Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation


Communication and Information



First Advisor

Dr. Donald W. Helme


Institutions of higher education in the United States have long been attractors for international students from all over the world. The number of international students had been constantly growing until the past couple of years. This is a concerning issue because international students play several important roles in higher education institutions. International students bring different points of view that enhance other students’ learning and institutions gain financial benefits from the presence of international students. Thus, it is important to understand how to improve the experience of international students. For the present study I used a phenomenological approach to explore the experiences of international students and their spouses.

Participants in this study included 16.5 dyads from 12 different countries. The sample included both graduate international students and their spouses for various reasons. When studying acculturation, studies have traditionally focused on undergraduate students. The needs and experiences of undergraduate students are different from graduate students because they are usually in a different stage of life. It is also true that graduate students often relocate with their dependents, unlike undergraduate students, and therefore they have different challenges and responsibilities. It is important to include spouses because they are often an invisible population. Dependents have critical limitations such as the prohibition to work or study.

This study was conducted through the lens of biographical disruption and participants’ accounts were analyzed to better understand the added communication work that they must manage. The findings showed that there was a relationship between acculturation categories and the amount and type of acculturation work. Finally, the study shows how international students and their dependents reconstruct their biographies by molding their identities. This study should be used to create new policies and services for international students and their dependents.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)