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Building Health Capability and Health Literacy: Exploring Social Support Experiences of Chinese International Students in a Canadian Context Open Access


Other title
social support
international student
health capability
health literacy
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Yang, Yajing
Supervisor and department
Springett, Jane (Centre for Health Promotion Studies)
Nykiforuk, Candace (Centre for Health Promotion Studies)
Examining committee member and department
Farmer, Anna (Department of Agricultural, Food & Nutritional Science)
Vallianatos, Helen (Department of Anthropology)
Centre for Health Promotion Studies

Date accepted
Graduation date
Master of Science
Degree level
The number of international students studying in Canada has been increasing rapidly in recent years. However at the time of writing, while literature was found on international students’ health related experiences in the US and other countries as well, it appeared that very few studies on this topic had been conducted in the Canadian context. Considering this, it is beneficial to bridge the gap between researchers and stakeholders, such as international student services providers, the public health services, as well as the Chinese international students themselves, to understand the international students’ health experiences within Canada by looking at the factors – social support, health capability and health literacy – that affect their health. Chinese international students were chosen as a representative group in this study for international students in Canada, as the number of Chinese international students in Canada is the largest among all the international student groups, with a large proportion (60%) intending to become permanent residents of Canada after graduation. This is a focused ethnographic study, using engaged scholarship. A Community Advisory Board was formed to engage specialists working closely with international students as well as student representatives from the Chinese student organizations on the University of Alberta campus. One-on-one semi-structured interviews, detailed field notes and research journal were used to generate data among twenty Chinese international students at the University of Alberta. The findings show that the Chinese internationals students in this study were generally lacking of social support as well as the awareness of social support as a determinant of health. Therefore, they had difficulties when seeking social support in their context. The Chinese international students tended to identify anyone or anything around them that could provide support to them when managing health as their sources of social support. Interestingly, the students had different perceptions of social support sources from what was demonstrated in the literature. Barriers to seeking social support were found among the students, highlighting how culture shaped their social support seeking behaviours in a variety of ways. Health capability and health literacy were found to be improved through the process of managing health independently. Appropriate social support and good heath capability/literacy social network sources were expected by the students in terms of improving health on a community level. As ideas of what social support entails vary by culture, those working with international students need to find ways to bridge alternate meanings and provide culturally appropriate supports. It is hoped that this study will provide academics and practitioners a starting point to develop culturally sensitive health strategies for international students/future immigrants and raise the awareness among international students of how social support can be a vehicle for promoting health.
Permission is hereby granted to the University of Alberta Libraries to reproduce single copies of this thesis and to lend or sell such copies for private, scholarly or scientific research purposes only. Where the thesis is converted to, or otherwise made available in digital form, the University of Alberta will advise potential users of the thesis of these terms. The author reserves all other publication and other rights in association with the copyright in the thesis and, except as herein before provided, neither the thesis nor any substantial portion thereof may be printed or otherwise reproduced in any material form whatsoever without the author's prior written permission.
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