The long-term benefits of acculturation : a longitudinal study of change and self-development among Saudi academic returnees

Buhaymid, May Ibrahim (2022) The long-term benefits of acculturation : a longitudinal study of change and self-development among Saudi academic returnees. (PhD thesis), Kingston University, .


The number of foreign students studying abroad has expanded substantially in the first decades of this century, with close to five million international students registered in 2014 and an increase of eight million projected by 2025 (pre-pandemic) (ICEF Monitor, 2017). Up until now, the international education literature has largely focused on students' study-abroad experiences but research on the long-term benefits to students is scarce, along with exploration of their personal development and acquisition of employability skills. This doctoral thesis presents a systematic review and a longitudinal, mixed-methods study of the change and self-development of 72 Saudi academics who recently earned their Master's and/or PhD degrees in Western countries. The research aims to contribute to the existing body of knowledge by looking at the long-term impact of studying abroad on Saudi academic returnees who have spent 2-10 years in western countries. The research draws upon the theory of acculturation which examines certain predictors to understand the process and outcomes of the sojourners’ adjustment. These are the psychological and sociocultural outcomes of cross-cultural adaption and the macro- and micro-level variables. The factors involved in sojourner adjustment were then studied from a social psychological perspective within the dimensions of the affective, behavioural and cognitive processes. The primary objective of this research was to determine whether the long-term benefits of acculturation held true over time by examining the outcomes of studying abroad in terms of affective, behavioural and cognitive processes as well as the mechanisms that enabled or impeded these outcomes. We set out to extend acculturation theory by incorporating the impact of home-country transition on the long-term sustainability of these outcomes. Five predicted outcomes of study abroad were then selected based on the research aims and a comprehensive literature review: intercultural competence, self-leadership, creativity behaviour, self-discerning reflection and self-concept clarity. The data was gathered over a iii year, divided according to two time-points, while a qualitative interview strategy was combined with a quantitative questionnaire approach. The original contribution made by the research was recognition that studying abroad benefitted Saudi academic returnees in developing self-leadership and creativity. The findings showed that in place of individual factors (such as age, gender and educational level), situational factors are linked to the perceived outcomes of studying abroad (such as host country, length of study abroad and motivation to do so). Furthermore, excepting self-leadership and self-concept clarity, the returnees' perceptions of the outcomes differed considerably from those of in-country academics. The study results also revealed that with the exception of creativity behaviour, the participants could maintain the desired study-abroad outcomes through their readjustment experience. Nonetheless, the qualitative findings revealed two levels of readjustment concerns experienced by academic returnees: (i) social and cultural level difficulties, and (ii) organisational level difficulties. Both these issues may affect the long-term sustainability of study abroad outcomes. Focusing on readjustment-related factors, a parallel quantitative approach found that motivation to study abroad moderated the sustainability of intercultural competence, self-leadership and self-concept clarity. The returnees’ awareness of the perceived benefits abroad then moderated the sustainability of creativity behaviour, self-concept clarity and self-discerning reflection. Drawing on empirical data and responding to the scarcity of theoretical models of the long-term benefits of acculturation, these findings provide a new conceptual framework that tests and expands upon the theory of acculturation (Ward, Bochner and Furnham, 2001). Our study shows that the process of adjustment and readjustment is complex and requires special attention. iv This study is a starting point for further research into the long-term benefits of acculturation, but future research might go deeper into the context of the returnees’ relationships with family and work colleagues to widen the scope of the findings. It is vital to investigate how these factors translate into quantifiable and measurable business results such as innovation, performance and financial returns for businesses, and here multidisciplinary teams might be helpful in this approach, including behavioural economists. The wider context of studying-abroad is of considerable significance being that a large number of international students are funded by their government and constitute an important investment, entailing that they expect students to implement and apply what they have learnt abroad to help develop domestic systems, increase knowledge and enhance social change.

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