Discovering America: Unpacking Popular Social Q&A for Prospective Chinese International Students

  •  Hon Jie Teo    


The global pandemic and recent shift to online learning has heightened the need to better understand how to support international students, especially across online and virtual platforms. However, a review of literature reveals a paucity of studies dedicated to international student use of internet-based platforms and services for seeking information and sharing experiences. One avenue for further research is Social Question & Answer Communities (SQACs), which are vast conduits of shared experiences and knowledge connecting hundreds of thousands of pre-application and pre-arrival students. In this study, content analysis was utilized to qualitatively observe the contents of the “Overseas Studies in The United States” section of Zhihu, and quantitatively count their features and characteristics. The study found that 58% of the questions and answers were devoted to Academic issues such as testing, admissions, learning and research, with another 13.0% on Crime, Law and Safety, and the remaining 29% of the questions were associated to a diverse array of topics associated with living and working in American society. The most popular answers were made up of mainly 4 main types: Sharing One’s Experience (32.0%), Advice (26.0%), Opinion (22.0%) and Critique (15.0%). Content analysis of three main answer features, namely the use of Imagery, Digital Resources, and Social feature, indicated that the Advice and Critique answer types contain the richest variety of features and that question context, textual styles and use of digital resources are important factors for understanding the answer popularity in SQACs.

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