Information seeking abroad: an everyday-life study of international students

Published date26 September 2019
Date26 September 2019
AuthorMorten Hertzum,Jette Seiden Hyldegård
Subject MatterLibrary & information science,Records management & preservation,Document management,Classification & cataloguing,Information behaviour & retrieval,Collection building & management,Scholarly communications/publishing,Information & knowledge management,Information management & governance,Information management,Information & communications technology,Internet
Information seeking abroad:
an everyday-life study of
international students
Morten Hertzum and Jette Seiden Hyldegård
Department of Information Studies,
University of Copenhagen, Copenhagen, Denmark
Purpose The purpose of this paper is to investigate how four international students at a Danish university
cope with their study-related and everyday information needs, behaviorally as well as affectively, and how
their information seeking blends with their cross-cultural adaptation.
Design/methodology/approach Each of the four participants contributed ten diaries and took part in
three interviews during the first semester of their stay.
Findings International studentsinformation needs and seeking behavior are shaped by their host
university but also by cross-cultural, personal and situational issues. While the cross-cultural issues set
international students apart from domestic students, the personal and situational issues create individual
differences that call for more individually tailored support. The studied international students lacked
information about both study-related and everyday issues. These two types of issues were intertwined and
experienced as equally stressful. However, study-related information needs were more important, whereas
everyday information needs were more difficult to resolve. In addition, participants tended to feel on their own
when it came to finding needed information, but studying abroad also had elements of personal growth in
meeting lifes challenges.
Research limitations/implications More participants are needed to investigate how international
studentsinformation seeking evolves over time.
Originality/value This study contributes detailed information about international studentsstudy-related
and everydayinformation seeking duringtheir first semester abroad. Thestudy has implications for everyday-
life studies of international studentsinformation behavior andthe international classroom in general.
Keywords Information studies, International students, Information seeking,
Everyday-life information seeking, Information behaviour, Cross-cultural adaptation
Paper type Research paper
1. Introduction
In 2016, more than 5.1m university students were studying abroad (OECD, 2018). These
international students face a foreign educational system in terms of curriculum, teaching
approach and norms for student behavior (e.g. Hughes, 2013; Liao et al., 2007; Mehra and Bilal,
2007; Song, 2005). In addition, their uprooting from their home country necessitates cross-
cultural adaptation to cope with the transition to the host country (e.g. Jeong, 2004; Khawaja and
Stallman, 2011; McLachlan and Justice, 2009; Shafaei and Razak, 2016). As a result, international
students contend with a variety of study-related and everyday-life information needs and they
experience uncertainty about where to turn for answers. To support the international classroom
host universities must appreciate that the international students experience and performance
are influenced by factors that reach well beyond the university (Sin et al., 2011).
This study investigates the information-seeking behavior of international students at a
Danish university. Though research on international students has increased over the last
25 years in parallel with the increase in international students worldwide studies
have primarily targeted international students in the USA and other English-speaking
countries (Click et al., 2017). In Denmark, for example, the teaching language in the
international classroom is English but the default language outside the classroom is Danish.
Journal of Documentation
Vol. 75 No. 6, 2019
pp. 1298-1316
© Emerald PublishingLimited
DOI 10.1108/JD-11-2018-0183
Received 8 November 2018
Revised 23 April 2019
Accepted 30 May 2019
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available on Emerald Insight at:
This study has not received external funding. Special thanks to the participants.
Furthermore, the research topics of previous studies mostly derive from academic libraries
and their interest in providing better service to international students. In this study, we are
interested in international studentslived experience and consequently take the approach of
everyday-life information seeking (McKenzie, 2003; Savolainen, 1995). Using Savolainens
(1995) concepts, international students lack knowledge of the order of things in the host
country and, therefore, experience uncertainty and complications with how to master their
lives, study-wise and otherwise. Integrating the everyday with other life situations, such as
studies, is important in information-seeking research (Given, 2002) and intrinsic to
everyday-life information seeking. In this study, we ask:
RQ1. How do international students cope with their study-related and everyday
information needs, behaviorally as well as affectively, and how does their
information seeking blend with their cross-cultural adaptation?
To collect rich data about this topic, the study takes a qualitative research approach,
including diaries and interviews. While most previous studies of international students are
one-shot surveys (Click et al., 2017), we follow the participants during the first four months
of their stay in Denmark. In the following, we review related work (Section 2), describe the
diary and interview method (Section 3), present our results about international students
behavior and experiences in coping with their information needs (Section 4), and finally
discuss the implications of these results (Section 5).
2. Related work
Our review of related work is summarized in Figure 1, which shows how the international
student repeatedly experiencesgaps that necessitate information seeking tobring things back
in order. In thefollowing, we first describe research on internationalstudents, which accounts
for the gaps they face and the feelings they experience in bridging them. Then, we describe
research on everyday-life information seeking, which accounts for the bridging process.
2.1 International students
International studentsdiverse heritage and perspectives enrich the host country in general
(Smith and Khawaja, 2011). More specifically, their presence increases the cultural
awareness among the domestic students and constitutes a substantial source of income for
the host universities (Smith and Khawaja, 2011). Because many international students need
a job to sustain themselves, their stay abroad involves being an international student as well
Everyday activities
Study activities
By proxy
Psychological well-being
Cross-cultural adaptation
Academic satisfaction
Figure 1.
The international
students everyday-life
information seeking
seeking abroad

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