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The impact of new social media on intercultural adaptation
University of Rhode Island
The Impact of New Social Media on Intercultural
AdaptationRebecca [email protected]
Recommended CitationSawyer, Rebecca, "The Impact of New Social Media on Intercultural Adaptation" (2011). Senior Honors Projects.
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The Impact of New Social Media on Intercultural Adaptation
Rebecca Sawyer, University of Rhode Island
New social media have become increasingly popular components of our everyday lives in
today’s globalizing society. They provide a context where people across the world can
communicate, exchange messages, share knowledge, and interact with each other regardless of
the distance that separates them. Intercultural adaptation involves the process of promoting
understanding through interaction to increase the level of fitness so that the demands of a new
cultural environment can be met. Research shows that people tend to use new social media to
become more integrated into the host culture during their adaptation and to maintain connections
to their home countries. This paper attempts to investigate the impact of using new social media
on the intercultural adaptation process. In-depth interviews of international students in a U.S.
university are conducted. Based on the results of the analysis, directions for future research in
this line of research are also discussed.
While cultures around the world value their individual traditions, beliefs, and norms that
make them unique, social media links people around the world regardless of differences and
geographical boundaries. According to Chen and Zhang (2010), “The compression of time and
space, due to the convergence of new media and globalization, has shrunk the world into a much
smaller interactive field.” People across the globe can interact with each other within seconds of
sending and receiving messages. New social media has brought people from different cultures
together in the “global village.” During intercultural adaptation, people use social media to learn
about their host countries, establish and maintain relationships, and stay informed with events in
their home countries. Communication and interaction are key factors that influence how social
New Social Media
New social media is an important part of our lives because it promotes the
interconnectedness and interdependence of our culturally diverse world. Media for social
interaction allows for people to communicate and engage with information that is quickly
accessible on the Internet. In today’s society, there is an increasing number of Internet users so
new social media has become more popular in daily patterns and routines. The communication
that occurs in these online contexts promotes interactive dialogues that build understanding of
different points of view. “New social media means that everyone is a publisher and everyone is
a critic” (Georgetown University, 2010). In social media, people have the opportunity to express
their opinions to the public and participate in conversations and dialogue through a common
People use social media for many reasons. First, the need for connection and interaction
with other people is evident. As supported by Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, people desire to
fulfill a sense of belonging through support from relationships with others. After obtaining
physiological and safety needs, people strive to achieve Maslow’s third need of belonging. New
social media provide this opportunity where people can communicate with others and belong to
different networks via virtual communities on the Internet. In relation to interacting with others
online, people use social media to gain knowledge and learn about different opinions and
perspectives of issues, topics, and events. Most importantly, new social media is used for
socializing; it is a form of media that allows people to participate in conversations and online
dialogue without being face-to-face with others.
Cultural differences influence communication, behavior, and values. “There are
differences in the way that people who identify with different cultures, based on both national
identity and gender, manage their communicative behaviors within SNSs [social network sites]”
(Rosen et. al, 2010). These differences can be understood through Hofstede’s five dimensions
Hofstede’s cultural dimensions are power distance, individualism/collectivism,
masculinity/femininity, uncertainty avoidance, and long-term/short-term orientation. Power
distance is the extent to which the less powerful members of organizations and institutions accept
and expect that power is distributed unequally. Individualism and collectivism refer to the
degree to which individuals are integrated into groups. Masculinity and femininity describe the
distribution of roles between the genders; for example, assertive and competitive vs. caring and
nurturing. Uncertainty avoidance deals with a society's tolerance for uncertainty and ambiguity,
and long-term and short-term orientation illustrate the focus and values of a culture (Itim, 2009).
In relation to new social media, differences in individualistic and collectivistic cultures
are apparent in users’ communication and behavioral styles. Rosen et. al (2010) describe how
people from individualistic cultures focus on meeting new people and being seen by many
people, rather than maintaining their already existing relationships. On the other hand, people
from collectivistic cultures utilize social network sites to “maintain close relationships with a
small number of ties instead of creating new connections with people” (Rosen et. al, 2010).
The Diffusion of Innovation Theory (DOI) explains how advancements and new ideas
spread within a social organization. Five perceived characteristics affect adoption behavior:
relative advantage, compatibility, trialability, observability, and complexity (Rogers, 1995).
Social networking “is enabled by information and communication technology and heavily
depends on continuous user participation” (Veltri and Elgarah, 2009). The diffusion of new
social media across the world has different effects on individual cultures but ultimately promotes
interconnectedness and understanding among global societies.
Boyd and Ellision (2007) define social networking sites as “web-based services that
allow individuals to (1) construct a public or semi-public profile within a bounded system, (2)
articulate a list of other users with whom they share a connection, and (3) view and traverse their
list of connections and those made by others within the system” (Boyd and Ellision, 2007 in
Veltri and Elgarah, 2009). Four popular types of social media and networking sites are
Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and the iPhone.
An example of social media that promotes the exchange of messages between people
across the world is Facebook. Facebook was created in 2004 by Mark Zuckerberg, whose
mission was to bring people together with different backgrounds and encourage interaction
(Facebook, 2010). There are over 500 million users in the world with a population of 6.8 billion,
which means that about 1 out of 14 people have a Facebook account. One impact that social
media has on intercultural dialogue is providing a common medium for exchanging messages,
and many people around the globe can use the Internet to communicate and collaborate. There
are more than 70 translations available on the site, and about 70% of users are outside the U.S.
(Facebook, 2010). According to Mark Zuckerberg, “If Facebook were a country, it would be the
6th most populated country in the world.” This social networking among numerous countries
enriches social lives through ignoring the factor of distance. Social media brings people together
with different backgrounds and encourages interaction.
YouTube is a video-sharing website that began in 2005 that “allows individuals to
interact with the global community by viewing and sharing user generated video content”
(Georgetown University, 2010). Because so many videos are shared by people around the world,
traditional stereotypes of groups of people begin to decline. People have the opportunity to
comment on videos and participate in discussions and conferences. Numerous people have used
YouTube, and this innovation “became a driving force for change around the world” (Ostrow,
2010). YouTube has over 78 million users with over 150,000 videos uploaded daily (Lake,
2009). Many companies use videos to promote their business to other countries. This strategy
provides businesses with the opportunity to market their service or product to potential
customers spanning across greater distances. In regards to worldwide current events, people
upload videos to the Internet for the purpose of entertainment, information, or persuasion. Some
videos instigate controversy, and people across the globe can voice their opinions on the issue,
which may contradict societal norms and stereotypes.
Twitter is a form of social media that allows people to communicate information through
microblogging. People use microblogging to “talk about their daily activities and to seek or
share information” (Java et al., 2007). Twitter is a social-networking site created in 2006 to
relay real time information to users. “The platform was inspired by creator Tim Dorsey’s
introduction of an SMS-based concept that allowed members of his then-company, Odeo, to
keep tabs on one another. The name ‘Twitter’…is used to describe a short burst of
inconsequential information” (Georgetown University, 2010). Many people follow friends,
celebrities, and musicians on this site in which they feel connected and develop acceptance for
the actions and feelings of others. Twitter has influenced intercultural dialogue because many
people worldwide are focused on the individual lives of others and have the desire for connection
and knowledge of events. This example of social media has shortened the ties of distance into
knowing exactly what someone is doing without physically communication face-to-face with
Lastly, the iPhone is a device introduced by Apple in 2007 that combines the function of
a mobile phone, MP3 player, and instant messenger (Nowak, 2008). The iPhone combines new
innovative features, such as the touch screen and wireless Internet access, and it encompasses
different applications that include Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter. People can use the iPhone
to connect with others on social media sites in a convenient, accessible manner; they can interact
on the Internet without being face-to-face with others or even at a computer.
Intercultural dialogue is critical today in our globalized and blended world, where
different cultures encounter each other daily, especially through social media such as Facebook,
YouTube, Twitter, and the iPhone. Turmoil and violence would exist unless people actively
promote intercultural dialogue and communication competence to achieve harmony and
understanding (Georgetown University, 2010). Social media provide a place where people
across the world can stay in touch and feel closer and more connected regardless of the distance
that separates them. New social media have been rapidly spreading across the globe and gaining
popularity in today’s society. While providing a common way of linking people together
through knowledge, behaviors, and attitudes, a sense of belonging to a greater social network
other than one’s own local community is effectively created. The Internet exemplifies such a
significant means in connecting to a diversity of people, places, ideas, and cultures. New social
media have provided ways in which people can communicate and interact with others across the
world, without being restricted by the limitations of time and distance.
“The multicultural world is enhanced by the experiences of sojourners, immigrants, and
others who successfully make the transition from one culture to another” (Kim, 2001).
Intercultural studies focus on the interactions between people from different cultural
backgrounds, and according to Gudykunst (2003), adaptation is a “dynamic process by which
individuals, upon relocating to an unfamiliar cultural environment, establish (or reestablish) and
maintain a relatively stable, reciprocal, and functional relationship with the environment”
The stages of intercultural adaptation are important to consider when drawing
connections to social media use. The four stages are honeymoon, crisis, adjustment, and
biculturalism (Lysgaard, 1955 in Chen & Starosta, 2005). During the honeymoon stage people
experience initial euphoria with being abroad in a different country. The crisis stage consists of
hostility and frustration with living in an unfamiliar culture. Then there is gradual adjustment
and recovery, and biculturalism is the full adjustment and adaptation. According to Kohls
(2001), culture shock is the “psychological disorientation most people experience when they
move for an extended period of time into a culture different from their own.” Culture shock is a
distress that everyone feels during intercultural adaptation that can influence their
In addition, communication is an important feature in this intercultural process. Since
numerous people migrate to study, work, and live, talking with others before and after is
beneficial. Having as much knowledge possible about the host culture and intercultural process
influences the adjustment and emotions. “Emotional regulation allows individuals to engage in
clear thinking about intercultural incidents without retreating into psychological defenses. If
sojourners do not have the ability to regulate or control their emotions, they will be unlikely to
adjust well because they will be locked into their automatic or habitual ways of thinking and
interacting with the world” (Matsumoto et. al, 2006). Having control over emotions affects the
ability to engage in learning and understanding, while being more open and flexible in adjusting
“Only through global communication competence can people from different cultures
communicate effectively and productively in the globalizing society” (Chen & Starosta, 1996,
2005). Global communication competency is an important ability to develop in order to help us
understand other cultures and communicate successfully in today’s society. Competence
involves cognitive, affective, and behavioral aspects in relation to the four dimensions of global
communication competence: global mindset, unfolding the self, mapping the culture, and
A global mindset involves broadening one’s perspective and having an open mind about
different ways of life. In this process, one must have the desire to want to learn more, gain
further knowledge, and think critically about cultural differences. “Unfolding the self is a
process of transforming and moving oneself from the lower to higher level of the developmental
ladder of human beings” (Chen, 2005). The empathy that is incorporated in this dimension
influences the development of sensitivity and creativity. These traits encourage learning and
increase global communication competence. Mapping the culture entails comparing our own
culture to another and examining the similarities and differences. There may be bewilderment
and frustration when we become aware of the differences, but after analyzing the different
aspects it is important to immerse ourselves into the other culture and try to understand their
society. Lastly, aligning the interaction contributes to the ultimate goal of successfully
interacting and demonstrating cultural adroitness, the ability of interactants to execute
communication behaviors to elicit desired responses in a global communication environment
without violating their counterparts’ norms and rules (Chen, 2005). Effectiveness and
appropriateness are two important components in this process in order to be flexible and manage
interaction and changes. Thinking globally has become such an integral part of our lives in
today’s globalizing society as we have become more interconnected and interdependent with
cultures around the world (Vicere, 2004).
Consequently, the Internet has become one of the most popular media used by
immigrants, where they can electronically communicate with their family and friends in their
native countries as well as with the local people in the host countries. In an online environment,
the host social communication and the ethnic social communication are important components
that can facilitate or impede adaptation (Chen, W., 2009). Social media has a social, physical,
and cultural influence on intercultural adaptation. This study examines how Internet usage of
social media sites impacts the adaptation process for international students at a university in the
In order to discover the impact social media have on intercultural adaptation, I conducted
interviews of ten international students at the University of Rhode Island who were
undergraduate and graduate students. These participants were born in another country other than
the United States and have had the experience of adjusting to life at the university. The
participants were recruited by email through referrals from my faculty sponsor, peers, and
friends of the interviewees. The interviews were designed to see how the students use social
media to adapt to life in the United States and maintain connections to their home countries.
Observing the role and purpose that social media plays in international students’ lives, questions
were asked regarding how social media influences their adjustment to the U.S. culture,
relationships, sense of community, and their overall fulfillment and satisfaction. Table 1 shows
the participants’ demographic information.
Out of the 10 participants of the study, 6 of them were male and 4 were female. 4 of the
participants were undergraduate students between the ages of 21 and 23. 3 participants were
graduate students between the ages of 24 and 29, and 3 participants who were graduate students
The amount of time that the participants have been in the United States ranges from 3
months to 12 years. Half of the participants have been in the U.S. for a length of 3 to 5 years
(25-48 months). The participants in my study were from countries around the world: 5 from
China, 1 from Hong Kong, 2 from India, 1 from Spain, and 1 from Sweden.
Table 1. Participants’ gender, age, length in the U.S., and home country.
Length in U.S. (in
Data analysis involves examining the patterns that emerge from the interviewees’
responses to the questions. The following 11 questions were asked to the participants of the
study in which the conclusions are drawn from.
1. Do you use social media? (i.e., Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, iPhone) How often?
2. What purpose do social media have in your life? How involved are you with social
3. Before you arrived in the U.S., did you use social media to connect and become more
familiar with the culture? What kind of interactions? With whom? What did you
4. Do you feel that your social media use helped you to be more prepared in adjusting to
5. Do you feel that your social media use helped you to overcome stereotypes or biases
6. Do you feel that your social media use helped you to make American friends? How
7. What adjustment challenges (i.e., culture shock) did you face when you came to the
U.S. and how did social media help you overcome them?
8. Do you feel satisfied or fulfilled after using social media? Please explain.
9. In your opinion, generally what are the advantages and disadvantages of using social
10. How do social media contribute to your sense of community in both your host and
11. Is there anything else you would like to say about social media and intercultural
In relation to each of the questions asked about social media and intercultural adaptation,
I found similar themes among the answers of the participants. The results are supported by
direct quotations from the interviewees’ responses.
: All of the participants that were involved in the study used social media. They used
Facebook, Twitter, Skype, YouTube, LinkedIn, and Google. Since Facebook is banned in China,
Renren (formerly known as Xiaonei, which translates to “on-campus network”) and QZone are
popular social networking sites in China. Orkut is a social networking site owned and operated
by Google, and even though it is not popular in the U.S., it is well-known and frequently used by
people living in India. In addition, I found that Spain’s geographic social networking site is
called Tuenti. This site is referred to as the “Spanish Facebook” and comes from “tu entidad,”
Most of the participants use the social networking sites multiple times a day, and some
log in weekly to communicate with friends and family. A few sites are checked a couple times a
month just to get updates and check the news. The amount of time the interviewees spent on
social networking sites varies from about 5 minutes when checking updates to a few hours if they
None of the interviewees discussed the popularity or their personal use of the iPhone.
Many people today have Internet on their phones, providing another means of connecting and
socializing with people in a convenient way. However, the participants did not include this in
their discussion of their social media use.
“I use Facebook to communicate with friends all around the world, except my friends in
China. We use Renren instead; it’s like Facebook because Facebook is banned in China. A lot
of American students who study Chinese also use this one, and I probably use Renren more than
Facebook because a lot of my friends back in China have it” (Interviewee C).
“I have accounts on almost all the popular sites- Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn,
and of course Gmail. I log in multiple times a day, totaling about an hour” (Interviewee D).
“Mostly, I use Facebook everyday for about 15 minutes on average. I spend more time
on it when I am chatting with my friends” (Interviewee I).
: The participants of my study used social media sites to communicate with their
friends and family and to stay in touch with people whom they cannot talk to face-to-face.
Staying connected to people that they do not talk to or see often is important for the relationships
in order to maintain contact and connection. Additionally, social media sites are used to share
information, news articles, photos, resources, and links.
The degree of how involved people are with social media sites varied; some participants
were more passive with interacting online, while others were very active users who
“When I use Renren, I share a lot of articles. Most students are very critical about the
government, and we share pictures and news links on what’s happening in China. Personally, I
use QZone to talk to my family, but I don’t post anything on that site because it’s censored by the
government. With my friends, I use Renren, which is the campus network where we share a lot
of information and sources” (Interviewee A).
“As far as interactions go on Facebook, I don’t interact much; I only observe. For
example, on Twitter I follow a couple of links that I’m interested in. So similarly on Facebook,
there are many people who update and post interesting news and videos, and if I feel like
replying or commenting I will, but mostly I just observe. There is another social media site that I
use, Orkut; it’s not very popular in this part of the world, but people use it to interact with
others, share photographs, etc. This is a medium for me to not extend my boundaries but to
strongly maintain my connections. I still observe people in my network. I’m a limited user of
these things, but I’m content with what I have” (Interviewee D).
“I use social media to feel connected to people that I don’t talk to or see that much. I
also use it to keep in touch and be updated with my friends and family. I don’t even use email
that much anymore; I just send a private message through social media sites. I probably use
social media more to stay connected with people back in Spain” (Interviewee F).
: Before the international students arrived in the U.S., they had only a few contacts,
along with professors, and they communicated through email. In this respect, social media did
not play a prominent role in developing relationships; however, social media was still used to
become more familiar with the culture through talking with their friends about the cultural
“I only knew a Chinese American living in California at the time, and we used MSN to
talk a bit. He helped me to adjust to the American culture” (Interviewee C).
“A few years ago I didn’t use social media, so I communicated with my professors
through email” (Interviewee H).
: The interviewees’ social media use helped them to be prepared in adjusting to
American culture. Social media sites fostered connections and created awareness of different
aspects of the culture, and some people used social media for entertainment in order to
“My interactions with others were limited and social media increased my awareness.
For example, when I was in India, I didn’t know what Halloween was. It was a Western thing
and I didn’t really care or understand until I talked to people about it. And Christmas…it’s a
festival, we all celebrate it, but when I came here, I saw how a lot of people go shopping on
Black Friday. The only way I understood was watching videos and using social media to learn
about the importance of the holidays and appreciate what other people do” (Interviewee D).
“I used Facebook more so I could get to know more people so that I could be more
prepared for life in the U.S. A while ago I didn’t know what “lol” meant so I had to ask people.
With the help of Facebook and Renren, I learned what was going on in the U.S.” (Interviewee
“With Facebook, I did become more involved and in touch with my friends and social
activities before arriving in the U.S. These sites gave me a better idea of how American people
think and talk, so it helped me become more prepared in adjusting to the culture” (Interviewee
: From the responses of the interviewees on whether social media helped them to
overcome stereotypes or biases towards the U.S. culture, there were mixed answers. Some
participants felt that social media both strengthens and weakens stereotypes because some sites
advocate overcoming stereotypes, while others are geared towards ostracizing groups and
promoting the stereotypes. For example, some videos on YouTube directly make fun of cultures,
which consequently spreads the biases. On the other hand, some videos acknowledge cultural
differences and demonstrate the purpose of informing an audience that is unfamiliar with certain
norms, traditions, practices, beliefs, etc.
Also, some of the interviewees expressed caution while viewing videos or participating in
discussion groups focused on stereotypes. They were aware that different viewpoints exist and
that it is important to be critical and skeptical of the sources so one can create a wider world-
Lastly, one international student that was interviewed expressed how she did not have
preconceived stereotypes of the U.S. culture, and so social media had no effect on overcoming
“It certainly helps other people understand different ethnicities and cultures. There are
some videos on YouTube, for example, that are geared towards stereotypes and making fun of
other people. So, it is a good way to let people understand that there are cultural differences”
“I don’t think that the videos on YouTube maintain or emphasize stereotypes because
people trust what they want to trust” (Interviewee C).
“I generally watch videos and see if things are contradictory. I look at multiple views.
However much we try not to stereotype, we still have perceptions of certain groups; it’s a
psychological perception that we cannot change so we must be cautious” (Interviewee D).
“This question assumes that we all have stereotypes and biases of Americans before we
came here, which I really didn’t have” (Interviewee I).
“In my opinion, social media reinforces the stereotypes, especially of the ignorance of
Americans, but that’s just the stereotype; not every person thinks that way” (Interviewee J).
: When asked if social media use helped the interviewees make American and non-
American friends, the responses that I received were inconsistent. I have come to the conclusion
that the source of the discrepancy was from the wording of the question; social media does not
necessarily help people make
friends- I found that from the international students that I
interviewed, social media helps to strengthen
, and maintain
friendships and already
However, there were 2 interviewees who made friends online with people whom they
have never met before on social media sites and sites where people play online games together.
These interviewees have met people online but do not consider them “friends.” I found that the
term “friend” can be considered ambiguous. Many people have hundreds of “friends” on social
media sites, but they may have only met those people once and are just acquaintances. So when
everyone is considered a “friend” online, the term “friend” acquires a different connotation, and
some people have the desire to “friend” people they know, whether they are close friends or not,
“If you want to make friends, you still need to go out and make friends in real life and not
just rely on the Internet. Social media doesn’t help me make friends; it strengthens friendships”
“First of all, it is my cultural upbringing that I’m not very comfortable with social media.
I am very comfortable with people who I know; that’s how I accept friends and interact with
people. When I meet people online who I never met in person, I see if they have genuine
intentions when we communicate. My usage is less because of my reluctance to the medium. On
social media sites, we have thousands of ‘friends.’ If you look from a sociology perspective,
when they define a friend, who is a friend? A person who you meet, interact with, and share
ideas…these are just some of the characteristics of a friend. The main problem is that people
don’t differentiate between a friend and an acquaintance” (Interviewee D).
“Not really. I think I use social media more to keep in touch with people back in Spain
than I use it to connect to people here in the U.S. It’s probably because of my situation; I have
always been at URI, so most of the people who I spend time with are here. Most of my
connections come from the university. I also have more friends in Spain than I do here”
: The international students faced adjustment challenges, like culture shock, when they
arrived in the U.S., and social media helped to overcome the challenges. The interviewees used
social media to become more integrated into the new culture with mailing lists and social groups
online. Social media sites were used to understand cultural differences and the local, everyday
life, especially seen through photos of social events. Lastly, social media was used to help the
international students with the English language, especially the slang and common phrases.
“It was a new environment that took time to get used to. We had a mailing list that
included all of the Chinese students studying at the university, so basic communication occurred
online with this group. A few Americans were on the list as well, and they organized parties and
events for the Chinese students. It was a social media group that was smaller than Facebook”
“I experienced culture shock. When I first came here, I went to gatherings and parties,
which sometimes were at the bars. I felt uncomfortable because I didn’t go to the bars in China,
but it’s different here because it’s more common for students to go to the bars. It’s not wrong
and it’s not right; it’s just different. I understand it now because I looked at a lot of pictures on
Facebook and other social media sites and I think, ‘Ok, most people do that; it’s common here’”
“The first thing I found was that it was hard to understand the language. I spent a lot of
time with the books because I couldn’t understand anything from class. I think social media
helped me because after coming here I started talking to people and I came to know the
differences, so I became adjusted to the culture. I would have to say Facebook helped me, from
the language perspective, learn the short, slang words and shortcuts, especially when people
post things on their walls” (Interviewee E).
: The analysis from the interviewees’ responses reveals that they feel satisfied and
fulfilled after using social media. Social media keeps people in touch with each other, and it is
very convenient for communication purposes. Most of the participants felt that it was satisfying
to stay updated with their friends’ and families’ lives, even though they may be in different
countries. However, one point was brought up that sometimes people spend too much time on
social media sites to where it can become addictive because people have the desire to constantly
be aware of what people are doing; so, it is important to balance how much time one spends on
“I would have to say social networking and social media sites are very convenient to
people all around the world. I can’t see how the younger generations could live without them”
“I’m satisfied with what I use. I control it and am not impulsive. There has to be some
sort of benefit when I post things: to educate or to entertain” (Interviewee D).
“It’s good to see what people are doing, but other times I feel like I waste so much time.
You need to balance how much time you spend on social media sites. You can’t rely solely on
social media when building relationships” (Interviewee G).
“Social media is a comfortable way to communicate with people when you can’t call
them on the phone or see them face-to-face” (Interviewee H).
: Even though social media have become prominent in society and integrated into our
everyday lives, there are advantages and disadvantages of using social media. Social media sites
are convenient and efficient to communicate with people around the world. The online social
sites instigate learning through the exchange of messages and the sharing of links, information,
and resources. They are online sources where people can stay socially connected to their friends,
On the other hand, there are many disadvantages of using social media. First, privacy
becomes an issue because people post and share personal information on the Internet, and
anybody can view the sites. Considering the information that can be shared publicly and the
information that should stay private is important. Also, social media can become time-
consuming and addictive when people develop the habit of always talking to people on the
Internet for long periods of time. Lastly, social media sites present a barrier to communication
because even though the Internet is a convenient and efficient medium to converse, emotions,
feelings, and facial expressions are lost during communication. People are unable to see how
others react to their messages and hear their tones of voice because they are not speaking face-to-
face, and messages may be impersonal when sending them online. Emoticons have been
developed to portray emotions, but the delivery of expression and instant reaction cannot fully be
“There are a lot of advantages. You can really share interesting news and be updated
with what is happening in the world. The disadvantages come with the privacy issue. I think
people should think before posting things. Particularly, from my personal view, I’m not
comfortable with sharing my personal things with anyone except my close friends, not on social
“You can learn a lot of things through social media, even if you’re not face-to-face with
people. However, there’s a barrier between interactions. When you chat online, it is efficient,
but you can’t see each other’s facial expressions or gestures” (Interviewee G).
“Social media is a good way to communicate with other people, share information, and
stay connected. Even the site LinkedIn is helpful for people who are graduating and looking for
jobs. However, there are disadvantages. Some people spend too much time on social media
sites. I’m not sure where I read this, but social media can become harmful- I’m not sure if that’s
the right word- for the new generation because people spend too much time on the sites, and it
becomes addictive. It is important to stay connected and learn important news and information
on the sites, but it is more important to not overuse the social media sites” (Interviewee H).
: Social media contributes to one’s sense of community both in the host and home
countries of the international students. The participants of the study belong to social groups in
the U.S. and in their home countries, maintaining contact with friends and family in the U.S. and
abroad. One way that the participants maintained a sense of community through social media in
the U.S. is through groups on social media sites that reflect their interests. They communicate
with people who they meet at the university and use social media to build relationships and feel
part of the URI community, along with the U.S. culture as a whole.
In order to maintain a sense of community and belonging with their home countries, the
interviewees maintain contact with the people they knew from their home countries and followed
news articles to stay informed with current events. Overall, specific social media sites contribute
to feeling a sense of community in different countries. For example, since Facebook is banned in
China, international students from the country use Renren to maintain a sense of community
back in China, while simultaneously, they use Facebook to maintain bonds and connections with
“I use Renren because it originated from the campus network and I can talk to my friends
in China. I share videos, articles, and pictures with my friends so that we can still keep up with
what’s going on in each other’s lives. In America, I also use Facebook, which makes me feel like
I’m part of a bigger family of people all over the world” (Interviewee C).
“I use social media to maintain contact with people here and in India. After coming to
the U.S., I started using social media so I never lost contact with my old friends or family in
India. I know what’s going on here and in the U.S. because I follow the news and talk to people
on social media sites” (Interviewee E).
“I think I belong to both communities even though I’m separated from my home country.
I use social media to keep in touch with people in both cultures, but our relationships aren’t
completely based on the communication we have over social media and Facebook” (Interviewee
“Social media increases my sense of community because when I’m in one country, I still
feel like I’m part of the other as well” (Interviewee J).
: When asked if there was anything else the interviewees would like to add as a final
note about social media and intercultural adaptation, many interesting points were brought up
that should be noted in the study. First, social media have become an integral part of our lives
that the distance among cultures has been decreasing. Because of this process, social media has
positively impacted intercultural adaptation.
“Social media helped me a lot to get adjusted to American life to overcome the cultural
gap. We have social media in China, but it was difficult to adjust to the American social
community; there’s a different sense of humor, different interests, and different backgrounds.
Social media helped to make my transition easier” (Interviewee C).
In addition, differences exist among cultures and generations in their social media use
due to different societal norms and traditions, the development of technology, and innovation.
“There is a huge difference in the way social media is used across cultures due to the
different ways people are brought up. I feel that the boundaries are thinning across cultures
over the generations. This thinning of boundaries causes cultures to be more similar because of
Westernization and modernization, so in this way, social networks and intercultural adaptation
have grown. If you look at the diffusion of social networks across cultures where there is
Internet, it has been pervasive. So over time, I don’t think that social networks and cultures will
be homogeneous; there will be heterogeneity. The way cultures use social media to adapt to
lifestyles in other countries are different” (Interviewee D).
“My parents have different opinions on social media. It’s common for our generation to
use social media to connect with each other, but my parents feel differently; they value face-to-
face communication more. I have a cousin who is addicted to social networking; he never
spends time with his friends and just chats with them online. My cousin likes to live in his own
virtual networks. He’s more active in talking to people online than in real life; he’s a quiet, shy
boy, but online he’s very active and social” (Interviewee G).
Lastly, social media helped international students learn the language and ease the
adjustment in adapting to the university life in the U.S. The interviewees felt that social media
was a great way to stay connected to in both the U.S. and their home countries. Social media
strengthens the links among people across the world, creating an environment for learning and
“From my personal perspective, social media really helped me to understand the
language better. From the cultural perspective, I saw a lot of pictures on Facebook, which
illustrated what life was like in other cultures” (Interviewee E).
“Social media is a good way to stay connected to people in the U.S. and back in your
home country so you can be aware of what’s going on here and back home. It’s good to link
people across countries so that they can understand each other. For people who are travelling
to another country, social media is a good place to learn about the host culture, and I would
recommend using social media, from my personal experience in adjusting to life in the U.S.”
Discussion and Conclusions
The results of this study emphasize the importance of how seeking connections on social
media sites impact intercultural adaptation. From the participants’ reports, one can infer that
people strengthen, build, and maintain relationships through social media. The interactions and
conversations establish interconnectedness, which is an important component for communicating
with people in the host and home countries. These connections and relationships are important
for (1) overcoming adjustment challenges and (2) establishing a sense of community.
Adjustment is an essential factor in intercultural adaptation, and social media influences
this process. Before arriving in the U.S., the participants spoke about using some social media to
become more familiar with the American way of life and to understand cultural norms and
traditions. Social media serve as a place for interaction and conversation in order to get in touch
with contacts abroad in the U.S. (i.e., faculty and students) and ask about the intercultural
Furthermore, becoming aware of stereotypes is part of the adjustment process. Whether
social media helped the interviewees to overcome stereotypes or just reinforce them, the
interviewees acknowledged the stereotypes and biases and could shape their perceptions around
the multiple sources. The information on the different points of view was available to them, and
simply being aware and recognizing the different impressions create a wider world view
Connections and relationships also influence one’s sense of community while adapting to
a new culture. After arriving in the host country, the interviewees met people in the U.S., and
they used social media to connect to the individuals. Forming these relationships created a sense
of belonging and integration into the new culture, and social media contributed to this
development. Simultaneously, keeping in touch with friends and family back in one’s home
country is just as essential. Social media provides an outlet where people have the opportunity to
communicate with friends and family in order to stay updated, aware, and informed of current
events. Participants spoke about how social media helps them feel like they are still part of their
home country even though they may be across the globe in their host country. Social media sites
exemplify resources for how people can foster a sense of community and feel like they belong to
Throughout my research, the recurring themes of connections, interactions, and
relationships were illustrated and influenced how the interviewees overcame adjustment
challenges and established a sense of community and feeling of belonging in both the host and
home countries. Figure 1 demonstrates the correlations between these concepts. Social media
connects people to their host and home countries, and from their social media use, relationships
are strengthened, which helps people to overcome adjustment challenges and establish a sense of
Figure 1. Social media and intercultural adaptation
Limitations of this Study and Directions for Future Research
There are several aspects in which this study was limited. However, these limitations
suggest a direction for future research. First, due to time constraints, I only interviewed 10
international students at URI. Interviewing a larger number of students or expanding to
universities across the country would be beneficial in creating a greater understanding of my
research. In addition, the majority of the interviewees were from Asian countries. For further
research, international students from a wider range of countries around the world could be
interviewed in order to gain a broader perspective of social media and intercultural adaptation
from a more diverse population. Also, the age range of the participants could be expanded to
include more people, and not just those adjusting to university life. Older and younger
generations could be studied, in addition to the working class and people moving to the U.S. for
reasons other than education, such as business. Lastly, Americans could also be interviewed in
order to learn about how their social media use impacts intercultural adaptation in other
countries, which then can be compared and contrasted with people coming to the U.S. There is
great potential for studying and interviewing people across the world to further understand the
influences social media have on intercultural adaptation.
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