“I lost myself”

Merging Layers to Create a New Identity





identity, couples, communication theory of identity


International Graduate Students (IGS) may share their journey in the United States with their accompanying families. Families tend to be the student, their spouse, and children if they have any. Those individuals who travel with the student are sometimes referred to as dependents. As they go through acculturation, both students and dependents encounter the challenge of affirming or reinventing their identities. In this study, we used the communication theory of identity (CTI) to analyze the disparate experiences of both groups. In CTI four layers constitute the concept of identity. The layers are: a) The way individuals see themselves (personal), b) their communicative interaction through social roles (relational), c) their construction of messages (enactment), and d) their role within a group or social network (communal). Thus, CTI views identity as a communicative and relational phenomenon. 

Author Biography

Ana X. de la serna, California State University Dominguez Hills

Ana X. de la Serna, PhD, is an Assistant Professor of Communications at California State University Dominguez Hills. Her research is focused on intercultural communication and health communication. Email: adelaserna@csudh.edu


Anderson, J. (2000). The organizational self and the practices of control and resistance. Australian Journal of Communication, 27, 1-32.

Bardhan, N., & Orbe, M. P. (Eds.). (2012). Identity research and communication: Intercultural reflections and future directions.

Bender, M., van Osch, Y., Sleegers, W., & Ye, M. (2019). Social support benefits psychological adjustment of international students: Evidence from a meta-analysis. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 50(7), 827-847. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0022022119861151

Bergquist, G., Soliz, J., Everhart, K., Braithwaite, D. O., & Kreimer, L. (2019). Investigating Layers of identity and Identity Gaps in Refugee Resettlement Experiences in the Midwestern United States. Western Journal of Communication, 83(3), 383-402.Brooks, R. (2018). The construction of higher education students in English policy documents. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 39(6), 745-761. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/10570314.2018.1552009

Caputo, J. D. (1984). Husserl, Heidegger and the question of a “hermeneutic” phenomenology. Husserl Studies, 1(1), 157-178. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01569213

Ching, L. T. (2001). Becoming Japanese: Colonial Taiwan and the politics of identity formation. Univ of California Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1525/california/9780520225510.001.0001

Creswell, J. (1998). Qualitative inquiring and research design: Choosing many fine traditions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Colaner, C. W., Halliwell, D. & Guignon, P. (2014) What Do You Say to Your Mother When Your Mother’s Standing Beside You?” Birth and Adoptive Family Contributions to Adoptive Identity via Relational Identity and Relational–Relational Identity Gap. Communication Monographs, 81(4), 469-494. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03637751.2014.955808

De Araujo, A. (2011). Adjustment issues of international students enrolled in American colleges and universities: A review of the literature. Higher Education Studies, 1(1), 2-8. DOI: https://doi.org/10.5539/hes.v1n1p2

De Verthelyi, R. F. (1995). International students' spouses: Invisible sojourners in the culture shock literature. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 19(3), 387-411 DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/0147-1767(95)00028-A

Department of Homeland Security. (January 10, 2020). Immigration data and statistics. Retrieved February 23, 2020 from https://www.dhs.gov/immigration-statistics

Department of Homeland Security. (ND). Bringing dependents to the United States. Retrieved March 3, 2020 from https://studyinthestates.dhs.gov/dependents.

Doyle, S., Loveridge, J., & Faamanatu-Eteuati, N. (2016). Counting family: Making the family of international students visible in higher education policy and practice. Higher Education Policy, 29(2), 184-198. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1057/hep.2015.20

Eisikovits, Z. & Koren, C. (2010). Approaches to and Outcomes of Dyadic Interview Analysis. Qualitative Health Research, 20(12), 1642–1655. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1049732310376520

Elfeel, S. & Bailey, L. E. (2018). Sojourners navigating structural constraints: international student spouses learning English in an informal centre. Gender and Education, 1–19. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/09540253.2018.1547371

Evans, T. M., Bira, L., Gastelum, J. B., Weiss, L. T., & Vanderford, N. L. (2018). Evidence for a mental health crisis in graduate education. Nature biotechnology, 36(3), 282. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1038/nbt.4089

Guerrero, L. K., Andersen, P. A., & Afifi, W. A. (2017). Close encounters: Communication in relationships. Sage Publications.

Hecht, M. L. (1993). A research odyssey: Toward the development of a communication theory of identity. Communications Monographs, 60(1), 76-82. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03637759309376297

Hecht, M. L., & Choi, H. (2012). The communication theory of identity as a framework for health message design. Health communication message design: Theory and practice, 137-152.

Hecht, M. L., Faulkner, S. L., Meyer, C. R., Niles, T. A., Golden, D., & Cutler, M. (2002). Looking through Northern Exposure at Jewish American identity and the communication theory of identity. Journal of Communication, 52(4), 852-869. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1460-2466.2002.tb02577.x

Hecht, M. L., Warren, J., Jung, E., & Krieger, J. (2005). The communication theory of identity. Theorizing about intercultural communication, 257-278.

Hopkins , N., & Blackwood, L. (2011) Every day citizenship: Identity and recognition. Journal of Community and Applied Social Psychology, 21, 215-227. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/casp.1088

Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (2014). Student and Exchange Visitor Program. https://www.ice.gov/sevis

Kam, J. A., & Hecht, M. L. (2009). Investigating the role of identity gaps among communicative and relational outcomes within the grandparent–grandchild relationship: The young-adult grandchildren's perspective. Western Journal of Communication, 73(4), 456-480. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/10570310903279067

Kamara, A. (2017). International students and "the presentation of self" across cultures. Journal of International Students, 7(2), 291. DOI: https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v7i2.382

Kim, Y. Y. (2005). A contextual theory of intercultural communication. In W. B. Gudykunst (Ed.), Theorizing about intercultural communication (pp. 323–349). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Jung, E. & Hecht, M. L. (2004). Elaborating the communication theory of identity: Identity gaps and communication outcomes. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/01463370409370197

Lee, J. J. (2010). International students’ experiences and attitudes at a US host institution: Self-reports and future recommendations. Journal of Research in International Education, 9(1), 66-84. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/1475240909356382

Lindlof, T. R. & Taylor B. C. (2010). Qualitative Communication Research Methods. Sage Publications.

Lin, Y., & Kingminghae, W. (2018). Intimate relationships and mobility intentions of Thai international students in Chinese universities: A gendered analysis. Population, Space and Place, 24(5), e2120. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1002/psp.2120

Liu, N., Zhang, Y. B., & Wiebe, W. T. (2017). Initial communication with and attitudes toward international students: Testing the mediating effects of friendship formation variables. Journal of Intercultural Communication Research, 46(4), 330-345. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/17475759.2017.1344999

Marcia, J. E. (1980). Identity in adolescence. Handbook of adolescent psychology, 9(11), 159-187.

Metro-Roland, M. (2018). Community, identity, and international student engagement. Journal of International Students, 8(3), 1408-1421. DOI: https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v8i3.63

Padilla-Diaz, M. (2015). Phenomenology in educational qualitative research: Philosophy as science or philosophical science? International Journal of Educational Excellence, 1(2), 101-110. DOI: https://doi.org/10.18562/IJEE.2015.0009

Saldaña, J. (2014). Coding and analysis strategies. In The Oxford handbook of qualitative research. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1093/oxfordhb/9780199811755.013.001

Skorikov, V. B., & Vondracek, F. W. (2011). Occupational identity. In Handbook of identity theory and research (pp. 693-714). Springer, New York, NY. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4419-7988-9_29

Tajfel, H. (Ed.). (2010). Social identity and intergroup relations (Vol. 7). Cambridge University Press.

Thompson, M. J., Carlson, D. S., Kacmar, K. M., & Vogel, R. M. (2020). The cost of being ignored: Emotional exhaustion in the work and family domains. Journal of Applied Psychology, 105(2), 186. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1037/apl0000433

Ting-Toomey, S. (2005) Identity negotiation theory. In W. B. Gudykunst (Ed.). Theorizing about intercultural communication (pp. 173-191). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Tran, L. T. (2009). Making visible ‘hidden’ intentions and potential choices: International students in intercultural communication. Language and Intercultural communication, 9(4), 271-284. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/14708470902807693

Vakkai, R. J. Y., Harris, K., Crabbe, J. J., Chaplin, K. S., & Reynolds, M. (2020). Sociocultural Factors That Impact the Health Status, Quality of Life, and Academic Achievement of International Graduate Students. Journal of International Students, 10(3), 758-775. DOI: https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v10i2.1222

Wadsworth, B. C., Hecht, M. L., & Jung, E. (2008). The role of identity gaps, discrimination, and acculturation in international students’ educational satisfaction in American classrooms. Communication Education, 57(1), 64-87. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03634520701668407

Wee, A. (2019). Space and identity construction: A study of female Singaporean undergraduates in the UK. Journal of International Students, 9(2), 384-411. DOI: https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v9i2.643

Zimmermann, S. (1995). Perceptions of intercultural communication competence and international student adaptation to an American campus. Communication Education, 44(4), 321-335. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1080/03634529509379022




How to Cite

de la serna, A. X. (2021). “I lost myself”: Merging Layers to Create a New Identity. Journal of International Students, 12(2). https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v12i2.2459



Research Articles