Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Understanding Tertiary International Students’ Psychological Well-Being

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posted on 2023-11-30, 00:36 authored by Nishtha Singh

When international tertiary students move to a foreign country to study, they undergo a significant cross-cultural transition and face specific challenges that can impact their Psychological Well-Being (PWB). Previous studies have primarily focused on examining overall adjustment experiences among tertiary international students or their acculturation to a new country. Many of these studies have relied on quantitative measures to determine the prevalence of issues and their impact on PWB. However, there is a scarcity of research that investigates tertiary international students' perspectives on their own PWB and how they think various factors influence it. Furthermore, existing studies have predominantly employed either individual or ecological approaches to explore PWB and have not taken an integrated approach that considers both individual factors and environmental and ecological systems and how they may interact.

This descriptive qualitative study sought to understand a range of individual, social, and cultural factors tertiary international students perceived to be stressful or supportive of their PWB. Participants were 25 tertiary international students from diverse ethnicities who were enrolled in four tertiary institutions in a large city in Aotearoa/New Zealand. Participants completed ecomap drawings and interviews and semi-structured individual interviews. Reflexive thematic analysis (RTA) was used to analyse the data and the findings were discussed using Ryff’s (1989) six-dimensional model of PWB. The key themes were: a) first adjustments in Aotearoa/New Zealand, b) meaningful relationships in life, c) navigating cultural differences, d) the role of the institution, and e) taking care of one's own mental health.

The analysis showed participants faced initial challenges because of a cross-cultural transition which impacted all six dimensions of their PWB. They struggled with social and cultural challenges, and these strongly impacted their PWB. Participants shared how the institution's support services, and their personal capabilities had a positive or negative impact on their PWB.

The findings were discussed in relation to previous literature on PWB and an integrated model of PWB based on Ryff’s (1989) six dimensions of PWB and the Spanning Systems Model (Garton et al., 2021). The overarching key themes discussed were: a) acculturation stress: the role of realistic vs unrealistic expectations, b) social support mitigates the challenges, c) institution policies and support services that are not responsive, d) navigating through cultural differences, and e) self-care: an important aspect of resiliency.

This study highlights how both individual factors and ecological contexts contribute to international students' PWB. Students' experiences and PWB are shaped by their individual capabilities (e.g., using coping strategies) and interactions within the home and host ecological systems, such as their cultural, social, and institutional environments. Recommendations are made for improving students' PWB that are based on shared responsibility between institutions and students and the student's own perspectives.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

Degree Discipline


Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

Degree Level


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

160102 Higher education

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

1 Pure basic research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Education


Bowden, Chris; McCutcheon, Sandi