Research questions asked in this present study include the following stated questions:
(1) What role does Internet technology (Web 2.0) play in the international student's development and maintenance of a sense of belonging in a new home country?
(2) What role does length of residence play in the international student's development and maintenance of a 'sense of belonging' in a new home country?
(3) Are there any differences in the adaptation of the international student to the new home country when the individual is a high volume or a low volume user of the Internet?
This research study has as its aim to discover how it is that international students develop a sense of belonging to a new country, culture, and ultimately a new home. This is little studied in theory that focuses on how it is that individuals maintain a connection to their home country. This study will contribute to a better understanding of an international student's behavior in a foreign country in examining multiple belonging through online internet interaction. Should this study confirm that it is possible for students to have more than one home through online use then the whole structure of what is viewed classically as 'home' will be transformed.
From this view the advance of globally connected digital technology and the globalization of economic and cultural exchange will allow the individual to and society at large to move beyond the idea of belonging in physical space and communities. Secondly, scientific knowledge about this issue could be useful for educational adaptation assistance in the host country through the provision of optimal online tools (e.g. universal social platform for an international student, under supervision of host University) for every future generation of an international student.
The three primary concepts in this work are those of:
(2) Social network theory; and (3) Internet as a new medium.
The idea of belonging is central to the understanding of how individuals give meaning to their lives. The individual sense of identity is founded on social interactions that demonstrate our belonging to specific communities through beliefs, values or practices that are shared. The choices that the individual makes, from religious views, to friends that are chosen and even in regards to the insurance the individual purchases, serves to position the individual as a part of groups, networks and communities that comprise the human society. (March et al., 2007)
Belonging is one of the more basic needs identified in 'Maslow's Hierarchy' (1943) Belonging falls just above the importance of health and safety and this low level need is indicative of just how fundamental the need to belong actually is for the individual. The need to belong includes the need for love and affection and it is understood as expressed by Maslow that the individual often has a preference to belong even if in a low social position within the group rather than to leave and seek another group to which to belong.
The aspect of "transition" is an important factor when examining belonging as a process that is flexible and changing in nature. Rather than to think of belonging as being to one specific group or place, it is much more common for the individual to incorporate multiple social identities or a sense of belonging to a number of different groups and places at any one time in the course of the individual's life. Leading British sociologist John Urry (2000) argues that belonging almost always involves diverse forms of mobility, so that people dwell in and through being at home and away, through the dialectic of roots and routes. (Urry, 2000:132-133). Furthermore, Savage argues that in a world characterized by virtual communication and the movement of capital, information, objects and people at great speed across large distances, social life cannot be seen as firmly located in particular places with clear boundaries (Savage, 2005: 1).
2. Social Network Theory
This work draws upon social network theory and aims to evaluate the role that new relationships established in the host country via the Internet and online activities in cross-cultural transition, play with their long-distance and long-standing relationship sin the home country. Social network theory is concerned with the properties of social support networks and social support and resource exchanges among network members. From a social network perspective, a social network involves a set of actors and the relations that connect them. Actors, either individual people or aggregated units such as organizations or families, exchange resources. These resources may include data, information, goods and services, social support, and financial support (Marsden & Campbell, 1984).
According to social network theory, an individual's social networks comprise strong ties and weak ties (Marsden & Campbell, 1984). A tie simply refers to the relationship between a certain individual and a particular network member. Strong ties are more intimate and involve more self-disclosure and various forms of resource exchange. People who are strongly tied tend to show similarities in attitudes, background, and experience. While strong ties can provide informational support and validation, the close relationships among strong ties may play an effective role, which can satisfy an individual's emotional needs. Weak ties, on the other hand, involve fewer intimate exchanges and less frequent maintenance. Weak-tie relationships exist independent of the pressures and dynamics of close social relationships (Adelman, Parks, & Albrecht, 1987).
Weak-tie relationships have their unique advantages: for instance, they offer anonymity and objectivity that are not available in close relationships. Furthermore, weak ties may be especially valuable in the flow of new information (Granovetter, 1982). Those who are loosely acquainted are likely to have access to different information since their social networks involve different members. Therefore, a weak tie can bring individual resources that are unobtainable from close associates (Granovetter, 1973). Overall, weak-tie relationships allow people to diversify their networks or connections, thus providing a helpful alternative for social support. Social network theory is applicable to describe human relationships developed in a face-to-face context or through electronic means (Birnie & Horvath, 2002).
It is particularly relevant to the examination of how the Internet helps maintain old ties and establish new ties. Similar to other interactive media (e.g. telephone) the Internet supports existing social networks by expanding the means and opportunities for interaction, allowing connection across time and space. In addition, it extends individuals' social networks by allowing them to be involved in various online communities and to communicate with others about their shared interests and concerns.
Unlike traditional communities, virtual communities do not depend on physical closeness. These communities are gathering points for people with common interests, beliefs, and ideas and are supported by a variety of things. Some characteristics of online communities, such as anonymity and selective self-presentation, make these social groups a welcome alternative to traditional support networks within the face-to-face environment (Turner, Grube, & Meyers, 2001; Walther & Boyd, 2002). Studies on online social groups have consistently found that these online communities tend to be interpersonally supportive (Baym, 2001). It is obvious that people can receive various types of support from online interaction and through 'online communities' to deal with life problems. Online interaction can provide "weak tie" support. Online communication fosters the development of weak ties because discussions often focus on the topic most salient to the user. The difference between a strong tie and weak tie can generally be revealed by time commitment underpinning the relationship. Strong ties are better for action, weak ties for new information and interaction (Mayfield, 2003). In addition, compared to strong-tie groups of close personal relations, members of such groups tend to have a greater variety of backgrounds and experiences and thus more expertise may be brought to bear on the problem
(Turner, Grube, & Meyers, 2001, p. 235).
The work of Ye (2006) states that social network theory is concerned with "...the properties of social support networks and social support exchanges among network members." (p.1) The social network is inclusive of a "set of actors and the relations that connect them." (Ye, 2006, p.1) The resources exchanged between the actors in the social network includes that of "...data, information, goods and services, social support and financial support." (Ye, 2006, p.1) According to social network theory "an individual's social networks comprise strong ties and weak ties. A tie simply refers to the relationship between a certain individual and a particular network member." (Ye, 2006, p.1)
Strong ties are those which are "more intimate and involve more self-disclosure and various forms of resource exchange. People who are strongly tied tend to show similarities in attitudes, background, and experience. While strong ties can provide informational support and validation, the close relationships among strong ties may play an effective role, which can satisfy an individual's emotional needs." (Ye, 2006, p.1) Weak ties however, are inclusive of…