International students face various difficulties when they move and adjust to a new environment. It is reported that many of international students have a homesick and a low level of contentment in their current lives. Several studies have showed that engaging in the host nation relationship reduce a symptom of homesickness and also enhance students' quality of lives; however, lack of language skills often impede international students' willingness to make a new relationship. This study expects that volunteer work will help international students to cope with difficulties in two ways: a volunteer work will offer a good chance to have a social connection in Canada. And also volunteer work will lead international students to feel satisfied with them. To test volunteering effects on international student, half of the participants will engage in the volunteer work, remaining the half students as a control group. Both group of participations will be asked to complete the questionnaire twice, before participating the volunteer work and after they finish the volunteer work session. Shin and Abel's homesickness and contentment scale (1999) will be used to measure and analyze the effect of volunteering work on students. If the hypothesis is supported, it will be beneficial for both international students and the social community. Furthermore, if the volunteer programs are specially designed for the international students, the benefits will be larger.
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Studying abroad has been regarded as a challenge, a good chance to experience cultural differences, and also an opportunity to broaden their knowledge; so, many university students are willing to go abroad when they have chances. In virtue of development in transportation from countries to countries and students' enthusiasm to study abroad, the number of international students is increasing. Between the 2005 and 2007 academic years the number of US students studying in other countries rose almost 9%. And the number of international students studying in the US rose 10% during the same time (Institute of International Education, 2007). As this trend of students studying abroad is expected to continue, further researches concerning the psychological effects on students should be needed.
Psychological effects of change and transition of international students
The transition to university means that students need to change their old routines into a new environment including the need to adapt to the social demands. In addition, not only they struggle with adjusting to unfamiliar conditions, they also need to fulfill academic aspects as students. International students face more difficulties than home-based students when they move from their country of origin to a new environment. The most common obstacles that international students experience are uncertainty about role expectations in the new country, language barriers, and social difficulties, which can hamper a smooth adjustment to various situations (Cheng, Leong, & Geist, 1993).
One main component of culture shock that international students experience is homesickness, which is a longing and desire for familiar environments and can sometimes take the form of depressive symptoms (Shin & Abel, 1999). Its effects are typically negative and include loneliness, sadness, and adjustment difficulties (Poyrazli & Lopez, 2007). People who have a homesick characteristically show poor decision-making, studying skills, and anxiety toward social situations, and otherwise withdraw from enjoyable activities (Messina, 2007). It is a common emotion experienced by many first year college students (Messina, 2007); but it seems to affect to international students more intensely (Zheng & Berry, 1991).
According to Cheng's research (1993), language difficulties are one of the most important challenges for international students (Cheng, Leong, & Geist, 1993). Although, many of the students have chosen to go abroad for their studies, especially when their countries do not offer sufficient academic opportunities, they often have anxiety and worry about understanding and interpreting the new language. This difficulty with using foreign languages often disrupts international students to achieve their academic goals, and as consequence they seem to have more intensified homesickness. Fisher & Hood (1987) set a 'job strain' model of homesickness, which occurs when the demands of an environment are high but the person's perceived control is low. Consistent with this, homesick students reported lower levels of perceived control over academic requirements than non-homesick students did (Fisher, 1987).
People perceive and identify themselves in the social context; therefore feeling a sense of social connectedness is crucial in a way of perceiving and evaluating themselves. For instance, the research from Westwood and Barker (1990) shows that connections between host individuals and international students have a positive correlation with increased overall academic achievement and a lesser likelihood of withdrawing from academic programs (Westwood & Barker, 1990). Several other studies also support this idea that social connectedness is an important component which plays a crucial role in the psychological well-being of international students (Ward & Kennedy, 1993) and it has been found to directly improve happiness. Likewise, the lack of social connectedness was shown to be a strong factor of stress when adjusting the new environment among international students (Yeh & Inose, 2003). Student who leave their countries become disconnected from their old personal relationships and social contacts. After all, these losses can be intensely stressful for international students as they begin the search for new friends.
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Main effects of volunteering
Numerous studies reveal various effects of volunteering on mental and physical health. The major sequences supported by many studies are these that volunteering promotes health and well-being because volunteering leads people to both hedonic well-being and eudemonic well-being. When engaging in social activities or hobbies, one experiences hedonic well-being-just feeling good. Current research by psychologists on hedonic well-being indicates that "good feelings alter people's bodily systems" (Fredrickson et al., 2005, p. 678). For example, Ostir et al. (2000) have found that positive affect increases immune function. And several longitudinal studies have demonstrated that frequent positive mood predicts psychological growth (Fredrickson et al. 2005), lower levels of cortisol, resistance to rhinoviruses, and even how long people live (Danner, Snowdon, & Freiesen 2001; Ostir, Markides, Black, & Goodwin 2000).
Eudaimonic well-being from volunteering are resulted when people feel that they matter in the world. Thoits (2001) argued that social roles provide status, role-related privileges, and ego gratification, and that identities associated with these roles give individuals meaning and purpose; therefore adding roles will improve psychological well-being. So the effects of volunteering on well-being should be strongest among those who have fewest other sources of well-being, such as social ties and social support. Musick et al. (1999) found that volunteering led to better physical and mental health among those with low social interaction by preventing them to be alienated and isolated.
Main aim of the current study
Several studies show that international students preferred friendships with host nationals, desired more contact with host nationals (Hayes & Lin, 1994). International students who had more contact with host countries reported higher levels of satisfaction, less homesickness, and less loneliness in their study abroad experience (Ward & Kennedy, 1993). Moreover, international students who had more contact with host nationals were able to adapt better to life overseas, had fewer social difficulties, improved communication competence (Ward & Kennedy, 1993). The fact that, however, poor level of language skills make many international students to have difficulties in making host national relationship (Yamazaki, Taira, Shun-ya, & Yokoyama, 1997). Therefore, it seems that spoken English skills are a prominent factor that affects the development of intercultural friendships and in many cases linguistic knowledge inhibits people from getting to know each other.
In this sense, volunteering work are expected to enhance international students' quality of lives by giving them an opportunity to have more contact with host nationals and helping to regain self-efficacy that was lowered by sense of inadequacy. Also experiencing hedonic well-being during volunteer work would elevate their physical and mental health, that attribute to reduce the symptoms of homesickness.
This study will be conducted by a between-subject experimental design. The independent variable will be a participation in volunteer work, either participating or not participating. Furthermore, the dependent variable of the study will be a level of homesickness and contentment in the Likert-scale, measured with Shin and Abel's (1999) homesickness and contentment (HC) scale.
Prospective international students, granted admission to University of Western Ontario, will be contacted from the residence list prepared by the International Residence Office. The international students, ages from 18 to 24 and regardless of sex, will be contacted by e-mail inviting them to take part in the study, and participants interested in the study will be voluntarily recruited. The e-mail will be sent out in July, two months prior to the commencement of the new academic year because decisions about residence are made at the end of May. Each letter will be accompanied by a copy of the consent form described the volunteer working for Amateur Paralympic.
Prospective participants will be divided into two groups by counterbalancing, referring the score of following scale. Homesickness and contentment will be measured with Shin and Abel's (1999) homesickness and contentment (HC) scale designed to measure homesickness, loneliness, depression, satisfaction, and self efficacy scale for both groups before participating the volunteer work. Group 1 will start volunteer working from August to April, and group 2 will be assign to next year's session, remaining as a control group. Second test, measuring homesickness and contentment, will be conducted in May, using the previous one.
Independent Variables. In this study, volunteering is defined as taking actions that potentially provide some service to one or more other people or to the community without being paid. Most volunteer work will be consisted of preparation works for the Paralympic, which does not need higher language ability.
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Dependent Variable. Level of homesickness and contentment measured with Sin and Abel's homesickness and contentment (HC) scale. The HC scale is an instrument consisting of two 10-item subscales measuring homesickness and contentment. For the homesickness subscale respondents indicated on a 5 point Likert-type scale ranging from "very often" to "never" the extent to which they "want to go back to their own country," "write emails to family and friends back home," "feel homesick," and "miss family and friends back home." Current scale reliability was a=.76. For the contentment subscale respondents indicated on a 5 point Likert scale ranging from "very often" to "never" the extent to which they "feel lonely," "feel depressed," or "feel that nobody understands them." Current scale reliability was a=.90.
Procedure. Participants will be asked to complete three study components: A) the first laboratory session, B) the volunteer work, and C) the second laboratory session.
The two laboratory sessions will be held at the Wemple 123 at King's University College. The first laboratory session will be held between July 13th and 29th in 2013, and the second session will be held from May 1st to 16th in 2014. During the both laboratory sessions they will be asked to complete the surveys measuring HC score. Each laboratory meeting will take approximately 20 minutes.
Participants will be divided into two groups by counterbalancing based on HC score. Group 1 will participate in volunteer working as an assistant for the Paralympic at the Community Health Center in London, every Saturday for two hours from August 3rd to April 29th. And the other group will be remained as a control group. First day of volunteer working will be a training session that participants learn a basic knowledge about what they are going to do. As an assistant in Paralympic, they will prepare the Paralympic from making publicity booklets to working at the gym.
Analysis plan and expected results
For this study, t test for independent groups will be used to analyze the effects of volunteer work on the level of homesickness and contentment. Figure 1 presents the expected results. Higher HC score means intense homesickness and low level of contentment. It is expected that both groups of students will be less likely to have a homesick and satisfied with their current lives as time flows. As hypothesized, participants performing volunteer work will be shown less homesickness, and also will be satisfied with their lives comparing the control group.
Figure 1. International students' predicted homesickness and contentment scores on the tests.
Other possible outcomes that would not support the hypothesis can be resulted from following factors. First, volunteer work can be another burden to international student, which would make them feel tired. This physical tiredness can lead them to suffer more homesickness and feel less satisfaction. Second, international student can confront difficulties with adjusting in the new volunteer work group and feel alienated and lonely.
If volunteer work can significantly reduce homesickness and enhance satisfaction of international student, it will be beneficial for both the surrounding community and international students themselves. And further effort to make more specialized volunteering programs for foreign student will maximize the positive effects.