International students thriving at Aarhus University

International students at Aarhus University are doing just as fine as their Danish fellow students. Especially if they have a good social network, are not subjected to discrimination and have good English skills.

2016.01.08 | Charlotte Juul Sørensen

International students at Aarhus University are doing just as fine as their Danish fellow students recording to new research. Photo: AU Foto

It is easy to feel stressed and insecure when you leave your home country in order to study abroad for a long or short period of time. However, a new study now suggests that international students at Aarhus University are thriving just as much as their Danish fellow students. 

In the study, the 129 international students - among other things - had to answer a questionnaire which measured their level of stress and their self-esteem. These are factors which, according to international studies, are affected when people study abroad. But in Aarhus, the foreign students are apparently doing just as fine as the 111 Danish students with whom they were compared.

“I’m surprised that the students are not feeling more stressed. This may be because we’re dealing with a resourceful group of people who have made an active choice to study abroad,” says Simon Ozer, a PhD student at the Department of Psychology and Behavioural Sciences, who is responsible for the study.

It is the first Danish study carried out on this topic, and according to Simon Ozer, it offers a preliminary indication of how things are - one of the reasons being that the study includes only a limited number of students. For further details on the study, see the fact box at the bottom.

Social support and no discrimination result in well-being
The study also showed that the students who had good social networks and were not subjected to discrimination were doing the best. Both in terms of stress and self-esteem and also in terms of a third factor which was only measured in connection with international students i.e. how well the students navigate on a practical level in Danish society and at the university.

“Unfortunately, the study does not show whether the good social networks and the low level of discrimination are actual causes of the high levels of well-being. It just shows that there is a connection, and it probably goes both ways. If you have low self-esteem, you don’t approach that many people, which results in a poor social network which may in turn cause low self-esteem,” says Simon Ozer.

On a general level, the foreign students appeared to have poorer social networks than the Danish students, and this comes as no surprise to Simon Ozer. Foreign students have just left their networks at home and are in the process of building new networks. In contrast, it is surprising that despite this, foreign students seem to thrive just as much as the Danish students. He believes that this is yet another sign that we are dealing with very resourceful young people.

As for discrimination, the study generally reported this to be at a very low level. On a scale from 1 to 5, where 1 was no discrimination and 5 was a lot, the level of discrimination reported by the foreign students corresponded to an average of 1,6.

English has a practical significance
The students’ English skills are also linked to their well-being, but only in relation to their ability to navigate in society and at the university. The English skills did not affect the students’ stress levels and self-esteem - most likely because all students had a relatively good command of English and were thereby capable of forming relationships with their fellow students.

The students’ Danish skills did not form part of the study, but Simon Ozer’s experiences from interviews and foreign student teaching suggest that these skills are not that important.

“The international students enjoy learning some Danish, but they don’t feel that they learn enough to be able to actually use what they know, as they are only here for a short period of time,” says Simon Ozer.

Culture and values of limited significance
The last focus area of the study was the students’ orientation towards culture and values. Here, the study showed that international students who held on to their ethnic culture, but who were also open towards the Danish culture, did better in terms of the practical adaptation. It also showed that students whose values were similar to those of the Danish students did better than those with different values.

Overall, culture and values had a far lower impact on the students’ adaptation than Simon Ozer had expected.

“This also suggests that there is an inclusive student environment in Aarhus. There might be a subculture among international students in which they feel that there is room for diversity,” he says.

Facts about the study

The study was carried out by Simon Ozer and a group of Danish and international students in connection with a specific course.

The participants of the study were found through Facebook and the students’ networks.

The 129 international students taking part in the study came from 35 different countries - 108 from Europe, 11 from North America, five from Asia, four from South America and one from Africa.

To systematically select participants for such a study is a challenging task, and thus the study is a so-called “convenience study” where the sample consists of people who are easy to reach.

The study shows connections between the different factors, but does not determine cause and effect.

Almost 45,000 students attend Aarhus University. Approximately 10% are international students studying in Denmark for long or short periods of time (2014 numbers).

The scientific article is published here:
Ozer, S. (2015): Predictors of international students' psychological and sociocultural adjustment to the context of reception while studying at Aarhus University, Denmark. Scandinavian Journal of Psychology, 56(6), 717-725.

For further information, please contact:

PhD student Simon Ozer
Tel:                 45 8716 6176



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