A Reflective Study on the Issues of International Students’ Acculturation and Its Coping Strategies: A Systematic Review

Document Type : Scientific - Research


1 PhD Student in Higher Education Management, Department of Educational Administration and Planning, Faculty of Psychology and Education, Allameh Tabataba’i University, Tehran, Iran.

2 Full Professor, Department of Educational Administration and Planning, Faculty of Psychology and Education, Allameh Tabataba’i University, Tehran, Iran.

3 Associate Professor, Department of Educational Administration and Planning, Faculty of Psychology and Education, Allameh Tabataba’i University, Tehran, Iran.



Objective: The internationalization of higher education, the increase in educational migration, and consequently the mutual influence of cultures on a global scale, as well as the expansion of intercultural interactions among native and international students, entail a bilateral transformation and reshaping of cultural norms at individual, group, and societal levels, commonly referred to as acculturation—a multidimensional process representing a shared chapter between two cultures. Therefore, understanding the acculturation process of international students, particularly their adaptation mechanisms and coping strategies regarding social, cultural, and academic challenges, as well as establishing a balance between intrinsic and extrinsic factors while living and studying in the host country, is perceived as a significant issue. In this regard, the present study, recognizing the neglect of comprehensive and precise exploration of the dimensions of this issue and aiming to achieve a deeper insight into the prevalent themes and concepts in the field of international students’ acculturation and its developmental trajectory, systematically reviews the literature in this domain over a forty-year period (from the inception of studies in this field until July 2023), in order to contribute to the theoretical advancement of this field.
Materials and Methods: In order to examine studies related to the acculturation process of international students, an annual publication trend of these studies, visual analysis of journals, countries, and the intellectual structure of researchers in this field were investigated through a tripartite analysis comprising bibliometric analysis, scientometrics, and thematic analysis, along with the utilization of data visualization software (VOSviewer). This was carried out to examine the boundaries of knowledge, map the scientific landscape, visually identify thematic and conceptual clusters, extract the main themes of this scientific field, classify them into primary and secondary categories, and ultimately conduct a final analysis. In this comprehensive review, a combination approach was employed to identify studies within this domain and minimize errors and biases, adhering to the criteria and guidelines of the PRISMA protocol. Accordingly, the systematic selection process of studies in the investigated domain proceeded through four stages: Identification, Screening, Eligibility, and Inclusion. The qualitative assessment of the present research was conducted by employing the Scimago Journal Ranking (SJR) tool for scientific journals, focusing exclusively on articles in English and pertinent to the issue or issues concerning the acculturation process of international students in peer-reviewed international journals indexed in the Web of Science Core Collection. Additionally, concerning the qualitative assessment of the final selected articles, the viewpoints of two external expert reviewers in this field, who were not members of the research team, were also incorporated.
Discussion and Conclusion: The findings revealed an upward trend in the publication of studies in this field at the international level, indicating researchers' inclination worldwide toward this research domain. The examination of the findings at the journal level not only elucidated the interdisciplinary nature of this subject but also revealed that research attention in this domain is largely influenced by national policies of countries towards the internationalization of higher education. Furthermore, the examination of countries' results also indicates the dispersion of research in this scientific field across all countries worldwide, with the largest share attributed to developed countries. Visual analysis of the literature using co-occurrence of terms method, along with trend analysis of research on the acculturation of international students, reflects the key topics of interest to researchers in this field. The results of the investigation into issues regarding the acculturation of international students in global research were categorized into six main clusters, namely: global citizenship and intercultural competence in education, the adjustment of international students and their individual, health-related, and psychological challenges during the educational transition period, resilience in multicultural environments, academic performance, cultural competence and capacity of international students in intercultural education, global experiences and international student interactions, migration, and employment. Moreover, the findings regarding the coping strategies of these students with acculturation issues and challenges were classified based on the thematic analysis approach into five main themes, namely: self-direction, networking, professional development, cultural interaction, and social support. Ultimately, the recommendations of this research were presented to higher education experts, policymakers, and research planners of the country to adopt a novel approach in decision-making and policy-making models in the realm of internationalization of higher education, setting new research priorities, and allocating budgetary resources accordingly.