Intercultural case study of international PhD candidates at Radboud University and their adaptation process based on cultural and linguistic background, Dutch academic culture, and personality.

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Although international student mobility increases, research still mainly focuses on the adaptation process of international Bachelor and Master students. Less attention is paid to the extensive group of international PhD candidates even if their culture-dependent employment status puts them in a critical position between students and the staff body. A successful adaptation process for these candidates is important for themselves and the hosting institution, as well-being and academic progress are related to drop-out rates. Therefore, the objective of this case study was to examine the adaptation process of international PhD candidates at Radboud University. The analysis considered factors such as their cultural and linguistic background, the Dutch academic culture, and individual personality traits. A total of 24 semi-structured interviews were undertaken, involving PhD candidates representing 15 distinct nationalities, as well as support staff. Additionally, an assessment of English language proficiency was included in the study. The findings indicate that the adaptation to the academic institution cannot be equated with a cultural adaptation to the country as the university environment testifies to a perceived higher intercultural awareness. Host country language proficiency is an indicator but does not guarantee a successful adaptation process. Furthermore, incoherence in the use of English as a common corporate language (CCL) at Radboud University does not yet allow for unreserved satisfaction. The perceived “Dutch directness” and the importance of scheduling pose an initial hurdle for many participants. Furthermore, the quality and quantity of supervision and the employment status of PhDs in the Netherlands are reportedly connected with satisfactory academic progress and well-being. Taking initiative in personal and professional matters, such as the reduction of work-related stress, is perceived as a deciding factor for the success of the adaptation process. Based on the findings collected, an overview of recommendations is provided.
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