An Attachment Theory Perspective on the College Adjustment of International Students



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Background: The number of international students enrolled in U.S. institutions of higher education has increased in the past few decades. Whereas prior studies have generally examined the influences of demographic and environment variables on international students’ college adjustment, few studies have considered the contributions of dispositional variables and intrapsychological processes that affect their transitional adjustment. Purpose: This study seeks to examine a theory-driven model using a short-term longitudinal design that investigates how international students’ parental and peer attachment orientations, cross-national grief and loss, and sense of coherence affect their psychological adjustment. Methods: A sample of 255 international undergraduate and graduate students in the United States completed online measures of these constructs at two time points, three months apart, and mediational structural models involving the contributions of attachment orientations and intrapsychological processes to psychological adjustment were tested using structural equation modeling. Results: The study model indicated an acceptable fit to the data. Among two attachment orientations, attachment avoidance significantly predicted international students’ psychological adjustment after three months, and sense of coherence fully mediated this association. Higher attachment avoidance was associated with lower cross-national grief and loss however, this association did not contribute to adjustment difficulties. Attachment anxiety did not associate with sense of coherence, cross-national grief and loss, and psychological symptoms. Conclusion: The findings imply that dispositional and situational variables such as attachment avoidance or sense of coherence should be considered in clinical work with international student clients to enhance their cross-national adjustment and coping.



International students, Psychological adjustment, Psychology, Cross-national grief and loss