Worldview Climate and the International Student Experience: Internationalization Strategies Overlook Interfaith Necessities

Beth Ashley Staples, Laura S. Dahl, Matthew J. Mayhew, Alyssa N. Rockenbach
Journal for the Study of Postsecondary and Tertiary Education  •  Volume 4  •  2019  •  pp. 149-176

The purpose of this study was to compare domestic and international students’ experiences of the campus worldview climate.

Internationalization efforts have continued to increase and more institutions are codifying internationalization into their mission statements or strategic plans. However, most international students are coming to the United States from countries that do not share a Christian-based worldview and most campuses are already underprepared for their students to engage across worldviews.

To explore the experiences of international students with the campus worldview climate, we used data from the Interfaith Diversity Experiences and Attitudes Longitudinal Survey (IDEALS) to examine differences between domestic and international students with regard to campus worldview climate perceptions, engagement in formal and informal interfaith opportunities, and changes in pluralism orientation during the first year of college.

This study advances our understanding of how international students perceive their campus worldview climates and how they engage in cross-worldview interactions. We offer these findings in hopes of providing an empirical roadmap for improving international students’ experiences with the worldview climate on campus, especially as internationalization strategies continue to grow and diversify our student populations.

We found that international students do find their campuses less welcoming than their domestic peers. Additionally, international students reported engaging more often in formal cross-worldview interactions than their domestic peers.

In light of these findings, we suggest three interfaith initiatives campuses can sponsor to better support their international students: 1) find a physical space for a multi-faith center and provide dedicated staff to support interfaith initiatives, 2) help faculty innovate their practice and the spaces they hold in the classroom to foster environments more inclusive of diverse worldviews, and 3) engage student affairs staff in reflection about their own worldviews and train them to create space for cross-worldview engagement among their students.

Our findings suggest that international students’ experiences of worldview climate differ from their domestic peers. Researchers should continue to explore worldview as a relevant component of the cross-cultural experience and design research that considers these divergent experiences.

Helping our students engage with diverse worldviews is imperative as part of higher education’s contribution to creating democratic societies across the globe. The results of this study point to ways administrators and campus leaders can align internationalization strategies with effective interfaith and worldview diversity practice.

Additional research efforts should focus on identifying components of the campus worldview climate international students are more likely to experience than their domestic peers. Also, researchers should consider how international students are exhibiting growth on outcomes like pluralism orientation in comparison to their domestic peers and how cross-worldview interactions affect this development.

internationalization, international students, worldview diversity, interfaith
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