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Cross-Cultural Centre puts Spotlight on Diversity

MEDIA RELEASE 24 October 2003

New Cross-Cultural Centre puts Spotlight on Diversity

Victoria University will launch a new internationally networked research centre (Wednesday 29 October) to lift the lid on how New Zealand can make the most of its increasingly multicultural society.

Led by psychologist Professor Colleen Ward, the Centre for Applied Cross-Cultural Research will study globalisation, migration, and intercultural contact. Its research output will include high quality research, training, consultation and policy advice in key areas including: understanding intergroup relations; cross-cultural transition; and culture bound ideas about human behaviour.

"The rate at which so many countries are finding varied and multiple cultures in the same community creates an urgent need to understand how they can coexist without cultural misunderstanding and the associated negative side effects," says Professor Ward.

"More than 100 million people now live outside their country of origin. The Centre for Applied Cross-Cultural Research is a response to the need for sound theory and research to improve intercultural awareness and effective intercultural communication," she says.

Professor Ward says that the Centre is international in its scope and outlook, but its focus is on the Asia Pacific and the Pacific Rim areas.

The creation of the Centre builds on established excellence in the area of cross-cultural research at Victoria. Professor Ward is a leading international psychologist in the area of cross-cultural study and published The Psychology of Culture Shock in 2002.

With Lincoln University’s Dr Tracy Berno, Professor Ward has recently co-authored an Asia 2000 Foundation funded project: Cross-cultural and Educational Adaptation of Asian Students in New Zealand. This key piece of research examines Asian students’ expectations of studying in New Zealand. Her findings show that those expectations generally exceed the students' post-arrival experiences.

The report is based on research conducted from 1997–2002, exploring the expectations, experiences, and adaptation of Asian students in New Zealand.

The report also makes recommendations as to how students’ experiences in, and satisfaction with, New Zealand could be enhanced.

“International education is a billion dollar industry in New Zealand realised through the 82,000 international students who study and live here,” says Professor Ward.

Of these 82,000 students, approximately 31,000 are from China, 15,000 from South Korea and 13,000 from Japan.

“Given the scale, economic benefits and recent media interest in New Zealand-based Asian education, this research provides a timely and interesting insight into the adaptation and satisfaction of these international students.”

The research primarily involved collecting data from Asian students nine weeks before leaving home to assess their expectations, and then 14 and 26 weeks after arrival and study in New Zealand to hear of their experiences.

A range of comparative samples were also taken at Asian tertiary institutions and among New Zealand students studying domestically.

Key project findings include:

- Student’s pre-entry expectations generally exceed their post-arrival experiences (those whose expectations are ‘under-met’ experience more depression and have more academic and social adjustment problems in their first three months of study in NZ).
- All international students, especially Asian students, want more contact with New Zealand students.
- All international students experienced some level of discrimination, especially Asian students.
- Factors associated with successful adaptation were having: realistic expectations; language proficiency; more frequent and more satisfying contact with New Zealanders; availability of social support; lower levels of stress and perceived discrimination; and extravert, agreeable, open and conscientious and personality traits.
- Despite the presentation of some psychological and social adjustment problems, overall, Asian students adjust well to being in New Zealand.

Professor Ward says the report presents a range of practical pre-entry and post-arrival recommendations to help international students adapt to New Zealand, including:

- Recruitment material presenting a realistic portrayal of student life in New Zealand.
- Pre-arrival cross-cultural training or orientation programmes (both New Zealand culture and education specific) and stress and coping skills.
- Raising English language and educational language proficiency levels.
- Buddy or mentoring programmes.
- Programmes for staff and students addressing cultural differences and methods for communicating across cultures.

Professor Ward says Asia 2000 will now disseminate the report findings and it will be up to tertiary institutions to consider them.

"The Centre for Applied Cross-cultural Research is a great example of applied research. It brings together scholars and research from around the world to create a valuable community resource here in New Zealand," says Professor Stuart McCutcheon, Vice-Chancellor of Victoria University.

"The Centre's research findings will be invaluable to Victoria as we continually strive to create a learning environment that suits our staff and student population – both domestic and international."

Already cross-cultural research carried out at Victoria has been used to guide the University's international marketing campaigns to provide realistic information about studying in New Zealand. Victoria University won the New Zealand Export Educator of the Year Award for 2003, primarily for its international marketing and pastoral care of students carried out through Victoria International, the University's office for internationalisation. Victoria also has a successful scheme, Kiwi Connections, which matches Victoria alumni and their families with international students to welcome and introduce them to life in New Zealand.

ENDS

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