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The Lived Experiences of African Social Science Doctoral Students at a US University: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis Study

Ayotunde O Akinleye, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


Two markedly distinct trends in the exponential growth in the population of international students at American universities are China’s (30.6 %) and India’s (21%) influence, as they account for over half of this population, and this population’s penchant for degrees in STEM fields (49.2%). Much research about this population has focused on these salient groups or treated international students as a monolith. This study examined the lived experiences of African social science doctoral students at a Midwestern US university, a group about whom very little knowledge exists. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with five participants, and data were analyzed using the interpretative phenomenological analysis approach to qualitative research. Participants experienced loneliness, isolation, and racial discrimination from American peers, some faculty, and the broader university community. They attributed their isolation to domestic peers’ exclusionary behaviors and acknowledged isolation as a part of the doctoral student experience. They revealed that their US peers espoused misguided negative opinions about Africa, reflected in their interactions with them. They perceived that others in their programs had low expectations of them and recalled harsh treatments from faculty they were sure would not have happened to a US student. Feelings of familiarity, closeness, and connectedness were significant to participants’ experience. They attributed their decisions to attend the university, their choice of advisor, and the nature of their interactions and social network to these feelings. They revealed that they had close personal relationships with their advisors, characterized by care, kindness, and cultural sensitivity, and acknowledged their advisor’s crucial role in helping them cope with challenges and succeed in their programs. Participants’ narratives suggested they had exemplary resumes before joining their programs, that they demonstrated resilience and agency with their attitudes and actions in response to unmet expectations and challenges, and that their programs being appropriately structured contributed to their success. These findings have implications for considering the kinds of advising most beneficial relationships to African students in doctoral programs.

Subject Area

Educational psychology|International Relations|African Studies

Recommended Citation

Akinleye, Ayotunde O, "The Lived Experiences of African Social Science Doctoral Students at a US University: An Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis Study" (2022). ETD collection for University of Nebraska-Lincoln. AAI30000823.