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International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance

https://doi.org/10.1007/s10775-018-9380-7

Acculturative stress, social support, and career outcome


expectations among international students

Marisa Franco1   · Yi‑Shi Hsiao2 · Philip B. Gnilka3 · Jeffrey S. Ashby1

Received: 29 May 2018 / Accepted: 9 October 2018


© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Abstract
Framed by Social Cognitive Career Theory, the current study examined relation-
ships between acculturative stress, social support from the host country, and career
outcome expectations among international students in the United States of America
(N = 555). Results indicated that acculturative stress was negatively related to social
support and career outcome expectations. Additionally, decreased social support
indirectly and partially explained relationships between acculturative stress and out-
come expectations. Findings suggest that in order to promote more positive career
outcome expectations for international students, counselors should not only address
acculturative stress, but also its influence on host country social support.

Keywords  International students · Social cognitive career theory · Acculturative


stress

Résumé
Stress acculturatif, soutien social, aspirations professionnelles chez les étudiants
internationaux Basée sur la Théorie Sociale Cognitive des Carrières, la présente
étude a étudié les relations entre le stress acculturatif, le soutien social du pays
d’accueil, et les aspirations professionnelles chez les étudiants internationaux aux
États-Unis (N = 555). Les résultats indiquent que le stress acculturatif a eu un lien
négatif avec le soutien social et les aspirations professionnelles. De plus, une diminu-
tion de soutien social a indirectement et partiellement expliqué la relation entre le
stress acculturatif et les aspirations professionnelles. Les résultats suggèrent que, afin
de promouvoir des aspirations professionnelles plus positives chez les étudiants in-
ternationaux, les conseillers en orientation devraient non seulement aborder le stress
acculturatif mais aussi son influence sur le soutien social du pays d’accueil.

Zusammenfassung
Akkulturativer Stress, soziale Unterstützung und berufliche Ergebniserwar-
tungen von International Students Die Studie untersucht auf der Basis der sozial-
kognitiven Laufbahntheorie die Zusammenhänge zwischen akkulturativem Stress,

Extended author information available on the last page of the article

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International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance

sozialer Unterstützung durch das Gastland und beruflichen Ergebniserwartungen


von International Students in den Vereinigten Staaten von Amerika (N = 555). Die
Ergebnisse zeigen, dass akkulturativer Stress negativ mit sozialer Unterstützung und
beruflichen Ergebniserwartungen zusammenhängt. Darüber hinaus erklärt die soziale
Unterstützung indirekt mindestens teilweise den Zusammenhang zwischen akkultur-
ativem Stress und beruflichen Ergebniserwartungen. Die Ergebnisse deuten darauf
hin, dass Beratungspersonen zur Förderung positiver beruflicher Ergebniserwartun-
gen von International Students nicht nur den akkulturativen Stress, sondern auch
seinen Einfluss auf die soziale Unterstützung des Gastlandes berücksichtigen sollten.

Resumen
Estrés aculturativo, soporte social y expectativas de Carrera entre estudiantes
internacionales Enmarcado en la teoria sociocognitiva de la Carrera, este studio
examinó las relaciones entre el estrés aculturativo, el apoyo social del país de acogida
y las espectativas de resultado de la Carrera entre estudiantes internacionales en los
Estados Unidos de América (N = 555). Los resultados indicaron que el estres acul-
turativo estava relacionado negativamente con el apoyo social y las espectativas de
resultado de la Carrera. Adicionalmente, un apoyo social decreciente explicó indi-
rectamente y parcialmente las relaciones entre el estres aculturativo y las expecta-
tivas de resultado. Los hallazgos sugieren que para promover unas espectativas de
resultado de la Carrera más positivas en estudiantes internacionales, los orientadores
no solo deben attender al estres aculturativo sinó también a su influencia en el apoyo
social del país de acogida.

Introduction

In 2016, the number of international students in the United States of America


exceeded one million for the first time (N Institute of International Education,
2016). These students contribute upwards of 27 billion dollars to the U.S. econ-
omy (Institute of International Education, 2014). International students promote
cultural exchange and understanding, enhance interactions among domestic and
international academic institutions, and create a more diverse learning envi-
ronment (Wang, 2006). Still, international student concerns are not sufficiently
addressed by college counselors, specifically in the area of career concerns. Men-
tal health providers on college campuses specifically report difficulties addressing
the career-related concerns of international students, whereas international stu-
dents report unique career-related needs (Leong & Sedlacek, 1989; Singarevelu,
White & Bringaze, 2005). These unique needs may be explained by the number
of barriers international students face to successful career development: language
challenges, racial or xenophobic discrimination, maladjustment, role changes, and
value clashes within the host culture (Reynolds & Constantine, 2007). Collec-
tively, these stressors are referred to as acculturative stress, which has been found
to contribute to poorer career outcomes for international students (Reynolds &

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Constantine, 2007). Of interest to the current study is whether social support is


the mechanism through which acculturative stress contributes to poorer career
outcome expectations among international students.
The current study is framed in Social Cognitive Career Theory (SCCT). The
purpose of SCCT is to provide a framework to outline how individuals choose
careers and maintain career fulfilment and stability (Lent et  al., 1994; Lent,
2013). SCCT posits that various variables interact to predict career outcomes,
including personal characteristics (e.g., self-efficacy, outcome expectations, and
personal goals), learning and socialization, and resources and barriers (e.g., finan-
cial resources, social support). Barriers and supports are shaped by contextual
factors such as ethnicity, gender, and race; members of some identity groups may
be exposed to and encouraged to pursue certain career options more than others.
SCCT emphasizes outcome expectations as an important personal characteris-
tic that influences career development. Career outcome expectations refer to per-
ceived consequences if one were to pursue a particular career choice: whether
the career will lead to preferred outcomes, such as positive lifestyle and income
(Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 1994); outcome expectations define one’s vision
of what will come of a particular career path. For example, outcome expecta-
tions for a career as a firefighter might include opportunities to help others and
achieve a sense of community. According to Social Cognitive Career Theory
(SCCT), low career outcome expectations may dissuade students from pursuing
a certain type of career, even when they possess high self-efficacy (Lent et  al.,
1994; Lent, 2013). SCCT indicates that outcome expectations are informed by
vicarious learning, performance, social persuasion, and contextual factors (such
as social support) and they subsequently play a central role in predicting voca-
tional interests, choices and follow-through (Lent, 2013; Lent & Brown, 2013).
In support of this, one study with an international sample found that outcome
expectations relate to career interest, which then predicted career intention (Chi-
ang, Lai, & Chang, 2016) and another found that outcome expectations predicted
goals regarding career choice (Jiang & Zhang, 2012).
SCCT posits that contextual factors may explain the development of outcome
expectations. Specifically, positive career outcome expectations may be derailed
when environmental barriers are in place. According to Lent (2013), outcome
expectations do not occur in a vacuum and sociocultural identity-related experiences
may influence these expectations. Acculturative stress is conceptualized as one such
experience that may negatively influence international students’ outcome expecta-
tions. Acculturative stress refers to the psychological difficulties and physical dis-
comforts in adapting to new cultural environments, such as learning a new language,
experiencing racial or xenophobic discrimination, maladjustment, role alterations,
and value conflicts with the host culture (Lee, Koeske, & Sales, 2004; Reynolds &
Constantine, 2007). Acculturative stress has an established link with compromised
mental health for immigrant groups (e.g., Chae, Park, & Kang, 2014; Katsiaficas,
Suárez-Orozco, Sirin, & Gupta, 2013; Panchang, Dowdy, Kibmro & Gorman, 2016;
Xu & Chi, 2013); however, its link with career outcomes for this population is less
well understood. Studies that have examined links between acculturative stress and
outcome expectations have found that acculturative stress negatively predicts career

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International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance

outcome expectations (Reynolds & Constantine, 2007). However, existing research


has yet to identify factors that might explain this link.
Social support—or lack thereof—is conceptualized as an additional SCCT-based
contextual barrier that may also impede the development of positive outcome expec-
tations. Social support refers to the various types of support that people receive
from others, including instrumental and emotional (Rose & Campbell, 2000; Thuen,
1995). Emotional support includes empathy, love, and care, whereas instrumental
support includes sharing material items or services, such as helping a friend with
their homework. Social support assists individuals in utilizing and implement cop-
ing strategies, such as sharing stressful experiences (emotional) and finding schol-
arships for study (instrumental). In the current study, social support within host
country is specifically examined via the Index of Sojourner Social Support Scale
(ISSS; Ong & Ward, 2005). This social support scale integrates generic frameworks
of social support with the unique experiences of sojourner populations (i.e., indi-
viduals inhabiting a different country than that which they were raised in; Ong &
Ward, 2005)—including forms of social support, such as “comfort you when you
feel homesick,” “help you interpret things you don’t really understand,” and “pro-
vide necessary information to help orient you to your new surroundings.” Given that
only about a quarter of items in traditional social support measures were rated as
relevant to sojourners, the ISSS is thought to be a better fit to address social sup-
port in light of the unique stressors that international students face (Ong & Ward,
2005). The measure was created based on existing literature and also through ask-
ing sojourner students directly about their social support related experiences (Ong
& Ward, 2005). Verifying SCCT conceptual links, existing research has also found
relationships between acculturative stress and decreased social support in the host
country within a Chinese international student sample (Ho, Schweitzer, & Khawaja,
2017). Although, to the author’s knowledge, social support in the host country has
not yet been linked to outcome expectations, it has been linked to well-being, which
is subsequently linked to better outcome expectations (Ni, Chui, Ji, Jordan, & Can,
2016; Rhodes et al., 2013). Furthermore, although host country support has not been
linked to outcome expectations, general measures of social support have been found
to be related to increased outcome expectations among international student samples
(Chiang et al., 2016; Isik, 2013).
Social support in the host country may influence outcome expectations in various
ways. Support from others in the host country may provide for career information,
role modeling, and psychological health, all of which may contribute to more posi-
tive outcome expectations (Schultheiss, Kress, Manzi, & Glasscock, 2001; Schulthe-
iss, Palma, Predragovich, & Glasscock, 2002). It may be particularly important for
international students to gain support from those in the host country, considering
both physical and perhaps temporal distance from family and friends in the home
country. Since most international students come from collectivistic cultures, in
which perspectives of others are weighted heavily, social support and affirmation
regarding career choice may be particularly important in promoting positive career-
related expectations (Chiang et al., 2016; Lent, 2013).
Social support may be the explanatory mechanism through which acculturative
stress influences career outcome expectations. Some research has suggested that

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International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance

acculturative stress affects psychological well-being through social support (Katsia-


ficas et al., 2013; Xu & Chi, 2013). Considering that well-being is linked positively
to outcome expectations (Sheu, Liu, & Li, 2017), this relationship may also hold
when the outcome variable is outcome expectations. Individuals in heightened states
of acculturative stress may be suspicious of and withdraw from the host culture,
contributing to less social support from those inhabiting the host culture (Katsiafi-
cas et al., 2013; Xu & Chi, 2013). They may worry about discrimination from indi-
viduals from the host culture, fear interaction with individuals from the host culture,
and attach more strongly to their home culture, leading them to experience dimin-
ished social support in their host country (Sandhu & Asrabadi, 1998). Subsequently,
decreased social support has been found to contribute to more negative outcome
expectations (Chiang et al., 2016; Isik, 2013). Thus, a model indicating that social
support indirectly explains links between acculturative stress and outcome expecta-
tions is hypothesized. However, scholars have conceptualized lack of social support
as contributing to acculturative stress, rather than vice versa (Chae et al., 2014; Yeh
& Inose, 2003). Thus, it is also possible that lack of social support increases accul-
turative stress, which subsequently negatively influences outcome expectations. This
alternative model will also be tested and compared to the hypothesized model.
In sum, the first research objectives of the current study is to replicate past
research suggesting that acculturative stress and social support relate to outcome
expectations (negatively and positively, respectively) among international students
in the United States of America. The second objective is to contribute to the research
on international student’s career development by examining whether social support
indirectly explains links between acculturative stress and career outcome expecta-
tions. We also test this model against an alternative model wherein acculturative
stress explains links between social support and outcome expectations.

Method

Participants

A total of 555 international students who held an F-1 student visa participated in the
study. The participants were enrolled at 12 different universities across the United
States. The sample included 257 men (46.3%) and 298 women (53.7%). The age
of the students ranged from 18 to 50 years with a mean of 26.35 (SD = 5.18).  In
terms of educational level, 127 (22.9%) were undergraduates, 168 (30.3%) were
master’s students, 256 (46.2%) were doctoral students, and three (.5%) identified
as other degree. Regarding race/ethnicity, 295 (53.2%) were Asian/Pacific Islander,
138 (24.9%) were White/non-Latino/a, 57 (10.3%) were Latino/a, 29 (5.2%) were
Middle Eastern, 25 (4.5%) were Black/African, and 11 (2.0%) identified as other.
Regarding continent of origin: 50.8% were from Asia, 19.8% were from Europe,
14.6% were from South America, 4.5% were from the Middle East, 3.6% were from
North America, 2.3% were from Africa, and 1.4% were from Australia (2.9% did
not report). Among the participants, 419 (75.5%) were single, 135 (24.3%) were

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married, and one (.2%) was divorced. Participants’ length of residence in the United
States ranged from 3 months to 15 years with a mean of 3.1 years (SD = 2.49).

Procedure

A convenience sample was recruited from 12 universities, both public and private,
located in either the Southeast, Northeast, or Midwest. An email sent to the stu-
dents through the international student offices at each university informed the poten-
tial participants of the purpose of the study, the format of the study, the link of the
survey website, and the researcher’s contact information. This email attached the
institutional review board approval form was sent to around 100 directors of interna-
tional student offices on different campuses. Those directors were requested to for-
ward the invitation email to their international students. Students were referred to
the website to complete the survey. The online survey included each of the measures
listed below. No compensation was provided for completing the online survey.

Instruments

Acculturative stress

Acculturative stress was assessed using the Acculturative Stress Scale for Inter-
national Students (ASSIS). The ASSIS (Sandhu & Asrabadi, 1998) is a 36-item,
5-point (1 = strongly disagree, 3 = unsure, 5 = strongly agree) instrument that meas-
ures adjustment problems of international students. The ASSIS consists of seven
subscales: Perceived Discrimination (eight items, e.g., “Others are biased toward
me”), Homesickness (four items, “I feel sad leaving my relatives behind”), Per-
ceived Hate (five items, “People show hatred toward me verbally”), Fear (four items,
“I feel insecure here”), Stress Due to Change/Culture Shock (three items, “I feel
uncomfortable to adjust to new foods”), Guilt (two items, “I feel guilty that I am
living a different lifestyle here”), and Miscellaneous (10 items, “I feel nervous to
communicate in English”). Scores are summed and a total score ranges from 36 to
180, with higher scores indicating greater acculturative stress. Internal consistency
reliability from a variety of samples ranged from .87 to .95 (Constantine, Okazaki,
& Utsey, 2004; Duru & Poyrazli, 2007; Poyrazli, Kavanaugh, Baker, & Al-Timimi,
2004; Sandhu & Asrabadi, 1998; Wei Heppner, Mallen, Ku, Liao, & Wu, 2007; Yeh
& Inose, 2003). Cronbach alpha for the current study was .93.

Social support

Social support was assessed using the ISSS. The ISSS (Ong & Ward, 2005) is an
18-item, five-point (1 = No one would do this, 5 = Many would do this) Likert-type
instrument that measures sojourning individuals’ social support in the host coun-
try. The ISSS includes two subscales: socioemotional support and instrumental
support. Sample items include “Listen and talk with you whenever you feel lonely

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International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance

or depressed” and “Show you how to do something that you didn’t know how to
do.” The ISSS can be scored as a single factor index of social support by adding
all items’ scores and can also be calculated as two separate subscales. Total scores
range from 18 to 90, with higher scores corresponding to higher social support in the
United States. Ong and Ward (2005) reported Cronbach alphas of .92 for both soci-
oemotional support and instrumental support subscales and .95 for the total scores
in a sample of international students in New Zealand. In the current study, Cronbach
alphas for socioemotional support subscale was .94, for instrumental support sub-
scale was .95, and for the entire ISSS scale (used for subsequent analyses) was .96.

Outcome expectations

Outcome expectations were assessed using the Vocational Outcome Expectations-


Revised (VOER). The VOER (McWhirter & Metheny, 2009) is a 12-item meas-
ure that assesses the level of positive expectations regarding the outcomes of one’s
career choice. Participants rate the items on a 4-point Likert-type scale ranging
from (1) strongly disagree to (4) strongly agree. Items include “My career plan-
ning will lead to a satisfying career for me” and “My career/occupation choice will
allow me to have the lifestyle that I want.” Responses are summed to yield a total
score ranging from 12 to 48, with higher scores corresponding to more positive
outcome expectations. McWhirter and Metheny (2009) reported a Cronbach alpha
of .92 for the VOER. The VOER was modified from the original Vocational Out-
come Expectations scale (VOE; McWhirter, Rasheed, & Crothers, 2000) by adding
six more items (items 7 through 12). McWhirter and Metheny (2009) reported that
these items were created to represent Bandura’s three types of outcome expectations
(1986) including self-evaluation or satisfaction (items 7 and 10), physical (items 8
and 12), and social (items 9 and 11) outcomes. Reynolds and Constantine (2007)
reported Cronbach alpha of .79 for international college students. Cronbach alpha
for the current study was .94.

Results

Correlation analyses

A summary of correlation and descriptive statistics matrix for the variables in the
study is presented in Table 1. International students who had higher levels of accul-
turative stress and longer residence in the U.S. reported lower levels of career out-
come expectations. In contrast, international students with higher levels of social
support showed higher levels of career outcome expectations.

Tests of indirect effects

Analyses were conducted using MPLUS. The Akaike information criterion (IAC),
Bayesian information criteria (BIC), and sample-adjusted BIC were used to assess

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Table 1  Correlations, means, standard deviations, and ranges


Variables 1 2 3 4 5 6

1. Age – .57*** .30*** − .01 − .04 − .02


2. Education level – .27*** − .13*** − .02 .03
3. Length of residence – .02 .03 − .13**
4. Acculturative stress – − .44*** − .31***
5. Social support – .28***
6. Outcome expectation –
M 26.35 3.10 84.50 53.01 37.91
SD 5.18 2.48 21.27 16.13 7.27
Range 18–50 .25–15 39–180 18–90 12–48

*p < .05, **p < .01, ***p < .001

model fit; smaller values suggest a superior model (Hancock & Mueller, 2013). Tra-
ditional indicators of fit (e.g., RMSEA, Chi square) could not be used because mod-
els were just-identified. When models are just-identified (i.e., have no degrees of
freedom), then fit indicators are perfect (Brown, 2006).
Bias-corrected bootstrapping with 1000 samples was used to test indirect effects.
Using this method, a confidence interval is calculated for each parameter, and also
for indirect effects (e.g. 2.5% AND 97.5%), and if the bounds of the interval exclude
0, then the path is significant (Preacher & Hays, 2008). This type of model allows
for the examination of relationships among parameters, while controlling for all
other parameters in the model.
First, the hypothesized model specifying that acculturative stress influences social
support, which then influences outcome expectations, was examined (R2 = .11,
SE = .03; see  Figure 1). Fit indexes were as follows: AIC = 8259.30, BIC = 8289.53,
adjusted BIC = 8267.31. In this model, acculturative stress related negatively to
social support β = − .44, SE = .04, 95% [CI = − .51, − .37]), p < .01, and maintained
a direct negative relationship with outcome expectations β = −  .23, SE = .04, 95%
[CI = − .31, − .15]), p < .01. Social support also related to outcome expectations, but
positively β = .17, SE = .05, 95% [CI = .07, .26]), p < .01. The indirect relationship
between acculturative stress and outcome expectations through social support was
significant β = −  .08, SE = .02, 95% [CI = −  .13, −  .03]), p < .01. In sum, all rela-
tionships were significant in the model and in the hypothesized direction. A com-
peting model was also tested in which the relationship between social support and

Social Support
-.44* (.04) .17* (.05)

-.23* (.04)
Acculturative Stress
Outcome Expectations

Figure 1  An indirect model examining acculturative stress, social support, and career outcome expecta-
tions. Standardized path coefficients and standard errors are reported. All paths were significant at p < .01

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International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance

Acculturative Stress
-.44* (.04) -.23* (.04)

.17* (.05)
Social Support
Outcome Expectations

Figure 2  An indirect model examining social support, acculturative stress, and career outcome expecta-
tions. Standardized path coefficients and standard errors are reported. All paths were significant at p < .01

outcome expectations was indirectly explained through acculturative stress (R2 = .11,


SE = .03; see  Figure 2). Aside from the indirect effect of social support on outcome
expectations (β = .10, SE = .02, 95% [CI = .07, .14]), p < .01), all beta and confidence
interval values were the same as in the first model as the same variables and variable
relationships were included in the model. Fit indexes, however, differed and were
as follows: AIC = 8566.38, BIC = 8596.62, adjusted BIC = 8574.39. A comparison
of AIC, BIC, and adjusted BIC fit criteria between the hypothesized and competing
model indicated that the hypothesized model was superior in fit. This indicates that a
model in which acculturative stress predicts social support performs better than one
in which social support predicts acculturative stress.

Moderation by demographic characteristics

We dichotomized categorical demographic variables based on their largest sub-


groups to analyze whether each of these variables moderated relationships in our
acculturative stress model. Continent of origin (Europe, Asia), race (Asian, White),
education level (undergraduate, graduate), gender, and length of stay did not mod-
erate relationships between acculturative stress and social support, or acculturative
stress and outcome expectations, nor was the indirect effect of acculturative stress on
outcome expectations through social support different depending on demographic
characteristics (see Table 2).

Table 2  Tests for demographic moderates in acculturative stress model


Demographic variable Path 1 Path 2 IMM
β (SE) CI β (SE) CI β (SE) CI

Continent (Europe, − .03 (.11) − .23, .18 − .03 (.11) − .25, .19 − .006 (.03) − .06, .04
Asia)
Race (White, Asian) − .05 (.10) − .15, .25 − .03 (.10) − .23, .17 .01 (.02) − .03, .06
Education (undergrad, − .14 (.09) − .31, .04 .11 (.09) − .08, .29 − .03 (.02) − .06, .01
grad)
Gender − .10 (.08) − .25, .05 .05 (.08) − .11, .20 − .02 (.06) − .05, .01
Length of stay − .001 (.01) − .03, .03 − .01 (.02) − .04, .02 − .001 (.004) − .008, .006

Path 1 acculturative stress to social support, Path 2 acculturative stress to outcome expectations, IMM
index of moderated mediation

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Post hoc analyses examining acculturative stress dimensions

Considering acculturative stress is multidimensional, post hoc analyses examined


which specific dimensions of acculturative stress influenced outcome expectations
through social support. First the reliability of each of the acculturative stress sub-
scales was examined. Estimates were as follows—discrimination (α = .86), home-
sickness (α = .70), hate (α = .80), fear (α = .75), stress (α = .52), and guilt (α = .50).
Post hoc analyses were done only with scales displaying sufficient validity; guilt
and stress subscales were excluded. The Bonferroni adjustment was used to control
for type 1 errors (.05/4; Frane, 2015) leaving a corrected significance threshold of
.0125.
In the model with perceived discrimination (R2 = .11, SE = .03), discrimination
related negatively to social support β = −  .31, SE = .04, 95% [CI = −  .39, −  .22]),
p < .0125, and maintained a direct negative relationship with outcome expectations
β = − .20, SE = .04, 95% [CI = − .28, − .12]), p < .0125. Social support related posi-
tively to outcome expectations β = .22, SE = .04, 95% [CI = .12, .29]), p < .0125. The
indirect relationship between perceived discrimination and outcome expectations
through social support was significant β = − .07, SE = .02, 95% [CI = − .10, − .04]),
p < .0125.
In the homesickness model (R2 = .08, SE = .02), homesickness related negatively
to social support β = − .20, SE = .04, 95% [CI = − .30, − .12]), p < .0125, but did not
relate to outcome expectations β = − .03, SE = .05, 95% [CI = − .13, .05]), p > .0125.
Social support related positively to outcome expectations β = .27, SE = .05, 95%
[CI = .17, .35]), p < .0125. The indirect relationship between homesickness and out-
come expectations through social support was significant β = −  .06, SE = .02, 95%
[CI = − .09, − .03]), p < .0125.
In the model with hate (R2 = .10, SE = .03), hate related negatively to social sup-
port β = − .34, SE = .04, 95% [CI = − .42, − .26]), p < .0125, and to outcome expecta-
tions β = − .16, SE = .04, 95% [CI = − .24, − .08]), p < .0125. Social support related
positively to outcome expectations β = .22, SE = .05, 95% [CI = .12, .30]), p < .0125.
The indirect relationship between hate and outcome expectations through social sup-
port was significant β = − .07, SE = .02, 95% [CI = − .11, − .04]), p < .0125.
In the model with fear (R2 = .11, SE = .03), fear related negatively to social sup-
port, β = −.40, SE = .04, 95% [CI = −  .47, −  .32]), p < .0125, and to outcome
expectations, β = −  .19, SE = .04, 95% [CI = −  .27, −  .09]), p < .0125. Social sup-
port positively related to outcome expectations, β = .20, SE = .05, 95% [CI = .10,
.28]), p < .0125. The indirect relationship between fear and outcome expectations
through social support was significant β = − .08, SE = .02, 95% [CI = − .12, − .04]),
p < .0125.
We compared the magnitude of the beta for the indirect effect for each of the
subscales using z values (Paternoster, Brame, Mazerrole, & Piquero, 1998). In this
method, standardized betas and their standard errors are used to calculate a z value.
If the z-value exceeds ± 1.96 for a two tailed test then there is a significant difference
between beta values. Results indicated that the indirect effect of discrimination on
outcome expectations through social support did not differ from that of homesick-
ness (z = −  .35; p > .05), hate (z = −  .03; p > .05), or fear (z = −  .35; p > .05). The

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indirect effect of homesickness did not differ from that of hate (z = −  .35; p > .05)
or fear (z = .71; p > .05). The indirect effect of hate did not differ from that of fear
(z = .35; p > .05).

Post hoc analyses examining social support dimensions

Considering that social support from host country is multidimensional, post hoc
analyses examined which specific dimensions of social support from host country
(i.e., socioemotional support, instrumental support) explained relationships between
acculturative stress and outcome expectations. The bonferroni adjustment was used
again to control for type 1 errors (.05/2; Frane, 2015) leaving a corrected signifi-
cance threshold of .025.
In the model with socioemotional support as an explanatory variable (R2 = .12,
SE =  .89), acculturative stress related negatively to socioemotional support,
β = − .39, SE = .04, 95% [CI = − .47, − .31]), p < .025, and to outcome expectations,
β = −  .25, SE = .04, 95% [CI = −  .34, −  .16]), p < .025. Socioemotional support
positively related to outcome expectations, β = .16, SE = .04, 95% [CI = .07, .24]),
p < .025. The indirect relationship between acculturative stress and outcome expec-
tations through socioemotional support was significant β = −  .06, SE = .02, 95%
[CI = − .10, − .03]), p < .025.
In the model with instrumental support as an explanatory variable (R2 = .12,
SE = .89), acculturative stress related negatively to instrumental support, β = − .45,
SE = .04, 95% [CI = − .53, − .38]), p < .0125, and to outcome expectations, β = − .24,
SE = .05, 95% [CI = − .33, − .15]), p < .025. Instrumental support positively related
to outcome expectations, β = .16, SE = .05, 95% [CI = .07, .25]), p < .025. The indi-
rect relationship between acculturative stress and outcome expectations through
instrumental support was significant β = − .07, SE = .02, 95% [CI = − .11, − .03]),
p < .025.
We used z-tests to compare the magnitude of the beta for the indirect effect of
acculturative stress on outcome expectations through socioemotional and through
instrumental support (Paternoster et  al., 1998). Results indicated that the indirect
effects of acculturative stress on outcome expectations through socioemotional and
instrumental social support did not differ from one another (z = − .35; p > .05).

Discussion

International students report an accumulation of stressors related to their career


development (Crockett & Hays, 2011; Reynolds & Constantine, 2007). Outcome
expectations are an important variable to examine because, according to a body of
research and SCCT theory (Lent, 2013; Lent, Brown, & Hackett, 2000), they pre-
dict career choices, goals, and pursuit. Research has indicated that acculturative
stress and social support are important factors to consider when understanding
international student’s outcome expectations (Chiang et al., 2016; Isik, 2013; Lent,
2013; Reynolds & Constantine, 2007). The current study replicated these findings
and also found support for an explanatory mechanism in the relationship between

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International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance

acculturative stress and outcome expectations. Specifically, results indicated that


acculturative stress contributes to decreased social support within the host country,
which subsequently predicts decreased outcome expectations. Effects did not depend
on continent of origin, race, education, gender, or length of stay, providing evidence
of the robustness of the model.
All of the hypothesized relationships between acculturative stress, social sup-
port, and outcome expectations were supported in the current study. Specifically,
acculturative stress contributed to lack of social support in host culture. It may be
that individuals undergoing high amounts of acculturative stress may then withdraw
from others. International students in higher states of acculturative stress may avoid
individuals within the host culture, in particular, because interacting with them may
increase the likelihood of experiencing various forms of acculturative stress (e.g.,
value clashes across culture, role changes, discrimination, and language barriers).
However, in terms of outcome expectations, this method of coping may be more
harmful than helpful as decreased social support in host culture contributes to poorer
outcome expectations. This result is consistent with previous studies suggesting that
social support has an important influence on outcome expectations (e.g., Ali et al.,
2005; Gushue & Whitson, 2006; Kenny & Bledsoe, 2005; Metheny et  al., 2008;
Wall et al., 1999). For international students, individuals in the host culture—both
other international students or natives—may provide knowledge to support them
in navigating career options if they prefer to stay in the U.S., guidance on navigat-
ing cultural difference in the workplace, assistance in instrumental tasks related to
career development (e.g., writing resumes, finding job portals), and affirmation and
psychological support. Each of these may explain why social support in host culture
contributes to more positive outcome expectations for international students.
Acculturative stress continued to directly predict outcome expectations, even
when social support was controlled for in the model. This may mean that even when
international students experience social support in the host culture, the accultura-
tive stress of adjusting to life in the U.S. culture, especially in the academic con-
text, may make it difficult for them to consider their career planning, expectations,
and the potential outcomes. This finding suggests that additional mechanisms may
be at play in explaining why acculturative stress contributes to decreased outcome
expectations. For example, because acculturative stress decreases psychological
well-being (Katsiafacas et al., 2013; Xu & Chi, 2013), perhaps diminished psycho-
logical resources may also explain why acculturative stress contributes to decreased
outcome expectations.
In this study, a competing model was also tested which specified acculturative
stress as indirectly explaining relationships between social support and outcome
expectations. This competing model did not perform, as well as the hypothesized
model. This finding is aligned with previous research that has identified social
support as the indirect mechanism explaining acculturative stress and positive
outcomes (Katsiafacas et  al., 2013; Xu & Chi, 2013). It may be that the expe-
riences of acculturative stress are too vast to be explained by social support in
host country alone. Factors such as homesickness, culture shock, and language
barriers may all be included in acculturative stress and, as a result, may not be
fully accounted for by social support in host country (Reynolds & Constantine,

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International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance

2007). In contrast, acculturative stress may have a more encompassing influence


on social support in host country. Individuals experiencing acculturative stress
are, by definition, distressed by the host culture, and individuals in the host coun-
try may be experienced as a manifestation of such culture.
Generally, post hoc analyses confirmed the influence of each unique dimen-
sion of acculturative stress on outcome expectations through the mechanism of
social support, and also confirmed that both forms of social support—socioemo-
tional and instrumental—explain relationships between acculturative stress and
outcome expectations. Regarding acculturative stress, perceived discrimination,
hate, and fear—but not homesickness—maintained direct relationships with out-
come expectations, even when social support was accounted for, indicating that
other factors might further explain the relationship between these forms of accul-
turative stress and outcome expectations. Importantly, these analyses indicated
that one component of acculturative stress is not driving relationships between
social support, and outcome expectations, and each of acculturative stress’ vari-
ous components should be considered. Also, both socioemotional and instrumen-
tal support are important in explaining why acculturative stress influences out-
come expectations.
This research has a number of practice implications for career counselors and
other helping professionals. This study highlights an additional mechanism for
intervention to promote increased outcome expectations for an international stu-
dent population: social support in host country. Thus, in order to promote positive
career development for international students, it is important not only to assess and
address acculturative stress, but also to impede its negative influence on finding sup-
port among individuals in the host country. Career counselors may do so by explor-
ing how the acculturative stress may be affecting international students’ social, aca-
demic and career experiences. Because outcome expectations predict career goals
and pursuit (Lent, 2013), this type of exploration may foster the development of
career goals and attainment.
Furthermore, helping international students find social support in the host coun-
try is another important intervention through which career counselors may seek to
mitigate the influence of acculturative stress. Encouraging international students to
find opportunities for social support (e.g., joining student organizations and/or social
support groups for international students) may be beneficial for their career develop-
ment. Implementing programs like matching with host families, or the use of con-
versation partners that bring together international students with local students, may
help international students experience smoother adjustment and reduce barriers in
the acculturation process.
The current study comes with a number of limitations. The instrument for meas-
uring career outcome expectations has yet to be used with an international student
population, and thus may have some issues with validity. More research needs to
be done using this measure among different cultural groups to prove its universal
applicability. Also, the data is cross-sectional, and thus, results cannot explain how
processes of acculturative stress influence career development over time. Last, it is
possible that different forms of social support (e.g., support from host vs. home cul-
ture, support from professors, peers) may differentially predict outcomes (Xu & Chi,

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International Journal for Educational and Vocational Guidance

2013). Future research might incorporate various dimensions of social support and
examine their influence on international students’ career development.
Additionally, while the current study utilized SCCT theory, a number of variables
related to SCCT theory were not investigated in the current study, such as self-effi-
cacy and career goals. Still, considering research highlighting the importance of out-
come expectations in predicting various axes of career pursuit for an international
population (see Sheu & Bordon, 2016 for meta analysis), outcome expectations are
an important outcome to investigate in their own right. Furthermore, results may not
be generalizable to international students studying outside of the U.S., and the expe-
riences of international students studying elsewhere should be investigated.
The number of international students in the U.S. has been steadily growing, now
comprising over one million (Institute of International Education, 2016). These stu-
dents face unique and increased concerns in navigating careers (Leong & Sedlacek,
1989; Reynolds & Constantine, 2007). Still, research examining career develop-
ment processes for this group is limited. Utilizing SCCT theory, the current study
identified acculturative stress and social support as contributors to outcome expec-
tations for international students. Furthermore, results indicated that one way in
which acculturative stress is harmful for outcome expectations is because it influ-
ences international students’ abilities to find (outcome expectation enhancing) social
support in their host culture. These findings can be used to help counselors to both
understand and address the unique needs of international students in the realm of
career development.

Data availability  The datasets generated during and/or analyzed during the current study are not publicly
available but are available from the corresponding author on reasonable request.

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Affiliations

Marisa Franco1   · Yi‑Shi Hsiao2 · Philip B. Gnilka3 · Jeffrey S. Ashby1

* Marisa Franco
mgf269@gmail.com
1
Department of Counseling and Psychological Services, Georgia State University, 30 Pryor
Street, 9th Floor, Atlanta, GA 30307, USA
2
Tainan Theological College and Seminary, 701, East District, Tainan City, Taiwan
3
Department of Counseling and Special Education, Virginia Commonwealth University,
1015 W. Main St, Richmond, VA 23284, USA

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