p. 1).  According to Nayak and Venkatraman (2010), there is a lack of research studies exploring cross-cultural assimilation issues from the student perspective.
Cultural Suppression and Learning
Learning occurs at all times because in our thinking we continuously encounter ideas, facts, adapt new behaviors, and allow new truths to be applied in our lives to make meaning of what we experience (Shuck, Albornoz, & Winberg, 2007).  An interaction between learning and emotions exists as humans learn through emotionally laden experiences.  There is a critical link between cognition and learning, and positive emotions allow the brain to make better perceptional maps (Jensen & Jensen, 2008).  Native people tell stories of how cultural suppression is associated with psychological pain, which manifest in negative emotions (Verma, 2012).  Researchers have found that emotional regulation is used to suppress our emotions when faced with adverse circumstances (Richards & Gross, 1999).  According to Richards and Gross, emotional suppression is a cognitively demanding form of self-regulation and it has cognitive consequences, as it impairs incidental memory for information presented during the suppression period.  Emotional response may be a key to understanding student perceptions, and how students are potentially impacted by perceived cultural suppression, which in turn affects the student’s opportunity for optimal learning in the college classroom.
Hsieh (2007) asserted the following to explain why American culture is viewed as dominant in the context of international student engagement in higher education:
American culture is characterized more by diversity than by homogeneity, the American ideology of cultural homogeneity implies an American mindset that because Eurocentric culture are superior to others, people with different cultures should conform to the dominant monoculture canon and norms. This ideology essentially reveals that because Eurocentric culture is representative of the dominant culture in American society, American society values the knowledge and cultures of the dominant group as the model for other cultures and attributes to those who are unable or unwilling to fit the dominant culture a deficient identity.   Because American society is characterized by the American ideology of cultural homogeneity, ethnic and racial minority students are evaluated according to the dominant norms. (p. 379)
Hsieh (2007) conducted a narrative study to investigate a Chinese female international student “Li-Ling’s” experience in an American university.  In the study, Hsieh found that the American students’ ideology of homogeneity affected the Chinese international student by disempowering her in the classroom setting.
Hsieh reported Li-Ling’s story in the following excerpt from the study:
After studying in the United States for one year, Li-Ling enrolled in a university, where she came to acknowledge the difficulty in interacting with American students.  I experienced how American students interacted with international students, and I knew it’s hard for foreigners to be in American society.  Even now I still think it’s difficult for foreigners to be in American society.”  Li-Ling further added, “Mostly it’s my classmates thought I am stupid, I got most frustrated from them.  They made me did not want to go to class before.” Li-Ling’s comment made me recall that about half a year ago, she told me that she did not like going to school in the United States.  At that time, I was surprised at what she said because I had assumed that international students like her with sufficient proficiency in conversational English and studying in the United States for seven years should not have had difficulty in adjusting to American school systems.  Because Li-Ling was the only international student in her class and her American classmates always ignored her, she felt that she was isolated in the class.  The strong feeling of being considered stupid made Li-Ling struggle very hard to prove to other people that she is not stupid.  During the interviews, her constantly claiming with emotional intensity that she is not a stupid person demonstrates that she desperately struggled to be acknowledged as an intelligent person.
(pp. 380-382)
Hsieh’s (2007) research revealed a number of findings that have significant implications for international students in higher education.  Hsieh (2007) warned that educators in higher education should be cognizant of the “unequal power relationships” that exist between American and international students (pp. 390-391).  International students’ English proficiency is another factor that must considered, because international students voices are more difficult to hear and may result in unbalanced power relationships between teachers and students.  International students may also be at a lesser advantage in terms of being able to relate to peers when completing group projects, and may be relegated to marginalized roles within the group.  Cultural differences affect educational achievement, and how these diversities are handled in learning environments may require reform of policies and pedagogical/andrological strategies (Nieto, 2009).  According to Nieto, researchers and practitioners must consider cultural diversity because approaches to learning are typically based on the dominant culture in society.
Little research has been done on suppression and culture, although literature does exist suggests that suppression may fulfill a broader range of social functions (Butler, Lee, & Gross, 2007).  Butler, Lee, and Gross sought to discover whether the social consequences of emotional suppression are culture specific.  Their findings revealed that there was extensive cultural moderation of habitual suppression and its immediate consequences during social interaction.  Prior research had already established differential consequences of suppression between different cultural groups in other domains of functioning.  Butler et al. (2007) also found that suppression uniformly reduced emotional disclosure such as smiling, laughing, and affiliation during face-to-face interactions, regardless of cultural values.
Soto, Perez, Kim, Lee, and Minnick (2011) completed a cross-cultural study to discover if the habitual use of expressive suppression as an emotion regulation strategy was consistently linked to adverse outcomes, including psychological functioning.  Soto et al. explored the potential for negative health outcomes that could be associated with emotional suppression.  Additionally, they wanted to discover if negative health outcomes were dependent on cultural context, given differing cultural norms surrounding the value of suppressing emotional displays. They hypothesized that the negative associations between suppression and psychological functioning seen in European Americans would not be seen among members of East Asian cultures, in which emotional restraint is relatively encouraged over emotional expression.
According to Soto et al. (2011), “…research has confirmed that using suppression, either chronically or in experimental settings is consistently associated with a number of negative outcomes” (p. 1450).  These correlates include increased sympathetic arousal, decreased experience of positive emotions, increased experience of negative emotions, disturbed interpersonal interactions, increased reports of depressed mood, and decreased reports of well-being and life satisfaction (Butler et al., 2007; Gross & Levenson, 1993).  According to Soto et al. (2011), theoretically speaking, culture is a logical moderator to consider when examining effects related to emotional expression and emotion regulation.

Cultural Suppression and Indigenous Peoples

Smolicz (1983) analyzed Australian core values to assess whether they reflected, “Cultural sharing” as adopted from the British Empire, or perhaps, he postulated, they represented cultural suppression.  Specifically, he examined the origin of Australian values and the extent to which the people had accepted them.  Smolicz reflected on comments made by the chairperson of the Law Reform Commission, Justice Kirby.  According to Kirby, there was no doubting the influence of the English on Australian values.  Smolicz discussed ‘shared values’, and he considered the merits of scrutinizing Australian values to see if it was purposeful to delineate what was of pure British origin.  He deduced there would be little merit in doing so; even if the derivation of the values were British, it would be preferable not to regard them as the “private property” of one group.  According to Smolicz:
Labeling the over-arching values of the Australian society as British core values rather than shared values of the whole nation, is also unacceptable to ethnic minorities because it discounts the contribution of their own core values to the common wealth. (p. 28)
Smolicz (1983) asserted that ethnic values are ignored or have the tendency to disappear in the wake of values from the British Isles being accepted as legitimate.
Overall, Smolicz’s (1983) thesis supported the idea of cultural sharing versus cultural suppression.  Smolicz echoed Justice Kirby’s ethos, in so much as he substantiated the fact that Australian values are indeed shared.  He argued minority ethnic values do not necessarily need to be viewed as being in conflict with values of British origin.  He pointed to variants in culture, such as differences in languages result in variations in relationships, but this should influence rather than preclude or violate the sharing of societal values.  Smolicz offered several principles for successful cultural sharing:

  • Avoidance of the pernicious idea of permanent and inevitable domination of the political, economic and cultural life of the country by the ruling’ Anglo-Celtic’ group. Such ‘hegemony’ implies the continued existence of minority ethnicity (under the label of polytechnic society) in a state of perpetual servitude, and thus constitutes an ideal breeding ground for wound pride, strife and subversion.
  • Secondly, it acknowledges the need for the continual development of a system of shared values that would act as a cementing agent for Australian society and draw upon the cultural heritage of all contributing ethnic groups, as well as Australia’s own creative genius to transform and develop them in new ways.
  • Thirdly, it assumes the continued existence and growth of ethnic cultures including their linguistic, religious or familial cores, not in isolation in ethnic clusters, but supported by the structures of the state and available to Australians from all ethnic groups. Hence, both majority and minority ethnic cultures are developed in balance with the shared values, and for the benefit of all Australians within the framework of a unified and culturally democratic Australia. (p. 32)

The literature seems to imply a link between the history of imperialism and intervention from centralized bureaucratic/organizational control, which has negatively affected the mental health or wellbeing of individuals subjugated to such influence (Kirmayer, Simpson, & Cargo, 2003).  Kirmayer, Simpson, and Cargo investigated this phenomenon among a group of Canadian Aboriginal peoples with the intent of discovering an effective means of improving mental health outcomes of the individuals in the community.  According to Kirmayer et al., the consequences of controlling intervention can result in social problems, demoralization, depression, and a host of mental health issues.
Aboriginal people of Canada were once subjected to generations of cultural oppression as Euro-Canadian institutions imposed policies of forced assimilation (Kirmayer et al., 2003).  Missionary activities that focused on conversions involved suppression of existing religious beliefs and practices.  Trade and military alliances were conducted with no regard for Aboriginal cultural values or relationships.
The Bagot Commission, established by Governor General Sir Charles Bagot, issued a report in 1844 (Sage Chronicle of Canadian Aboriginal Policy, 1828 to 1876, n.d.).  The report insinuated Aboriginals were ‘half-civilized’ and in order for them to progress toward civilization, the people needed to be instilled with principles of industry and be formally educated (Kirmayer et al., 2003).  According to Kirmayer et al., the Davin Report (1879) further recommended aggressive civilization.  The Davin report was the impetus for instituting residential schools for Aboriginal children in Canada.
At one time, there were over 11,000 children in residential schools (Kirmayer et al., 2003).  Not all parents opposed the schools as they saw this as an opportunity for their children to obtain a formal education.  Intensive surveillance in the lives of the Aboriginal people advanced in the ensuing years by added regulation and more continued subversive policy making like the Indian Act of 1876.  This Act resulted in forced assimilation and imposed legal sanctions toward those in violation of these policies.
Mental health problems resulted from the consequences of cultural suppression and forced assimilation (Kirmayer et al., 2003).  The residential school experience was a major factor that led to psychological, social, and economic effects, where it disrupted families and communities.  According to Kirmayer et al., Aboriginals experienced losses in their ideologies for parenting and it disrupted their emotional response, devalued their sense of identity, as well as language traditions.  The people could no longer maintain their cultural continuity.  Individual and community initiatives were ‘central’ to the Aboriginal people’s endeavors to address the past injustices that had occurred due to the long history of colonialism that led to their circumstances.
Kirmayer et al. found:
Through individual and community-based initiatives as well as larger political and cultural processes, Aboriginal peoples in Canada are involved in their own healing traditions, repairing the ruptures and discontinuity in the transmission of traditional knowledge and values, and asserting their collective identity and power. (p. S15)
Healing began to take place as traditions that were displaced and activities that were suppressed by generations of Euro-Canadian incursion were revived (Kirmayer et al., 2003).  Language restoration and religious communal practices were reintroduced and integrated into family and community relationships.  The Aboriginal people also established legal claims to lands and reestablished self-governance, by which they soon re-asserted cultural traditions.


Cultural suppression appears to be a construct that is not well defined in the literature, and when mentioned, it is inconsistently treated.  Historically, imperialism has led to the suppression of indigenous people groups, and Native Americans provide a stark example how cultures are affected when there is cultural advantage.  Indian Boarding schools were created as a means to quell Native American culture, and historically, their lived experiences provide concrete evidence in understanding cultural suppression.  Clearly, there is potential for imperialism to affect institutional organization and how universities in the United States are developed.  International students may not be as overtly affected by cultural suppression as were the Native Americans; however it is important to assess the prevalence of it as they are in increasing numbers choosing to study in the U.S.

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