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Saudi international students’ perceptions of their transition to the UK and the impact of social media

Anas Alsuhaibani1, Andrew Cox1, Frank Hopfgartner1, Xin Zhao1 
23 Mar 2020-pp 198-208

TL;DR: The analysis indicates that Saudi students’ perceptions of transition tend to fall in to one of two markedly different camps, some students see transition as an opportunity to detach themselves from their home country and to engage with the new society, and other students turn to social media as a tool allowing them to build bridges with the UK society.

AbstractIn their transition to a new country, international students often feel lost, anxious or stressed. Saudi students in the UK in particular may face further challenges due to the cultural, social and religious differences that they experience. There is a lot of evidence that social media play a crucial role in this experience. By interviewing 12 Saudi students from different cities in the UK, the aim of this study is to investigate how they perceive their transition to the UK and how social media is involved. The analysis indicates that Saudi students’ perceptions of transition tend to fall in to one of two markedly different camps. Some students see transition as an opportunity to detach themselves from their home country and to engage with the new society. Those students turn to social media as a tool allowing them to build bridges with the new society. Other students feel less enthusiastic to make a full engagement with the UK society. Those students find social media as a good tool to maintain connections and links with family and friends in their home country.

Topics: Social media (55%), Study abroad (52%)

Summary (1 min read)

1! Introduction

  • The UK is one of the top destinations for international students with approximately 460,000 foreign students studying in the UK in 2017/18 [1].
  • International students at their transition are more likely to suffer from different psychological issues (e.g., anxiety, loneliness, depression or stress) [3,6,8,9].
  • Much more needs to be understood about how international students perceive their transition and how they use social media at this point in their lives, including whether and how it affects different nationalities in different ways.

2! Literature review

  • A simple model has been proposed by Menzies and Baron [21] to explain the experience of international students’ transition to a host country (see Fig. 1).
  • This model suggests that the sojourner passes through five phases during their transition.
  • Finally, the “healthy adjustment” phase occurs when the student feel that they adjusted to the life in the host country and they have got used to it [21].
  • While this model captures key aspects of experience, it does feel rather linear and simplistic.
  • Guo, Li and Ito [18] acknowledged that social media could have a dual impact: as well as its helpful roles, it can adversely affect international students by isolating them from the new society and making them more distracted.

3! Methods

  • A sequential mixed methods approach (qualitative then quantitative) will applied, using semi-structured interviews, followed by Twitter data analysis.
  • The interviews were conducted face-to-face, via phone or Skype, depending on the participants' preference and lasted between 42 and 102 minutes.
  • Participants’ views in this study varied in when they felt they started to get into the mood of transition and in when they adjusted to the life in the UK (if they did at all).
  • This can be attributed to the difference in culture, religious and social life, considering the conservative Muslim society that Saudi students came from [30].
  • Therefore, some students thought that this is an advantage of social media because they do not want to be disconnected from their home country:.

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This is a repository copy of Saudi international students’ perceptions of their transition to
the UK and the impact of social media.
White Rose Research Online URL for this paper:
http://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/163194/
Version: Accepted Version
Proceedings Paper:
Alsuhaibani, A., Cox, A. orcid.org/0000-0002-2587-245X, Hopfgartner, F.
orcid.org/0000-0003-0380-6088 et al. (1 more author) (2020) Saudi international students’
perceptions of their transition to the UK and the impact of social media. In: Sundqvist, A.,
Berget, G., Nolin, J. and Skjerdingstad, K.I., (eds.) Sustainable Digital Communities.
iConference 2020 : Sustainable Digital Communities, 23-26 Mar 2020, Boras, Sweden.
Lecture Notes in Computer Science (12051). Springer International Publishing , pp.
198-208. ISBN 9783030436865
https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-43687-2_15
This is a post-peer-review, pre-copyedit version of a conference paper published in:
Sustainable Digital Communities 15th International Conference, iConference 2020, Boras,
Sweden, March 23–26, 2020, Proceedings. The final authenticated version is available
online at: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-43687-2_15
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Saudi International StudentsÕ Perceptions of their
Transition to the UK and the Impact of Social Media
Anas Alsuhaibani
1,2
, Andrew Cox
1
, Frank Hopfgartner
1
and Xin Zhao
1
1
Information School, University of Sheffield, UK
{ahalsuhaibani1, a.m.cox, f.hopfgartner,
xin.zhao}@Sheffield.ac.uk
2
Department of Information Systems, College of Computer Engineering and Sciences, Prince
Sattam bin Abdulaziz University, Al-Kharj, Saudi Arabia
ah.alsuhaibani@psau.edu.sa
Abstract. In their transition to a new country, international students often feel
lost, anxious or stressed. Saudi students in the UK in particular may face further
challenges due to the cultural, social and religious differences that they
experience. There is a lot of evidence that social media play a crucial role in this
experience. By interviewing 12 Saudi students from different cities in the UK,
the aim of this study is to investigate how they perceive their transition to the UK
and how social media is involved. The analysis indicates that Saudi studentsÕ
perceptions of transition tend to fall in to one of two markedly different camps.
Some students see transition as an opportunity to detach themselves from their
home country and to engage with the new society. Those students turn to social
media as a tool allowing them to build bridges with the new society. Other
students feel less enthusiastic to make a full engagement with the UK society.
Those students find social media as a good tool to maintain connections and links
with family and friends in their home country.
Keywords: International StudentsÕ Transition, Study Abroad, Social Media,
Saudi International Students.
1! Introduction
The UK is one of the top destinations for international students with approximately
460,000 foreign students studying in the UK in 2017/18 [1]. There is great diversity in
nationality of international students in the UK and Saudi Arabia is one of the top seven
sending countries, with more than 14,000 higher education students in 2017/18 [2].
Study abroad for an international student is usually considered a major life event that
involves multiple changes to their cultural, social, and academic environments [3Ð5].
Comparing international students to domestic students shows that the former face more
challenges in their studies and in adjusting to university life [6,7]. The concept of
transition Ôindicates the progression from familiar to the unknown and involves the
adoption of new challenges culturally, socially, and cognitivelyÕ [19 p. 2]. International
students at their transition are more likely to suffer from different psychological issues

2
(e.g., anxiety, loneliness, depression or stress) [3,6,8,9]. Saudi students may encounter
further challenges compared to other international students, because of the differences
in culture, religion, language and academic system [10].
International students tend to spend more time on social media than domestic
students [11], this is due to their increased need of social support and communication
[12]. A recent study of the use of social media by Korean and Chinese students in the
US found that they spend on average about 6.5 hours of their day online [13]. Sandel
[14] found that international students spend on average approximately two hours per
day communicating with friends and families. Social media can help in increasing
students understanding of the potential host countryÕs culture and it may facilitate their
cultural transition [14Ð16]. Furthermore, it may be helpful in supporting the Ôlanguage
adjustmentÕ of international students [17]. On the other hand, social media may have
negative social and academic impacts on international students. It can hinder the
studentsÕ engagement with the new society [18] and distract them from their studies
[19].
Thus, the transition is a very sensitive period for international students and social
media can play a major role. However, much more needs to be understood about how
international students perceive their transition and how they use social media at this
point in their lives, including whether and how it affects different nationalities in
different ways. Given the sensitivity of the transition period on the studentsÕ life, the
increased number of Saudi students in the UK and their high use of social media, and
the specific challenges and differences that Saudi students face, this research
investigates the role of social media in Saudi studentsÕ transition when studying in the
UK. This research builds on work published in 2019 [20]. The aim of this research will
be achieved by answering the following questions:
1.! How do Saudi students perceive their transition to the UK?
2.! How do they perceive the impact of social media during their transition?
2! Literature review
A simple model has been proposed by Menzies and Baron [21] to explain the
experience of international studentsÕ transition to a host country (see Fig. 1). This model
suggests that the sojourner passes through five phases during their transition. The
authors assume that student at the Òpre-departureÓ phase anticipates their experience of
studying abroad and has a neutral mood [22,23]. This is followed by the ÒarrivalÓ and
the ÒhoneymoonÓ phases, in which students are positive, and are excited and eager to
explore the new country [21,23] .The student then reaches the ÒpartyÕs overÓ stage
where they begin to realise the environmental, cultural, and academic differences,
which lead them to feel depressed and anxious [21,23Ð25]. Finally, the Òhealthy
adjustmentÓ phase occurs when the student feel that they adjusted to the life in the host
country and they have got used to it [21]. While this model captures key aspects of
experience, it does feel rather linear and simplistic. For example, Blue and Haynes [22]
critiqued this model and argued that the healthy adjustment may not always happen.

3
Following the after the partyÕs over phase, students may have another phase called
ÒcrisisÓ which is very negative and may lead them to return home.
Fig. 1. International studentsÕ transition model. Adapted from [21]
Along with the increased use of social media, it has been reported by a number of
studies [13Ð17] that social media is implicated in the studentsÕ sojourn and plays a role
in their experience of transition. It has been argued that international students during
their time abroad consider social media as a source of academic and daily life
information [26]. Social media can also play a positive role in increasing the studentsÕ
academic and social engagement [16]. Sandel [14] reported that social media can
support the adjustment of international students through Òrelational bondsÓ,
Òpsychological well-beingÓ, Òsociocultural skillsÓ and meeting Òinformational needsÓ
[14]. For Chinese and Indian students in Australia, Martin and Rizvi [27] claimed that
students used social media as a tool to explore the new place and culture. This can
increase the studentsÕ sense of belonging to a new city and positivly affect their
adjustment. However, despite the positive views of most authors in this area, it is
important to acknowledge that social media may also negatively influence studentsÕ
transition. Guo, Li and Ito [18] acknowledged that social media could have a dual
impact: as well as its helpful roles, it can adversely affect international students by
isolating them from the new society and making them more distracted. Other
researchers [19] reported that for students as a whole, the uncontrolled use of social
media negatively affects their academic performance and achievement.
There is a lot of debate about the impact of social media on students. Little of this
seems to have been tied to the specific context of international studentsÕ transition.
Furthermore, more studies are required to see how social media can affect different
nationalities in different ways. In a recent systematic review conducted by Sleeman,
Lang and Lemon [28], they reached the conclusion that future researchers are
recommended to focus on students coming from Òless researchedÓ countries. To the
best of the researchersÕ knowledge, this will be one of the first studies that observes
Saudi studentsÕ transition and their use of social media in the UK. Accordingly,
therefore, this research aims to make an important contribution to this under explored

4
area by producing a strong base that can support further studies and investigations in
the field of studentsÕ transition and social media.
3! Methods
This paper is a part of a larger study investigating the transition of Saudi students to the
UK and their use of social media. A sequential mixed methods approach (qualitative
then quantitative) will applied, using semi-structured interviews, followed by Twitter
data analysis. This paper will only focus on and report the findings of an initial analysis
of the results of the first qualitative method interviews. Twelve Saudi students who are
using social media and pursuing or planning to pursue their higher education in the UK
were recruited. The reason for including students who are planning to study in the UK
is that this study focuses on all the stages of the transition. According to Menzies and
Baron [21], the experience of transition starts before arriving in the host country. Other
participants in the study were already in the UK. All had been there for less than a year,
as McLachlan and Justice and Prescott and Hellsten [4,29] have argued, the studentÕs
transition period usually lasts up to 12 months after their arrival in the host country.
Participants were recruited from different locations in the UK and to represent different
levels of study, different ages, genders and family status. The interviews were
conducted face-to-face, via phone or Skype, depending on the participants' preference
and lasted between 42 and 102 minutes. During the interviews, students were asked to
draw their transition timeline, identify the stages which they gone through, the
difficulties that they had and their emotions during these phases. They also discussed
what they drew with the interviewer. For phone and Skype interviews, students were
asked to scan their drawing and send it to the interviewer. Table 1 shows more details
about the participants.

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Abstract: This study attempts empirically to distinguish psychological and sociocultural forms of adjustment during the process of cross-cultural transitions One hundred and five sojourners (Malaysian and Singaporean students in New Zealand) completed a questionnaire which examined psychological well-being (depression) and sociocultural competence (social difficulty) in relationship to the following variables: expected difficulty, cultural distance, quantity and quality of social interactions with both host and fellow nationals, attitudes towards hosts, extraversion, life changes and personal variables such as age, sex, length of residence in New Zealand, cross-cultural training, and previous cross-cultural experiences Multiple regression analysis was employed to construct predictive models of psychological and sociocultural adjustment Satisfaction with relationships with host nationals, extraversion, life changes, and social difficulty combined to account for 34% of the variance in psychological adjustment Cultural distance, expected difficulty, and depression combined to account for 36% of the variance in sociocultural adjustment It was concluded that although psychological and sociocultural adjustment are interrelated, there is a need to regard these factors as conceptually distinct

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Frequently Asked Questions (2)
Q1. What are the contributions mentioned in the paper "Saudi international students’ perceptions of their transition to the uk and the impact of social media" ?

By interviewing 12 Saudi students from different cities in the UK, the aim of this study is to investigate how they perceive their transition to the UK and how social media is involved. 

In future work, a second quantitative method that includes retrieving Saudi students ’ content on Twitter will be implemented. This method includes applying content analysis and using text mining to further examine changes in behavior and to test and extend the results of the first method.