Strangers Switching Their Identities: Cultural Identity Management and Performance on Social Media A Qualitative Analysis of International Students’ Intercultural (Ex)Change Processes and Perceptions Regarding Their Stay in the United States and Countries of Origin
Date of Award
Master of Arts (MA)
Dr. Andrew S. Pyle
Dr. V. Skye Wingate
Dr. James N. Gilmore
In this globalized world, cross-country travel for education has been a prevalent (5.6 million students identified as international students in 2020) and ever-increasing (with a predicted increase of 250% by 2030) trend through the past decades. The sojourn impacts the students’ experience of the new culture and the ensuing shocks and adaptations. The understanding of something as complicated as culture, trying to be integrated into a new culture, and its perception to individuals, of course, have their ways of distinct communication trends through social media.
The struggle of maintaining and changing one’s cultural identity and adaptation across cultures has been scrutinized in literature through different lenses, especially in light of the evolution of culture, perceived through how the players behave and communicate. Analyzing the works of literature related to the theories of (inter)cultural identity, the models of culture shock, intercultural communication, and impression management while emphasizing on communication through social media, this thesis sought to understand if and how the behaviors of the sojourners change depending on the audience at home and the host institution, and whether the travelers consciously change their social media activity based on their experience of culture shock and the eventual adaptation thereafter.
A snowball sample of 14 international graduate students at Clemson University was selected to be interviewed, using semi-structured questionnaires for data collection. The raw interview data were collected and self-coded through the qualitative analysis tool MAXQDA. The respondents’ answers were evaluated from three principal perspectives – their communication over social media with their family and friends back home, contact with the hosts in the United States, and how the interaction on social media changed after the initial exposure to the cultural shock(s). The apparent quality of better education, a plethora of specific opportunities, and independent learning environments also brought in the challenges of missing the physical proximity from family and friends back home, including an intense workload, and the sense of self-sufficiency.
Combining everything, communication efforts through social media needed adaptation while still being in touch, at least superficially, with close family and friends; students displayed additional incentives and measures to get acquainted with the professional cultural systems in the host environment. The characteristics of front-stage communications were audience and time-dependent, whereas the backstage elements showed traits of being excluded and growing respect for personal boundaries. Although this study is only a peephole of the entire spectrum that needs to be further elaborated, spanning multiple universities around the globe with a much larger sample size, it is undeniable that these trends of social media behavior are crucial to understanding the perspectives of culture shocks and how the home cultural differences might play a role in the adaptation process.
Kretzschmar, Vivian, "Strangers Switching Their Identities: Cultural Identity Management and Performance on Social Media A Qualitative Analysis of International Students’ Intercultural (Ex)Change Processes and Perceptions Regarding Their Stay in the United States and Countries of Origin" (2022). All Theses. 3915.
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