Can You Predict Your Adjustment?

Two blog posts ago, I promised to blog about longitudinal studies of international students that can also be applied to sojourning English language teachers.  Ward, Bochner, and Furnham (2001) report on a few of these longitudinal studies, and Demes and Geeraert (2015) provide a nice updated review of literature on the same subject.  Many of these studies look at predictors or correlations to the adjustment or maladjustment of international students abroad. As mentioned in a few previous posts, I posit that these patterns can be transferable to most sojourning English language teachers.


Below is a list of some the predictive variables, or antecedents of cultural adjustment (Demes & Geeraert, 2015), many studies have used:

  • Coping strategies (Carver, Scheier & Weintraub, 1989; Herman & Tetrick, 2009; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Wang et al., 2012; Ward & Kennedy, 2001)
  • Demographics of the sojourners, international students specifically (Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991)
  • Early experiences abroad (Kennedy, 1999)
  • Empathy (Davis, 1980, 1983; van der Zee & van Oudenhoven, 2000; van Oudenhoven & van der Zee, 2002; Ward & Kennedy, 1999)
  • Expectations (Demes & Geeraert, 2015; Kennedy, 1999; Martin, Bradford, & Rohrlich, 1995; Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991)
  • Language ability (Kennedy, 1999; Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991)
  • Pre-departure adaptation (Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991)
  • Pre-departure individual differences (Furukawa & Shibayama, 1993, 1994)
  • Pre-departure need for achievement (Kennedy, 1999)
  • Pre-departure stress (Kennedy, 1999)
  • Previous cross cultural experience (Kennedy, 1999)
  • Social support (Cemalcilar, Falbo, & Stapleton, 2005; Geeraert & Demoulin, 2013)

Measures of personality are one of the more commonly used predictive variables many of these studies have used, and they include:

  • Femininity (Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991)
  • Five Factor Model (Costa & McCrae, 1992; Piedmont, 1998)
  • HEXACO personality model (Ashton & Lee, 2009)
  • Locus of control (Ward & Kennedy, 1992)
  • Norm adherence (Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991)
  • Self-actualization (Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991)
  • Self-efficacy (Harrison, Chadwick & Scales, 1996)

Looking at all the variables listed above, which do you think best predicts adjustment or maladjustment of international students or sojourning English language teachers? I believe none of these alone are great predictors as the most likely answer is that it is case by case, but there are some predictors that more likely contribute to adjustment than others.

To what extent do the predictors predict?

First of all, these studies looked at international students, predominantly university students.  So if we consider age and maturity, these predictors may be more transferable to the younger sojourning English language teachers than their older peers.  Below is a very quick summary of most studies’ results.

Predictors of maladjustment

  • Pre-departure level of depression (Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991), followed by
  • Psychological femininity, poor self-assessed language ability, and anticipating more interpersonal problems (Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991)
  • Neuroticism (Five Factor Personality) and inadequacy of interpersonal attachments (Furukawa & Shibayama, 1993 1994)
  • Pre-departure stress and undermet expectations (Kennedy, 1999)
  • Neuroticism (Swagler & Jome, 2005; Ward, Leong, and Low, 2004)
  • Avoidance strategies to coping (Ward & Kennedy, 2001)

Predictors of adjustment

  • Language ability and previous cross-cultural adaptation (Kennedy, 1999)
  • Agreeableness, conscientiousness, and extroversion (Swagler & Jome, 2005; Ward, Leong, and Low, 2004)
  • Problem-focused or approach strategies (Herman & Tetrick, 2009)
  • Approach strategies to coping (Ward & Kennedy, 2001)
  • Use of humor (Ward & Kennedy, 2001)
  • Use of acceptance, reframing, and striving strategies (Wang et al., 2012)
  • Family support (Wang et al., 2012)
  • Perspective taking to cope with stress (Demes & Geeraert, 2015)
  • Seeking support from people in the host country (Demes & Geeraert, 2015)

From a lay perspective, many of these predictors make perspective.  For example, if you are depressed or neurotic, you may have a more difficult time adjusting to living overseas. And if you are agreeable and have a good sense of humor, you may have a better time adjusting to life abroad.  With this information, one could overgeneralize and say that an open and positive attitude will help you adjust.  And that advice can probably be applied to life in general no matter if you are a sojourner or not.

How can we apply this information?

First of all, we should approach this data with a great deal of skepticism because there haven’t been enough studies on this topic.  Furthermore, there are even fewer studies on the antecedents of cultural adjustment of sojourning English language teachers.

Prospective English language teachers

If you’re thinking of teaching English abroad, perhaps you should evaluate yourself by looking at these findings.  If you are neurotic and use avoidance strategies to cope with stress, you should probably stay in your home country.  Or at least visit another country for a short-term to see how well you do. I don’t know, perhaps your home country is contributing to your neuroticism and leaving would be a remedy.

English language programs

I’m not sure how legal this is, but programs could psychologically screen their applicants to make sure they will last more than a few months in the host country.  I assume most interviews are designed for this purpose. There’s not enough science behind this yet, so I would not trust the results of any formal measurement yet.

TESOL & CELTA programs

Instructors, professors, and advisors should look after the psychological well-being of their students. Perhaps a course, such as intercultural communication, could help raise awareness of these predictors. All English language teachers need this information either for themselves if planning to teach abroad or for their students if they are planning to teach students coming to their classroom from all over the world.


Ashton, M.C. & Lee, K. (2001). A theoretical basis for the major dimensions of personality. European Journal of Personality, 15, 327-353.

Carver, C.S., Scheier, M.F., & Weintraub, J.K. (1989). Assessing coping strategies: A theoretically based approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 267-283.

Cemalcilar, Z., Falbo, T., & Stapleton, L.M. (2005). Cyber communication: A new opportunity for international students’ adaptation? International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 29, 91-110.

Costa, P.T. & McCrae, R.R. (1992). Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Davis, M.H. (1980). A multidimensional approach to individual differences in empathy. JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 10, 85.

Davis, M.H. (1983). Measuring individual differences in empathy: Evidence for a multidimensional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 113-126.

Demes, K.A. & Geeraert, N. (2015). The highs and lows of a cultural transition: a longitudinal analysis of sojourner stress and adaptation across 50 countries. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109(2), 316-337.

Geeraert, N. & Demoulin, S. (2013). Acculturative stress or resilience? A longitudinal multilevel analysis of sojourners’ stress and self-esteem. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 44, 1239-1260.

Harrison, J.K., Chadwick, M., & Scales, M. (1996). The relationship between cross-cultural adjustment and the personality variables of self-efficacy and self-monitoring. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 20, 167-188.

Herman, J.L. & Tetrick, L.E. (2009). Problem-focused versus emotion-focused coping strategies and repatriation adjustment. Human Resource Management, 48, 69-88.

Kennedy, A. (1999). Singaporean sojourners: Meeting the demands of cross-cultural transition. Unpublished doctoral thesis, National University of Singapore.

Lazarus, R.S. & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, Coping, and Appraisal. New York, NY: Springer.

Piedmont, R.L. (1998). The revised NEO personality inventory: Clinical and research applications. New York, NY: Plenum Press.

van der Zee, K.I. & van Oudenhoven, J.P. (2000). The multicultural personality questionnaire: A multidimensional instrument of multicultural effectiveness. European Journal of Personality, 14, 291-309.

van Oudenhoven, J.P. & van der Zee, K.I. (2002). Predicting multicultural effectiveness of international students: The Multicultural Personality Quesst

Ward, C., Bochner, S., & Furnham, A. (2001). The Psychology of Culture Shock. New York, NY: Routledge.

Ward, C. & Kennedy, A. (1999). The measurement of sociocultural adaptation. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 23, 659-677.

Ward, C., Leong, C.H., & Low, M. (2004). Personality and sojourner adjustment: An exploration of the Big Five and Cultural Fit proposition. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 35, 137-151.

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Ying, Y.W. & Liese, L.H. (1991). Emotional well-being of Taiwan students in the US: An examination of pre- to post-arrival differential. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 15, 345-366.


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