Internet use by international graduate students in the USA seeking health information

Date10 March 2014
Publication Date10 March 2014
AuthorJungWon Yoon,Soojung Kim
SubjectLibrary & information science,Information behaviour & retrieval
Internet use by international
graduate students in the USA
seeking health information
JungWon Yoon
School of Information, University of South Florida, Tampa, Florida, USA, and
Soojung Kim
Department of Library and Information Science, Chonbuk National University,
Jeonju-si, South Korea
Purpose – Considering that the internet is a useful source for health information, especially by
foreign-born students, this exploratory study aimed to investigate international graduate students’
internet use in the context of seeking health information.
Design/methodology/approach – Data were collected from 54 Korean graduate students in the
USA using a survey questionnaire. Quantitative analysis using SPSS was conducted to describe
Korean graduate students’ internet use for seeking health information and to identify factors that
possibly influence their health-information seeking activities.
Findings – The survey participants preferred Korean resources because of language problems and
the internet was the primary source. They reported difficulties in identifying appropriate health
information sources and understanding medical information. They often sought online health
information to solve their or their family’s current health problems and consequently, personal
relevance was regarded as an important evaluation criterion, as was accuracy.
Research limitations/implications – By looking at an understudied user group, this study leads
to a better understanding of the patterns of internet use for seeking health information among a
specific ethnic group. The findings of this study demonstrate the needs of health education materials
and guidelines that introduce credible health information sources and medical information for Korean
graduate students and their families.
Originality/value – Despite the increasing number of international students in the USA, there is a
lack of research on the health information-seeking behavior of international students. The findings of
this study will help health education specialists and health information professionals provide
international students with necessary health information.
Keywords Internationalstudents, Graduate students, Consumerhealth information,
Health informationseeking, Internet health information
Paper type Research paper
This study aims to explore internet use by international graduate students seeking
health information by analyzing Korean graduate students residing in the US Internet
use to obtain health information is becoming increasingly common. According to a
2013 Pew Internet and American Life Project report (Fox, 2013), 81 percent of US adults
use the internet and 59 percent have searched online for health information in the past
year. Although medical professionals continue to be considered reliable sources for
The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at
Received 19 January 2013
Revised 17 July 2013
5 September 2013
Accepted 27 September
Aslib Journal of Information
Vol. 66 No. 2, 2014
pp. 118-133
qEmerald Group Publishing Limited
DOI 10.1108/AJIM-01-2013-0005
health information, online health information is now an indispensable resource to guide
health consumers to make better health decisions. Existing research has examined the
online health information-seeking behaviors of the general public or of sub-populations
(e.g. Hispanics, Chinese, Vietnamese), but international students have been neglected
as a specific target group despite their growing numbers.
According to the Open Doors Report 2012 (Institute of International Education,
2012), the number of international students attending universities/colleges in the USA
is 764,495, which is 3.7 percent of total US higher education enrollment: a 39 percent
increase since 2000. International students who came to the USA by themselves or with
their families (spouses and children), have unique features that differ from American
students; they not only make efforts to succeed academically, but also face challenges
such as cultural differences, language barriers, isolation from their families and social
networks in their home countries, and so on. International students are also
distinguished from immigrants because of their relatively younger age, higher
education level, and short period of stay in the USA. Therefore, we assumed that
international students residing in the USA have health information-seeking behaviors
that are different from those of American college students or immigrants. Although
some studies have examined college students’ and immigrants’ health
information-seeking behaviors (e.g. Escoffery et al., 2005; Zhao, 2010), there is a lack
of research spxl1ecifically focused on international students’ health
information-seeking behaviors.
Among international students, Korean international students represent the third
largest group in American universities. As of 2012, they accounted for 9.4 percent of all
international students with 58 percent growth since 2000 (Institute of International
Education, 2012). Although statistical data related to their detailed demographic
features is not available, the authors, who studied in the USA as international students,
have observed that the dominant percentage of Korean undergraduate students come
to the USA in their early age, such as elementary, middle, or high school ages. Since
this study focuses on health information seeking behaviors of international students
who grew up in their home countries and needed to adjust themselves to the American
culture, language, and the health care systems, it excluded Korean international
students in undergraduate programs who are relatively fluent in English and familiar
with the American culture.
Therefore, this study explores Korean graduate students’ internet use for seeking
health information. More specifically, the following research questions guided the
direction of this study:
RQ1. What are the characteristics of Korean graduate students that influence
online health information-seeking behaviors?
RQ2. How do Korean graduate students seek and evaluate health information on
the internet?
By looking at this understudied user group, this study will lead to a better
understanding of the patterns of internet use for seeking health information among a
specific ethnic group and help medical professionals or health centers provide effective
information support to multicultural students.

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