One Family, Different Experiences of Identity Formation

International Graduate Students and Their Spouses




different experiences of identity formation, one family


In this study, we use the communication theory of identity (CTI) to analyze the disparate experiences of International Graduate Students (IGS) and their accompanying partners. In CTI, four layers constitute the concept of identity: (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. We analyze the layers of identity of IGS and their spouses living in the United States and find that although there are some coincidences, individuals within the studentdependent dyad mostly do not follow a common path of re-construction of their identity frames. Each narrative reflects individual and dyads’ struggles as they work to define their new identities. For this phenomenological study, we conduct individual in-depth interviews with 16 couples from 12 different countries.

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 focuses on intercultural communication and health communication. Email:


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:

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:

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

Ching, L. T. (2001). Becoming Japanese: Colonial Taiwan and the politics of identity formation. Univ of California Press. DOI:

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:

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:

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:

Department of Homeland Security. (January 10, 2020). Immigration data and statistics. Retrieved February 23, 2020 from

Department of Homeland Security. (ND). Bringing dependents to the United States. Retrieved March 3, 2020 from

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:

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

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

Immigration and Customs Enforcement. (2014). Student and Exchange Visitor Program.

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:

Kamara, A. (2017). International students and "the presentation of self" across cultures. Journal of International Students, 7(2), 291. DOI:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

Saldaña, J. (2014). Coding and analysis strategies. In The Oxford handbook of qualitative research. DOI:

Skorikov, V. B., & Vondracek, F. W. (2011). Occupational identity. In Handbook of identity theory and research (pp. 693-714). Springer, New York, NY. DOI:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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:

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



How to Cite

de la serna, A. X. (2021). One Family, Different Experiences of Identity Formation: International Graduate Students and Their Spouses. Journal of International Students, 12(2).



Research Articles (English)