Document Type



Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Curriculum and Instruction

First Advisor's Name

Eric Dwyer

First Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Chair

Second Advisor's Name

James Burns

Second Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Third Advisor's Name

Kang Yen

Third Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member

Fourth Advisor's Name

Teresa Lucas

Fourth Advisor's Committee Title

Committee Member


ESL, cross-culture study, international education, STEM education, Chinese international students

Date of Defense



Chinese international students’ difficulties in adjusting to the U.S. classrooms has long been overlooked. They have been stereotyped as not experiencing any problems as a result of their excellence at all levels of education, which also implies that they have been succeeding at handling cross-cultural issues. Research which focuses on Chinese international students are usually generated in the area of second language learning or pedagogical methods, Chinese international students’ cross-cultural experience has not been fully explored. The present study was hence conducted to fill the literature gap. Its results could lead to an improvement of Chinese international EFL students’ studying abroad experience, as well as provide directions for possible future studies. The study investigated the research question: how does a group of eight Chinese international EFL students studying STEM disciplines in doctoral programs at a large public research university make meaning of their cross-cultural classrooms/lab setting experiences?

The study is a qualitative case study. Participants were recruited via purposeful snowball sampling. An interpersonal, semi-structured interview was used for data collection, and guidelines provided by Smith et al. (2009) were adopted for data analysis. The results show that all eight participants have been experiencing culture-shock since they arrived in the U.S., and they held many erroneous assumptions about studying in the U.S.. Their major difficulties were generated by adjusting to the U.S. classroom culture and using/understanding cultural English. Causes of their cross-cultural experience could be traced to differences between the Chinese and the U.S. curricula and pedagogical methods; and the teacher centered, textbook oriented teaching methods adopted in their Chinese schools for English teaching. Besides, since most of the participants were top students when they were in China, considering the demand for academic excellence in the Chinese culture, participants’ eagerness to maintain/obtain academic accomplishments severed the negative part of their cross-cultural experience.

On the basis of my findings, I recommend re-examining (and corresponding change) of the curricula, avoiding the expert blind spot while teaching, and a change in schools in China regarding its English teaching method. However, because this is a qualitative case study, when facing a different group of students (other than my participants), these suggestions should be applied selectively.







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