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Fit to belong: activity and acculturation of Chinese students.

Amidst the globalization of Canadian universities is an ever-expanding population of international students. Internationalization and international recruitment has opened Canadian university campuses to diverse student populations. According to the Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada (AUCC, 2007), more than 83,000 international students study in Canada from over 200 countries and nations, with the largest cohort from China.

In the cross-cultural transition (from one's home to the host culture), international students can experience a sense of loss, rejection, and confusion in their new surroundings. The physiological and psychological reactions to the stresses of culture shock are numerous; decreased functioning of the immune system (Winkelman, 1974), and depression and anxiety that contribute to mental illness (Poyrazli & Grahame, 2007). International students face the complex task of adapting, or acculturating, to their new cultural environment.

Acculturation is "the process of adjusting to a different culture" (Tsai, Chentsova-Dutton & Wong, 2002, p. 42). Acculturation to a new cultural environment is not a uniform experience. Rather, as Berry (2003) detailed in his bidimensional (relating to both home and host culture) acculturation framework, newcomers embraced one of four modes of acculturation; (a) integration, (b) assimilation, (c) separation, or (d) marginalization. In contrast, a unidimensional view of acculturation equated acculturation, ethnocentrically, with assimilation in the sense that it is based on the assumption that newcomers desired to adopt the mainstream cultural values even in the expense of shedding their own culture (of. Allison, 1979; Hosper, Klazinga & Stronks, 2007). Berry's (2003) bidimensional framework allowed for a myriad of acculturation outcomes; positive, negative, or non-significant views of the host culture in relation to the newcomer's own cultural values. Assimilation referred to shedding the home culture to adopt the new cultural values of the mainstream. Integration referred to acculturation by maintaining the home culture while also adopting some new cultural values. Separation referred to rejection of the new cultural values of the mainstream and instead maintaining only the home cultural values. Marginalization referred to maintaining neither the cultural values of the home culture, nor the cultural values of the new host culture.

Physical activity holds the potential for easing some of the challenges of cross-cultural transition, with claims that physical activity can increase newcomers' physical, mental, and social health (see Bailey, 2005; Guerin, Diiriye, Corrigan & Guerin, 2003). As Amara et al. (2004) described, physical activity participation can increase fitness levels, enhance self-confidence, foster tolerance and social skills, while building feelings of belonging in a new community. However, in acculturating to a new environment, there are many barriers to achieving the benefits of physical activity: loneliness, language difficulties, and challenges in "fitting in" to the new community (Schinke, Gauthier, Dubuc & Crowder, 2007, Schinke, Michel, et al., 2006). Individuals must overcome participation barriers in order to reap the benefits which, the researchers theorized, could affect the individual's acculturation process.

Past researchers examined acculturation based on a person's certain cultural values and choices, for example, marriage (e.g., acceptance or rejection of marrying outside the home culture), entertainment, and friendships (see Ryder, Alden & Paulhus' (2000) Vancouver Index of Acculturation). In the context of the current project, the researchers sought to understand if physical activity participation, despite its barriers, was an expression of acculturation, and how physical activity could impact the transition of Chinese students to a mid-size university campus.


An interpretative (Hermeneutic) phenomenological framework was implemented by emphasizing the understanding of the phenomenon in the context that it is occurring (Wojnar & Swanson, 2007), distinguished from other types of phenomenologicai research (e.g., descriptive phenomenology). In the interpretive phenomenological framework, the first author adhered to the recommendations of Ahem (2005), through the use of a bracketing interview and indigenous coding, to consider the participants' cultures, practices, and communication and to understand how her own understandings, values, and culture were part of her inherent interpretations.

Bracketing interview. Bracketing is a method of developing mindfulness about how researchers' roles and communication can affect the research (Ahem, 2005). The bracketing interview occurred prior to beginning the interviews with the Chinese students. The first author discussed her own cultural assumptions and each interview question with the bracketeer, a Chinese colleague (the fifth author), who suggested appropriate revisions to the interview questions. For example, questions were phrased to allow ample opportunity for participants to talk openly and provide their own interpretations of terms such as 'physical activity' and 'sport'.

Indigenous coding. Chinese cultural perspective. A Chinese colleague translated the interview questions and helped researchers consider key phrases, terms and cultural practices that Patton (2002) noted were important in sensitizing to perspectives that were indigenous to the context of working with cross-cultural participants. For example, the terms huaquio (Chinese sojourner), huaren (Chinese people), huayi (people of Chinese descent) and tong ru (blending in the new community) were noted as relative to the current research context.

To further consider how Chinese culture may impact the study, the first author reflected on (a) her own experiences in China, (b) her interactions with Chinese students, colleagues, and friends in Canada, and, (c) her understanding Chinese-Canadian cultural difference relative to intercultural communication. The first author's awareness of Chinese culture was enhanced by her experiences in China prior to beginning the current study. For 3-months, the first author lived and studied with Chinese students as a Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA) university exchange participant in southwest China, followed by a return to China's capital region for 4-months as an English and Canadian culture middle school teacher. Barnes (1996) noted that spending time in a culture is imperative to build the skills necessary to engage in intercultural research. The first author's time in China was complemented by Mandarin language training and work with Chinese students in Canada as part of a university's international department, serving to help build the first author's language and cross-cultural skills that were useful in the context of the current study. Significant contact with Chinese students in Canada could increase cultural awareness and reduce ethnocentric tendencies, as advocated by Papadopoulos (2006). Meeting with two Chinese colleagues (the fifth author and an employee in the university's international office) in preparing for the research also helped the first author sensitize to expected roles, communication patterns, and traditions (see also Halcomb, Gholizadeh, DiGiacomo, Philips & Davidson, 2007).

The researchers prepared a Culture-Specific Protocol for meeting with Chinese participants to consider Chinese value dimensions before beginning the interviews. For example, Chinese value dimensions included a large power distance (i.e. a student's respect for a higher ranking authority figure, such as a professor) that implied that inequality between the researcher and the student participants was both expected and desired by the participants. To account for this value difference, the researcher should lead the discussion, probing for clarity and elaboration, while the student would be expected to follow the researcher's instructions. Further, the researcher should shake hands with the participant but maintain physical distance by having a desk separate them. Singelis (1994) detailed the important rules of status and respect expected from Asian participants; such as noting that a relaxed attitude and informal dress can convey a message of lack of respect and unclear roles in many Asian cultures, including Chinese. A collectivist value, described by Hofstede (2001), implied that relationships were more important than tasks while individualists often prioritized the task at hand (e.g., completing the interview). In consideration of collectivism, rapport building was essential at the onset of the interview. The first author opened with a discussion of her own experiences in China and allowed free discussion with participants prior to the formal interview questions. The topics included within the free discussion included participants' interests in Canada, their arrival and past travel experiences, and their studies. The researchers did consider that not all Chinese students in Canada are collectivist oriented (Garrott, 2005), but still committed to the culturally-sensitive protocol to minimize the possibility of offence. The Chinese value dimension, strong uncertainty avoidance, implied that Chinese cultures can be more comfortable with rules and uneasy in ambiguous situations (Hofstede, 2001). To account for this value dimension, the researchers offered a clear description of how the interview would progress including the expectations, duration, dissemination plans, and the role of participants.

Selection of Participants

Fourteen Chinese students from a mid-size university in Northeastern Ontario, Canada, participated in the study, including 10 students from the English for Academic Preparation program (a program aimed to prepare students with language skills necessary for university-level study in English) and 4 undergraduate students, aged 18-23, who had been in Canada between 1-3 years. The researchers identified 9 male and 5 female participants from cities throughout China; Chengdu (3), Hanzhou (1), Jiangmen (1), Kaiping (I), Macao (1), Shanghai (3), Shenzhen (1), Xian (2), and Zhuzhou (1). The choice of recruiting solely Chinese students was purposeful; as per the findings of Berry (2003), researchers who broadened their terms of study to include Asians or minorities were faulted for missing important within-group differences. The participants took part in a variety of physical activities, such as basketball and soccer, with Chinese and sometimes Canadian teammates, while others tried 'Canadian' outdoor activities including skiing, snowboarding, skating, and hockey.

The Semi-Structured Interview

The first author met with the participants to engage in semi-structured interviews once ethical clearance was obtained from her university's institutional review board. The researchers designed the interview questions to probe about the students' physical activity experiences in China and Canada and their transition to Canada (see Table 1). Questions were translated into Chinese and back-translated for accuracy of meaning with the translator, according to the method used by Hosper, Klazinga and Stronks (2007). The students were emailed the English and Chinese questions in advance, as per recommendations of Creswell (1998). The purpose of the Chinese translated interview questions was to provide greater clarity to the participants; however, the interview and follow-up were conducted in English with the support of a Chinese (Mandarin) translator for clarification purposes.

Data Analyses

Data was analyzed according to guidelines from Christofi and Thompson (2007) and Creswell (1998). First, the interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed verbatim by the first author and then reviewed for accuracy of words. Second, the first author selected important statements from each description using the tools available in the NVivo8 qualitative research software. Search tools in NVivo8 allowed data to be examined in different ways (e.g., through the coding stripes, through visual models, and through word queries) to effectively identify thematic patterns and enhance the reliability of the findings. Third, important statements were separated into "clusters of meaning", as termed by Creswell (1998), and provisional themes were identified for each cluster group (termed "node" in the NVivo8 software). A visual representation of the themes was created through the use of figure representing the provisional themes and subthemes in relation to the reasons that Chinese students participate in physical activity. Fourth, the themes, with associated anecdotes, and the figure were presented to the Chinese participants and a Chinese colleague for their review and feedback. The provisional themes were re-considered and sub-themes re-positioned according to the consensus from the feedback. Two participants were especially helpful in the initial coding phase, offering their perspectives on the appropriate terminology that applied to certain themes. The return to the Chinese participants and assistance of a Chinese colleague enhanced trustworthiness.

Trustworthiness. Trustworthiness, as Sparkes and Smith (in press) have detailed, must be built on criteria that is appropriate relative to current study context, rather than according to a pre-determined criteria list. In the current study context, the researchers applied Cho and Trent's (2006) transactional validity. The researchers also employed Maxwell's (2002) validity criteria to offer an explanation of the phenomenon.

Transactional validity, according to Cho and Trent (2006), refers to the accuracy and consensus in describing and interpreting a phenomenon, based on the interactions between the researchers and the participants. Relevant to the commitment to transactional validity are two of Maxwell's (2002) validity checks: descriptive and interpretive validity. Descriptive validity, according to Maxwell (2002), referred to the accuracy of the data. Based on the trustworthiness checks utilized earlier on by Schinke, Michel, Gauthier, Pickard, Danielson, Peltier, et al. (2006), the interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim with an additional step comparing the transcription to the audio recording and correcting or adding missing words to enhance the descriptive validity. A Chinese colleague was available for the interviews to provide additional translation of words as needed. To enhance interpretive validity, as Maxwell (2002) detailed, the researchers needed to check for accuracy in the interpretation of the meaning of the words and behaviours of the Chinese participants. The bracketing interview and indigenous coding were steps in the preparation phase to increase interpretive validity. The use of bracketing within phenomenological research was not, as Le Vasseur (2003) and Yegdich (1999) asserted a confirmation of scientific rigor and objectivity. On the contrary, bracketing served to acknowledge subjectivity, which can improve the trustworthiness of qualitative research when, as Schinke and da Costa (2000) noted, the researchers accounted for culture in understanding of the worldview of the participants. Cross-cultural interviews can pose a challenge to the interpretative validity since the researchers' own culture can affect how meanings were interpreted. The researchers committed to building rapport and reducing the barriers to cross-cultural understanding, by implementing cultural-sensitivity in the research methods through the Culture-Specific Protocol. The return to the participants for what Sparkes and Smith (2009) termed "member checking" was appropriate in the current context to verify that the researchers' interpretations of the Chinese students' words fairly and accurately reflected their intended meanings. The researchers presented the observed themes with the examples of the participant statements that were linked to each theme and sub-theme. Two participants provided substantial feedback in the initial coding phase (e.g., one suggested that the term 'belonging' be used to refer to the group of statements that the researchers had identified as separation, lack of group, and accessibility and information). The participant noted that the sub-themes expressed the students' desire to belong to a group, either a Chinese group or a new Canadian group.

The researchers addressed theoretical validity by situating the observed themes and subthemes within Berry's (2003) bidimensional acculturation framework to seek the level of congruency. By reviewing the themes with the participants and Chinese colleague, the researchers were able to assess whether the results functioned as an explanation of the physical activity and acculturation phenomenon. Further, the researchers detailed how their explanations fit in relation to other researchers' observations about cross-cultural transition and belonging. Finally, in assessing Maxwell's (2002) generalizability, the researchers aimed to gain an in-depth understanding of Chinese students in relation to their physical activity and acculturation experience in a small urban city university context; however, the results were not generalizable to other contexts or populations.

Results and Discussion

The researchers compiled a database comprised of 86 pages of double-spaced transcriptions, from which the researchers identified 261 relevant anecdotes. The researchers identified four main themes related to Chinese students' participation in physical activity: (a) communicating, (b) Canadian environment, (c) belonging, and (d)fitness and fun. The researchers contextualized each theme arid sub-theme with examples of verbatim participant statements, then situated the themes within Berry's (2003) bidimensional acculturation framework (see Table 2).


Communicating with others was a primary motivation for Chinese students to choose to participate in physical activity and sport. Three sub-themes were identified: (a) improving English, (b) Canadian culture, and (c) make new friends. Participants made broad comments about the usefulness of sport, including "Sometimes people want to talk but it's hard to find out how to start a conversation. You talk about what? Sports is a good thing to start a conversation." Sport was a catalyst to increasing communication and helped participants develop their English language skills and learn about Canadian culture.

In the improving English sub-theme, the researchers captured how participants used sport as a venue to practice their English skills by communicating with native speakers and other English-speaking international students. Through physical activity, the participants described how they learned new vocabulary about the sport itself, such as this participant's comment, "When I play soccer there are only 1-2 Chinese students. I like that ... because we can talk and I can learn some special words on soccer ... shoot, pass, nice", while another commented "I learn lots of words and vocabulary about the body specific to weightlifting, like I learn what is core, triceps, biceps." The participants learned sport specific words as well as colloquial expressions. As a participant said, "I can make conversation with them (Canadians). I can hear them use native speech and slang words." The ability to improve English skills via physical activity was considered a positive outcome, as Campbell and Zeng (2006) and Kuo and Roysircar (2004) observed, since language difficulties were a major stressor for international students.

The Canadian culture sub-theme accounted for the way communication about and through physical activity helped participants learn Canadian ways of life, social norms and values and practices. One participant elaborated,
   If you don't know people and you don't have anything in common then
   you don't how or what to talk. Then after you have some friends
   that you can play with some sports, then you can start to talk a
   lot. And then when you talk, you are not always going to focus on
   sports, you will talk something else, right. So, it help you to
   know Canada.

Communicating about Canadian culture was also important in helping Chinese students meet new people and make new friends, especially new Canadian friends. One participant described it this way, "Now that I play, I learn more about Canadian culture. I know how to make friends with Canadians and I can talk about sports." The friendships created through physical activities extended beyond the activity and helped participants enjoy their new Canadian surroundings.

Through the communication theme, participants used physical activity to help improve their English and learn more about Canadian culture, which in turn assisted them in making new Canadian friends and in integrating or assimilating into their new Canadian host society. The observations aligned with those of Stodolska and Alexandris (2004) who noted that participation in sport and recreation was a convenient way for newcomers to establish initial contacts and create friendships with the mainstream population. Bailey (2005) described how newcomers used physical activity to promote social inclusion, role learning, and increased social interactions. The desire and ability to make Canadian friends through sport is significant since Chinese students have difficulty making friends with local students (Campbell & Zeng, 2006).

The researchers noted that by increasing communication through physical activity participation, most of the Chinese participants were acculturating via an integration mode and not assimilation, since there was a fairly equal desire to learn about Canada while maintaining the home cultural values. Integration is related to positive health outcomes including better psychological and social adaptation (Ward & Kennedy, 2001). Chinese participants who used sport to increase their social interactions with Canadians were expected to have fewer adjustment difficulties since, as Chapdelaine and Alexitch (2004) explained, increasing interactions with the host community helped students learn implicit social rules and improved interactions with the host population. The communication sub-themes were interrelated; as participants improved their English, they could better understand Canadian culture, and in turn make new friends in Canada.

Canadian Environment

The Canadian environment, both the natural landscape and facilities, encouraged participation. Through sports, participants learned about Canadian culture, people, and lifestyles. Three sub-themes emerged: (a) choice and space, (b) climate, and (c) Canadian sports.

Participants noted that a large difference between China and Canada was the increased choice and space to do a chosen activity and the openness of play areas. Participants detailed how many sport venues in China were exclusive for certain groups or were over-crowded. The open facilities in Canada made it more appealing to take part, as one participant shared,
   In China ... it's really hard for you to get a field to play on,
   but, in Canada ... there are so many fields you can just get a
   field any time you want. And China all the fields are full of
   people, you can't really enjoy it unless you are on a soccer team.

The Canadian climate also created opportunities for the Chinese students to participate in new activities. Many participants, especially from southern areas of China, were eager to try winter activities. One participant stated, "We went snowboarding and skating. I like these two winter sports, because in China, in my city, there is hardly any snow in winter so there is no chance to do that." Participants also commented on the fresh air in Canada, "The air quality is better than China to do the outdoor exercises so that I think is the good advantage for us."

The choice, space, and climate in the Canadian environment, allowed participants to experience new Canadian sports. To learn more about Canadian life, participants wanted to participate in, and learn more about, activities such as hockey, curling, skiing and snowboarding. One participant alluded to Canadian sports as a way to learn about Canadian life, "I want to try the different sports, because it is really Canadian stuff, and very popular in Canada. So, I want to be involved in the Canadian life." Another participant commented, "I learned to snowboard in Canada and I loved it. I love the act itself ... feels like you are more involved in society. Otherwise, people talk about ski or snowboard and you have no idea about it." Participating in physical activities that are popular in Canada was a way to take advantage of the new choices, space, and climate and helped participants learn about the Canadian environment.

Learning about Canadian culture meant that participants were increasingly taking part in activities that were unique to the Canadian environment. The new choices, increased space, and different climate (particularly the snow), permitted Chinese students to participate in what they deemed 'Canadian' physical activities in order to integrate in the Canadian society. By learning more about Canadian sports and participating in activities in the Canadian environment, the participants developed a greater knowledge about the host culture, which as Lee, Y. (2005) noted, was an important way to increase social interactions with the dominant society. Through the Canadian environment theme, the researchers observed predominately an integration mode of acculturation, as participants' desire to learn about the Canadian culture and environment through physical activity was balanced with a desire to maintain relations with Chinese students.

In the Canadian environment theme, participants chose sports in Canada because they were different, new, and exciting ways of enhancing their experience in Canada, even when such participation did not mean increased connection with Canadians. This is an important observation and distinct from previous research, since researchers including Campbell and Zeng (2006) noted that international students, especially Chinese students, were much less satisfied with life than other students. The novelty of the Canadian sporting experience should not be discounted; even if it did not always relate to the acculturation framework, participation in new Canadian activities helped Chinese students find satisfaction and enjoyment in Canada.


In describing physical activity participation, Chinese students shared feelings of being unable to fully belong and integrate with Canadians. One participant stated, "They are strange to me, and in their thoughts I am strange to them." Three emerging sub-themes were identified: (a) separation, (b) lack of group, and (c) accessibility and information.

The sub-theme separation emerged from the Chinese participants' description of how Chinese and Canadian participants normally separate, and do not mix, when engaging in team sports. One participant described it this way, "A group of Chinese students or international students play basketball and there is Canadian students about to play together, first thing is automatically they will say 'Ok, you guys play together, you are one team", while another added, "When the native (Canadian) students see a whole group of Chinese students, then they just stay playing with other native students."

When the researchers clarified the separation sub-theme with the participants after the initial data analysis, several participants explained that separation was not necessarily negative. Instead, grouping with other Chinese students meant cultural and language difference could be avoided. A participant said, "Chinese people have the same culture and same habit. It's easy to communicate" and another said "I will feel familiar with Chinese ... it is easy to get along." Bradley (2000) saw a preference among international students to group with similar cultural backgrounds to support cross-cultural transition. Further, Stodolska and Alexandris (2004) observed that participation in physical activity could help retain one's ethnic heritage. By separating, participation in physical activity was a refuge from the barriers and challenges of cross-cultural communication that was part of the rest of their student life. However, separation was a problem when the Chinese participants could not find other Chinese people to play group activities. One participant described his inability to belong this way, "There seemed too big difference, so ... I just sit on the side."

Several participants described the lack of team and ability to find a group hindered their ability to take part in physical activities and sports organized on or off campus (e.g., intramural or community club sports). Since the Canadian education system did not facilitate group or team building as it did in China, participants found it difficult to find teammates, as this student described,
   The style is different in Canada. The class-system in China means
   that all the classes are split by year and major ... In China there
   is a big class concept (school classes were organized by grade and
   area of study, e.g., 'Grade 1 Science Class 1' grouped together
   20-40 students for all their class studies and free-time periods
   until they completed high school in Grade 3), you always play those
   physical activities and games with your classmates ... We were
   always grouped all together. But in Canada you have no class
   concept. If you want to play, first you need the skills and

Chinese students were accustomed to having groups formed according to a class or a residence as it was in China, but without this formal organization in Canada participants felt that they could not take part in certain activities.

The ability to take part in certain activities was also hindered by the lack of accessibility and information. Participants did not know where or how to find information about physical activities, registration procedures, and timelines, and had difficulties in finding convenient transportation to the activity. One student said, "I think some students like to try sports like hockey but they don't know where to go, they need somebody to introduce them ... Maybe for new students it's hard to go at 5 o'clock, 6 o'clock to a certain place." Even when information about activities (e.g., university intramurals or events geared to international students such as ski or hiking trips) was posted, a new English language learner may not understand the information. Since many participants lived off-campus, transportation was also an issue when accessing the activities. As a participant said, "I see a lot of other students from China who played sports regularly in China, but now they have to live outside the campus and they don't find it very convenient to participate."

The anecdotes situated in the belonging theme, were classified as separation or marginalization modes of acculturation. Chinese students had difficulty in integrating into sport teams that were dominated by Canadian players, so they either separated to a Chinese group, or they were excluded from playing, leading toward isolation (a form of Berry's 2003 marginalization mode of acculturation). The observations aligned with those of Spencer-Oatey and Zhaoning (2006), who noted that Chinese students consistently experienced difficulties in social interaction with domestic students. Campbell and Zeng (2006) added that while contact with domestic students can help students "fit in", only small amounts of interactions between domestic and international students occurred.

The participants expressed difficulties in developing a sense of community and belonging, and achieving what Campbell and Zeng (2006) described as "rong ru" (blending) on the campus. Participants needed to group with other Chinese for the purpose of play, or they would find themselves 'sitting on the sidelines', isolated from group play. Consistent with the observations of Stodolska and Alexandris (2004), despite the availability of physical activity opportunities (e.g., intramural sport programming), newcomers can be excluded and marginalized from the dominant society if they cannot find ways to participate with people from the host culture. Lee, S.M. (2005) observed additional factors that contributed to lack of physical activity participation by minority groups, including environmental barriers (e.g., safety and costs) and personal barriers (e.g., lack of time or motivation).

Fitness and Fun

Participants described their participation as enjoyable activities that could help them lose weight and face the stressors of student life and the cross-cultural transition, lending to three themes, (a) fun and stress reduction, (b) keeping fit, and (c) the cool factor. One participant stated, "Through the sport and physical activities, students can learn more and reduce stress and have an inclination for more healthy lives."

Several participants referenced fun and stress reduction as a motivation for their participation in physical activities. One student commented,
   I know that if you play sports itself, it can help you get your
   stress out. It's stressful when you first come to Canada, it's a
   totally new environment. You have so many things to do, everything
   from pay the bills, the big change. But you play sports, it can get
   you out of it and you can change your mood and get a fresh belief.
   You feel healthier.

Keeping fit and losing weight was an important goal of many participants. Participants worried that the relatively sedentary student lifestyle and new foods in Canada could result in weight gain. One participant said, "I just want to warm up my body through some sports and lose weight. Keep fit, you know. So that's why I go jogging." The observations align with those of Amara et al. (2004), who noted that participation in physical activity in a new community promoted increased fitness levels and decreased the stress of cultural change. Similarly, Berry and Kim (1988) observed that physical activity helped participants deal with the physical (e.g., housing) and biological (e.g., food) changes that accompany cross-cultural transition.

It was important for Chinese participants to keep fit and look good or feel 'cool'. The cool factor sub-theme referred to participants who described physical activities as a way to feel popular with other students and better known in the campus. One participant said, "I want to show off that I was good at things to native (Canadian) students because they didn't know me. It gave them more experience with me in something that I felt confident at." Through sports, participants could distinguish themselves from other Chinese students on campus; one participant added this comment, "I am the only Asian guy. It is kind a cool being the only Asian guy playing."

The cool factor sub-theme affirmed the desire of some participants to assimilate to Canadian society, through activities which helped them gain acceptance from Canadians. The participants desired to increase contact with Canadians via assimilation, even if it meant they minimized contact with other Chinese students. In her study of Asian Americans, Lee, Y. (2005) also observed that sport was a venue where newcomers could distinguish themselves from other Asians in the new community, and not be "homogenized in the eyes of the dominant society" (p.488). Similarly, Weiss (2001) explained that sport allowed newcomers to reinforce their identity and receive approval from the host culture. Through participation in sport, participants could express their uniqueness as they separated from other Chinese students and instead felt part of the Canadian group.

The communication and Canadian environment themes largely related to the outcomes of physical activity, while the belonging and fitness and fun related to the barriers and facilitators of participation. Through participation in physical activities, the Chinese participants expressed integration, assimilation, separation, and isolation [a form or Berry's (2003) marginalization] modes of acculturation. The current research adds a new dimension to the marginalization mode of acculturation, through the observations of isolation in cases where the Chinese students were excluded from play by Canadian students. This differs from the way Berry (2003) defined marginalization, since the choice to retreat from the host and home cultures was not made by the Chinese participants, but rather by the circumstance and norms of Canadian play.

Via physical activity participation, integration was observed as the most common expression of acculturation used by Chinese students. The observations are congruent with those of Berry, Kim, Power, Young, and Bujaki (1989), who noted that sojourners most often acculturate via integration. The Chinese participants chose physical activities to enhance contact with Canadians as well as to maintain contact with other Chinese students, indicating that the majority of participants had healthy social interactions in the new community.

Recommendations and Departures

As a departure from the current project, the researchers offer recommendations to future sport and exercise scientists who work with Chinese and other culturally-diverse participants and to university officials who aim to implement multicultural programming that values both the maintenance of the cultures of newcomers as well as the mainstream.

Sport and exercise scientists who work across cultures, with cultures differing from the researchers' own, must implement culturally-sensitive research practices in order to authenticate the interpretations of the participants' voices. Developing an intimate familiarity about a culture different from the researchers' own, as Schwandt (1994) noted, is time consuming. Researchers who purport to re-present the lived experience of culturally-different participants should consider cultural values by (a) spending significant amounts of time with the participant population group (e.g., with Chinese students) and, ideally, in the home culture environment (e.g., in China), (b) engaging in a bracketing interview and considering indigenous coding with a member of the cultural group, (c) developing a cultural-specific protocol through a thorough review of cultural value dimensions described by intercultural researchers, such as Hofstede (2001), relative to the population of study, and, finally, (d) to return to the participants to validation of the observed themes and sub-themes. The arduous effort is imperative to build rapport and mutual understanding to strengthen the study.

University officials, to coincide with the Canadian policy of multiculturalism, according to Berry (2003), need to promote opportunities to support the integration (i.e., healthy adaptation) of international students. The exclusion from play that some participants expressed, as evident in the belonging theme, was cause for concern. Marginalization, according to Berry, Kim, Minde and Mok (1987), was associated with the worst mental health outcomes, such as anxiety and depression and feelings of alienation. In the current context, the authors' university must focus on developing ways to help Chinese students gain access to physical activities. Cross-cultural interactions between Chinese and Canadian students can have positive impacts on facilitating Chinese students' integration on campus.

Three main recommendations can address belonging on Canadian campuses; (a) increase accessibility to information and activities, (b) address on campus housing issues, and (c) ease pre-determined grouping for the purpose of engaging in sport. While universities often offer physical activity programming that welcomes international student participants (e.g., intramural programs), many international students could not find information or access activities. At the authors' own university, students in the English for Academic Preparation (EAP) program need to be introduced to the university's intramural sport program through presentations in their classrooms. Further, intramural organizers should offer programs that coincide with the EAP class schedule to make access easy and convenient. Universities should also work with international student associations (e.g., the Chinese Student Scholar Association) and international service departments to help deliver information about programming to newcomers through email announcements and postings in locations where newcomers often congregate. Information about activities needs to be explicit and consider that some international students are unfamiliar with the concept of free on-campus sports accessible for all. As one student explained, "For me, I really try to notice the boards on campus.... but the first time I see that word intramural, I don't know what that means."

Due to student visa delays, many international students miss the application deadlines for on-campus residence and are forced to find alternate off-campus housing options which can decrease the students' sense of belonging and integration in the campus community. University officials should consider allocating increased spaces and adjusting application deadlines to support on-campus housing for international students which can, in-turn, ease grouping for the purpose of physical activity. By supporting on-campus accommodation of international students, university officials can support positive means of acculturation. A welcoming university environment must provide greater opportunities for cross-cultural interactions and integration through physical activity and sport.


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Michelle K. Brunette, Michel Lariviere, Robert J. Schinke, Xiaoyan Xing, and Pat Pickard Laurentian University

Address Correspondence to: Michelle K. Brunette, Laurentian International, 935 Ramsey Lake Road, Laurentian University, Sudbury, Ontario, Canada P3E 2C6. Telephone: (705) 675-1151 (Ext. 1557). Fax: (705) 671-3833. E-mail:
Table 1. Semi-Structured Interview Guide and Probes

                       Interview Topic/
Purpose                Question               Probe

Greetings and          Open discussion

Warm up                Researcher's own
                       experience in China
                       Students experience
                       in Canada to date

Introduction to        General study
the current            purpose and
study                  dissemination plan
                       Outline format of

                       Discuss return to
                       participant to
                       verify the
                       understandings and
                       created themes

Interview Guide        What types of          Team/Solo? Campus/
                       physical activity      Off-campus?
                       did you participate
                       in China?

                       What types of          How did you get
                       physical activity do   involved? Why did
                       you participate in     you get involved?
                                              What influenced your
                                              decision? What do
                                              you like/not like
                                              about your
                                              participation in
                                              activities in

                       Do you have            Why did you choose
                       opportunities to       not to be involved?
                       participate in other
                       activities in Canada
                       that you choose not

                       Are there certain      Why? What prevents
                       physical activities    you from
                       in Canada that you     participating?
                       wish you could do
                       but do not?

                       Who do you prefer to   Chinese
                       participate in         participants?
                       sports and physical    Canadian
                       activities with?       participants?
                                              participants? Why?

                       Has your               How so? Why did you
                       participation in       stop or keep doing
                       physical activity      certain activities?
                       changed since you      If you participate
                       were a student in      in the same
                       China?                 activities in Canada
                                              as you did in China,
                                              how has your
                                              changed? Does your
                                              participation have
                                              different purpose or
                                              meaning for you it

                       Has participation in   How or how not? Is
                       physical activity      there anything else
                       helped you in your     that has helped you
                       transition to          in your transition
                       Canada? Is then;       to Canada?
                       anything about your
                       participation in
                       sport and physical
                       activity that we did
                       not talk about

Closing                Reminder of
                       follow-up Open

Table 2. Physical Activity Participation situated within the
Bidimensional Acculturation  Framework

Physical Activity   Physical Activity   Number of  Physical Activity
Theme               Participation Sub-  Anecdotes  Participation
(Total Anecdotes=   themes                         equivalent within
261)                                               Berry's
                                                   Bid im ension al

Communicating       Improving English      36      Integration
                    Canadian culture       27      Integration

                    Make new friends       25      Assimilation

                    Choice and space       35      Integration
Environment (85)
                    Climate                31      Neutral

                    Canadian sports        19      Integration

                    Separation             31      Separation

                    Lack of group          22      Marginalization

                    Accessibility and      11      Separation
                    information                    Marginalization

Fitness and Fun     Fun and stress         11      Neutral
(24)                reduction

                    Keeping fit             8      Neutral

                    The cool factor         5      Assimilation
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Author:Brunette, Michelle K.; Lariviere, Michel; Schinke, Robert J.; Xing, Xiaoyan; Pickard, Pat
Publication:Journal of Sport Behavior
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1CANA
Date:Aug 16, 2011
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