Research Articles

Asian International Graduate Students’ Extrinsic Motivation to Pursue Degrees

Naomi Takashiro*a


The author examined the types of extrinsic motivation for Asian international graduate students pursuing graduate degrees. The theoretical framework used was extrinsic motivation within Self-Determination Theory. Even though the presence of Asian international graduate students is steadily increasing worldwide, research into their extrinsic motivation is scarce. It is important for educators to explore and understand Asian international graduate students’ extrinsic motivation since such students would provide unique, distinctive cultural aspects in the classroom in their host countries. The research design employed was qualitative. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 10 graduate students from four Asian countries. The identified themes were a) faculty influence, b) personal recognition, and c) utility for careers. Asian international graduate students expressed that their ultimate extrinsic motivation was to get professional jobs in academia. The author discussed the implications of these findings for instructors.

Keywords: Asian international graduate students, extrinsic motivation, qualitative research

Psychological Thought, 2017, Vol. 10(1), doi:10.5964/psyct.v10i1.199

Received: 2016-08-07. Accepted: 2017-03-06. Published (VoR): 2017-04-28.

Handling Editors: Marius Drugas, University of Oradea, Oradea, Romania; Stanislava Stoyanova, Department of Psychology, South-West University “Neofit Rilski”, Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria

*Corresponding author at: Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, 6 Kasame-cho, Saiin, Ukyo-ku, Kyoto 6158558 Japan. E-mail:

This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

The number of international students is visibly increasing worldwide. More than five million international students studied overseas in 2014, and their number was more than doubled compared to 2000, besides among international students, one in six international students comes from Asian countries (ICEF Monitor, 2015). Six of the ten highest-ranking countries with students studying abroad are in Asia, including China, India, South Korea, Taiwan, Vietnam, and Japan (Project Atlas, 2015-2016). By the same token, the number of Asian international graduate students has increased by more than 10% in the U.S. (Open Doors, 2015).

The Importance of Extrinsic Motivation [TOP]

Despite the growth of Asian international students’ presence, they face a number of challenges in their host counties. Wang and Hannes (2013) discussed that Asian international graduate students are likely to face unfamiliarity in Western countries due to the language, culture, and educational systems. Asian international graduate students faced multiple distinctive issues in their host countries (Le & Gardner, 2010; Sato & Hodge, 2009; Yan & Berliner, 2013). Especially, doctoral students, including Asian doctoral students may face unfavorable issues, such as a competitive nature in graduate school, comparison with other students, and being disfavored by professors. Compared to their native counterparts in their host countries, Asian international graduate students tend to have more predicaments to tackle. Moreover, when Asian international graduate students face arduous work in graduate school, they should have strong motivation such as different types of extrinsic motivation to conquer their predicaments in order to pursue graduate degrees. Niemiec and Ryan (2009) stated that when students faced laborious work, extrinsic motivation could help them achieve their goals in addition to intrinsic motivation. Extrinsic factors can be especially helpful for Asian international graduate students. For example, one study found that Chinese graduate students used intrinsic and extrinsic motivation to pursue their Ph.D., which held a high utility value (Zhou, 2014). According to Ryan and Deci (2000), understanding students’ types of extrinsic motivation is important for educators because educators may not be able to depend solely on intrinsic motivation to encourage student learning. Educators sometimes may provide tasks that may not be intrinsically motivating for students, therefore encouraging students to pursue active and volitional types of extrinsic motivation becomes necessary for successful teaching. Thus, Asian international graduate students can benefit from instructors’ different types of extrinsic motivation to pursue their graduate degrees.

The relationships with others are especially important to Asian international graduate students for their survival at graduate school. Relationships with their peers, faculty, and family members in their host country are more likely to play a role in their extrinsic motivation. Sato and Hodge (2009) reported that Asian international graduate students had perceived the relationships with Asian peers and with faculty to be important. Especially in graduate school, the relationship with faculty is considered to be essential for graduate students. Students tend to perceive that good relationships with faculty would more likely lead them to graduate degrees, publications, and prestigious jobs. These various types of external motivational factors can significantly contribute to Asian international graduate students’ extrinsic motivation to pursue graduate degrees in their host countries. Thus, the investigation of Asian international graduate students’ types of extrinsic motivation is essential.

Issues Related to Extrinsic Motivation [TOP]

Despite the importance of extrinsic motivation, Asian international graduate students’ extrinsic motivation has been studied sporadically in the literature. In the literature, there are more commonly found studies of Asian international graduate students’ challenges. Some research investigated Asian international graduate students’ experiences (e.g. Le & Gardner, 2010; Sato & Hodge, 2009), Chinese international students’ personal and sociocultural stressors (e.g. Yan & Berliner, 2013), and international students’ cultural adaption (Chirkov, Safdar, de Guzman, & Playford, 2008). Only one has focused on Chinese doctoral students’ motivation to pursue and complete graduate degrees (e.g. Zhou, 2014). As Zhou (2014) pointed out, extrinsic motivation has been rarely studied with doctoral students. This is the case for Asian international graduate students. Researchers have not paid much attention to Asian international graduate students’ extrinsic motivation. This may be because researchers may make assumptions that graduate students have naturally strong intrinsic motivation and overlook the importance of extrinsic motivation. More research is needed to understand independently the extrinsic motivation of Asian international graduate students such as those in this case study. Understanding Asian international graduate students’ types of extrinsic motivation would be useful for overcoming their difficulties and encouraging them throughout graduate school. Such research findings would contribute to the success of Asian international graduate students going through their laborious graduate school studies. The findings would also be beneficial for educators and researchers to understand their students’ extrinsic motivation in the classroom.

In addition, there is a methodological issue pertaining to the investigation of Asian international graduate students’ motivation in general. Although much research has been conducted in order to assess motivation using quantitative research, there is criticism about this approach (Dowson & McInerney, 2003; Phan, 2008; Phan, 2009). Since only a handful of researchers have used qualitative analyses to analyze Asian international graduate students’ motivation (e.g. Zhou, 2014), their types of extrinsic motivation are not commonly understood. Several researchers suggested that quantitative research categorizes students’ motivation but does not capture the complexity and multidimensionality of motivation (Dowson & McInerney, 2003; Phan, 2008; Phan, 2009). Thus, there is a need to examine Asian international graduate students’ extrinsic motivation through their real voices. Asian international graduate students’ perspectives about their types of extrinsic motivation need to be examined qualitatively.

The Purpose of This Study [TOP]

The purpose of this study was to examine Asian international graduate students’ types of extrinsic motivation to pursue graduate degrees with semi-structured interviews. The theoretical framework was Self-Determination Theory (Ryan & Deci, 2000). The author summarized the theory to explain types of extrinsic motivation in the next section. Applying motivation theory is important because motivational theoretical framework is not commonly used to understand graduate students’ experiences (Zhou, 2014), not to mention specifically Asian international graduate students’ extrinsic motivation.

Literature Review [TOP]

Self-Determination Theory [TOP]

Self-determination theory (SDT) by Ryan and Deci (2000) has been used widely among researchers in educational settings. SDT assumes that people have an innate propensity to be curious and a desire to learn. The theory states that when individuals have basic satisfaction of psychological needs for competence, autonomy, and relatedness, they tend to internalize their motivation to learn and engage in their own studies (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009). SDT suggests that when the classroom environments offer autonomously extrinsic support (identification and integration regulation) in addition to intrinsic motivation, it supports optimal learning for students; whereas, when the environments are more controlling, it undermines students’ positive learning (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009). It is evident that intrinsic motivation helps students learn and internalize their own learning, but when they face arduous class subjects, extrinsic motivation may provide reasons for them to be persistent and learn (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009). SDT consists of intrinsic motivation, four types of extrinsic motivation, and amotivation (e.g. Ryan & Deci, 2000). Since this study emphasized types of extrinsic motivation, the author chose SDT and summarized types of extrinsic motivation next.

Extrinsic Motivation [TOP]

Unlike intrinsic motivation, extrinsically motivated behaviors mean that an individual is involved with an activity with instrumental values (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Extrinsic motivation involves different degrees of autonomy or self-determination and external control or instrumental value (Deci, Vallerand, Pelletier, & Ryan, 1991; Ryan & Deci, 2000; Vansteenkiste, Lens, & Deci, 2006). Deci and his colleagues (e.g. Ryan & Deci, 2000) claimed that there are four types of extrinsic motivation: external regulation, introjection regulation, identification regulation, and integration regulation.

The first type and the least autonomous form of extrinsic motivation is external regulation. This form of motivation is well known as the classic definition of extrinsic motivation. Individuals are motivated to perform an activity by external rewards and punishments (Deci et al., 1991; Ryan & Deci, 2000; Vansteenkiste, Lens, & Deci, 2006). The second type of extrinsic motivation is introjection. Individuals perform a task to enhance or maintain their self-esteem and to avoid shame and guilt based on internal pressure (Deci et al., 1991; Ryan & Deci, 2000; Vansteenkiste, Lens, & Deci, 2006). The third type of extrinsic motivation is identification, which is more autonomous than introjection, and it is somewhat intrinsic. Persons have identified and accepted important values in a task and recognize the activity has instrumental value (Deci et al., 1991; Ryan & Deci 2000; Vansteenkiste, Lens, & Deci, 2006). The fourth and most autonomous form of extrinsic motivation is integration. Persons have integrated an activity fully into their self and the activity is congruent with their values and needs (Deci et al., 1991; Ryan & Deci, 2000; Vansteenkiste, Lens, & Deci, 2006). Even though this type of extrinsic motivation shares many intrinsic qualities, this is still considered to be extrinsic motivation because individuals are still externally motivated. For example, one wants to get a professional, high-paying job (external) in order to help others who are in need, which is consistent with the individual’s values (internal). In summary, external regulation is the least self-determined motivation; whereas, integration regulation is the most self-determined motivation among extrinsic motivations.

Although SDT has been examined in educational environments in different countries (e.g. Chirkov, Ryan, & Willness, 2005), there are no studies involving SDT with Asian international graduate students’ motivation, not to mention any that focus on types of extrinsic motivation (e.g. Yu, 2013). One study has used SDT and another theoretical framework with the context of international students (Chue & Nie, 2016). Two studies, which investigated Asian international graduate students’ motivation, used value-expectancy achievement theory (e.g. Zhou, 2014; Zhou, 2015). More studies are needed to understand Asian international graduate students’ motivation, especially their types of extrinsic motivation using STD.

Method [TOP]

Site and Participants [TOP]

Asian international graduate students were defined here as students who were second language speakers of English, had permanent citizenships in their Asian countries, and had visas to study at graduate school and reside in the U.S. All the interviewees met these criteria. Baker and Edwards (2011) suggested a relatively small number of participants such as 6 to 12 people for a case study in order to study unique phenomena; the author in the current study selected 10 students. This number of students is small, but sufficient for the current study. A total of 10 Asian female international graduate students in the College of Education at a university in the Pacific, U.S. participated in this study in the spring of 2013. Due to the large number of international female students and limitations of male students studying in the College of Education, only female international students were selected.

The author used a convenience sampling method and selected the participants based on their ethnicities. The ethnicities of the students were four Japanese, four Chinese, and two students who did not wish their ethnicities to be identified, but they were from two different Asian countries. All the participants were representatives of the top eight countries for international students coming to the U.S. (Project Atlas, 2013-2014). With regard to students’ academic standing, four students were in Ph.D. programs and six students were in Masters’ programs. Three students were in Educational Foundations and seven students were in Educational Psychology. The author in the current study chose the two departments based on a snowball technique, which means to ask a participant about another student who would possibly share their insights about their motivation. Since finding Asian international graduate students who meet the Asian international graduate students’ criteria was difficult, the author chose this method. According to Merriam (2009), this is a common recruiting method for a purposeful sampling as qualitative studies. Their ages ranged from 26 to 40 and the median age was 28.5 years. The median of students’ duration of stay in the U.S. was 5 years.

The source of data collection was semi-structured interviews. Before conducting the semi-structured interviews, the author explained to them the purpose of her study, which was to explore their motivation in learning, and the confidentiality of the data. The duration of the interviews was from 20 minutes to 1 hour and the median was 30 minutes. All the interviews were conducted in English.

The author met the participants in various places, such as a school conference room and a library. The author gave the interview questions on site to each participant so that she could read and think before answering the questions. The author found that this method was useful for non-native speakers of English. During the interviews, the author recorded all the interviews for transcription later, except for one student’s. Even though the student agreed with the author’s recording before the interview, she did not feel comfortable while being recorded. The author stopped the tape and took notes. The participants signed consent forms and their participation was voluntary without monetary compensation. The internal review board (IRB) at the university approved this study.

Instrument [TOP]

The author created a series of interview questions based on the relevant literature in SDT (Ryan & Deci, 2000). Most questions were open-ended questions and some were semi-structured questions. Since SDT was utilized as the theoretical framework in this study, the author used the deductive coding approach, which was to focus on categories and themes that emerged from SDT. In addition, because relationships were important to the students, the author included relational questions, which could influence students’ extrinsic motivation. The relationships with faculty and cohorts, especially Asian cohorts can lead Asian graduate students to be successful (Sato & Hodge, 2009). These two contextual themes were included in the instrument. Further, family influence was found in research (e.g. Le & Gardner, 2010; Zhou, 2014). Family influence questions were also included in the instrument. Extrinsic motivation questions consisted of students’ four types of motivation on external, introjection, identification, and integration on STD in relation to family, faculty, and classmates. Examples of questions were “How important is it for you to establish relationships with faculty?”, “How important is it for you to get good grades on peer evaluations from your classmates?”. These questions respectively attempted to measure external regulation and introjection regulation. Besides students’ expressed perception of degrees of importance of question items, the author asked follow-up questions asking why they felt that way. A total of 16 interview questions were created.

After conducting a pre-test, the author slightly changed the wording of a few questions. After reading the transcriptions several times, the author identified students’ extrinsic motivation first. Even though all the interview questions were designed to ask types of extrinsic motivation, some of the students’ responses were categorized as intrinsic motivation. In that case, these comments were not included in the analyses. The author worked with motivation and subcategories with an educational evaluator, who was knowledgeable in qualitative research, in order to reduce her biases. The evaluator reviewed and verified the author’s themes and subcategories. This method contributed to the triangulation of the data. In order to protect students’ confidentiality, the author did not use students’ real names, when presenting findings. All the students’ names were pseudonyms.

Results [TOP]

Three themes were identified as follows: a) faculty influence, b) personal recognition, and c) utility for career. The author in the current study presents these themes, subcategories, and students’ quotes below.

Faculty Influence [TOP]

Participants perceived that the relationships with faculty members determined their fate in graduate school. To become successful or to fail in graduate school depends on one’s faculty. This means that pursing graduate degrees and gaining future jobs are also contingent on professors.

The author in the current study identified two subcategories: the influence from and power of faculty and the reward of future jobs. First, participants realized that professors were a key for their academic and future career success. Ayaka expressed, “If you don’t have a good relationship with your faculty, you are not going to finish your dissertation and (or) anything. Faculty is so important”. This student was motivated to maintain the relationship with faculty by the classic definitions of rewards and punishments. Without good rapport with faculty members, getting a graduate degree is at risk. Second, participants reported rewards of future jobs. Students reported that their ultimate goal was to obtain a better job, especially a university job after getting a degree. Min indicated, “…we think scholarship (scholars) is (are) the best. (They are) more superior than other professions or occupations”. This comment indicated that being a scholar at a university is prestigious in her home country and she expressed her hope to get a university job as a reward after getting the degree. Students’ motivation was influenced externally by their future job expectations.

Personal Recognition [TOP]

Students recognized that acknowledgements from professors and classmates motivated them to study further. They also felt that their getting graduate degrees in the U.S. made them feel proud. They believed that their hard work, perseverance, and effort led them to accomplish personal recognition. Students’ oral comments were not so easily categorized as in quantitative studies since they were not expressed in exactly the same way. Every statement would have a frequency of one. However, the categorization of responses the author in the current study has offered for personal recognition represents a majority of students in this case study, i.e., hard work, perseverance, effort, and pride were their collective opinions in the current qualitative study.

The author identified three subcategories: joy in being praised by faculty and classmates and pride of accomplishment. First, Asian international students reported joy in being praised by faculty and classmates. Students reported that professors’ acknowledgement and praise motivated them to study. They valued the faculty’s positive comments and feedback on their papers, because professors’ knowledge and expertise were important. They also appreciated professors’ private recognition rather than a public recognition. Min expressed, “…getting acknowledgment and compliments from professors really means a lot to me”. Furthermore, participants also valued classmates’ private recognition. Second, Asian students expressed their pride of accomplishment. Min reported when she discussed her getting a graduate degree, “The pride. I just want to feel accomplishment”. This quote indicates that she felt pride and enhanced her self-esteem by completing her graduate degree. Third, students expressed shame for not trying hard. They stated that they would feel shame if they would not try hard and also noted the importance of perseverance. They believed that grades were the results of effort; if they did not try hard, they would regret their action. Min noted, “But if I do not try my best, that is not excusable”.

Utility for Career [TOP]

Students’ ultimate goals were to acquire professional jobs in their native countries after getting graduate degrees. They executed several strategies to achieve such goals. Students thought that seeking academic and non-academic support from professors was important. Students also worked with their peers to learn from each other. Learning new knowledge and skills were essential for them to secure their future careers. Students’ oral comments were not so easily categorized as in quantitative studies since they were not expressed in exactly the same way. However, the categorization of responses as the author in the current study has offered for utility for career represents a majority of students in the current case study.

This theme was divided into three subcategories: academic and personal support from faculty members, mutual benefits from classmates, and knowledge acquisition. First, some students reported that the relationship with faculty was crucial and useful for personal and professional support, such as for encouragement, knowledge and expertise, and personal needs and well-being. Min noted, “ …it’s very important for me to establish (a) relationships with faculty. Not only for the schoolwork, but also for my emotional well-being and social cognitive well-being, all of that”.

Her comments showed that faculty’s involvement was extended to her personal life as well. Second, even though students reported that they usually studied by themselves, they studied with their classmates in order to seek mutual benefits in statistics classes, because they perceived the difficulty of understanding statistical concepts. Ayaka stated, “…we all understand (understood) and worked (on) all the questions by ourselves. And then tell (told) each other … what was the answer, right? And if I made a mistake in some of the parts, I can (could) ask how you got this answer and I can (could) learn”. She identified the benefits of working as a group that were useful for her. The student recognized that her classmates and she could learn from each other by contributing to a study group. This indicates that when they faced enigmatic subjects, studying with classmates was rewarding in order to get a good grade and to understand the subject. Third, graduate students noted that the key reason for working toward a graduate degree was knowledge acquisition for their future jobs. Tran indicated, “Because I need more knowledge about people…. I still need knowledge even in a simple position” (job). Her quote shows that in order to pursue a graduate degree, she identified the importance and value of learning about her area of study.

Beside the themes and subcategories, the author in the present study did not find any significant comments about family and competition as they relate to extrinsic motivation. It should be also noted that the author in the current study did not find any relationship between elements of the demographic information, such as students’ majors, academic standing, age, country of origins, and extrinsic motivation.

Discussion [TOP]

The author investigated Asian international graduate students’ types of extrinsic motivation in this study. Students reported different types of extrinsic motivation for a variety of purposes. As a consequence, students’ extrinsic motivation was deeply connected with their learning. Students indicated that a future job was their ultimate goal and recognized the surrounding variables: faculty, classmates, grades, degree, knowledge acquisition, praise, and effort. Asian international students perceived that the surrounding variables were interrelated to each other and they were important motivators. The findings in this study also confirmed that Asian international graduate students’ motivation was multidimensional, dynamic, and complex with semi-structured interviews. Participants added real voices, rich and distinctive perspectives on extrinsic motivation.

The Types of Extrinsic Motivation [TOP]

Asian international students used three types of extrinsic motivations to pursue graduate degrees as follows: a) faculty influence, b) personal recognition, and c) utility for career. These types of extrinsic motivation helped Asian international graduate students pursue graduate degrees. The author discussed each theme below.

Faculty Influence [TOP]

Asian international students described their relationships with faculty members as important. Their involvement with faculty for academic success was evident in their transcripts. Asian international students explained that their relationships with faculty determined their acquisition of their graduate degrees. If the relationship between faculty members were destroyed, students were afraid that they would not be able to graduate and obtain their dream jobs. This indicated that Asian graduate students perceived that professors possessed power over them. The result of faculty influence matched with the line of study that the relationship with Asian international doctoral students and their advisors helped most likely to succeed in their graduate programs (Sato & Hodge, 2009). Since it is not easy for Asian international students to navigate graduate programs smoothly due to aforementioned issues in the introduction, the influence of faculty is inevitable.

Personal Recognition [TOP]

Participants’ self-enhancement and approval from others were important when it comes to the relationship with faculty and classmates. Asian graduate students enjoyed praise from faculty members and classmates. Especially, Asian international graduate students perceived professors’ acknowledgments as very important. Since Asian international graduate students recognized an unavoidable influence from professors, their professors’ acknowledgements mean that professors perceived students as being competent. Asian graduate students often hope that professors’ appreciation would increase towards them. This will eventually lead Asian graduate students to have a better chance to succeed in their graduate programs and to publish together with professors.

Unexpected findings were that Asian graduate students also mentioned the importance of effort, perseverance, and tenacity. This possible Confucian influence may differentiate Asian students from other students. Confucianism teaches people philosophical as well as ethical teachings (Hofstede & Bond, 1988) and is prevalent in Asian countries, such as Japan, China, Vietnam, and Korea. From growing up in Confucian countries, Asian graduate students have practiced this cultural value in their host countries without consciousness of it. Asian graduate students shared these Confucian cultural norms, values, and standards in the classroom, as they are the products of their own cultural heritage.

Utility for Career [TOP]

Since faculty members are knowledgeable in the field, students placed value on their faculty’s recognition. Some students also expressed that faculty members’ involvement was useful for their academic and non-academic success such as their personal well-being. This means that students perceived faculty as more than just their advisors. This finding is inconsistent with another study (Sato & Hodge, 2009). They reported that Asian international student’s relationship with faculty tended to be more academic than social relationships. Asian graduate students in this study might have perceived professors as friendly and supportive in both academic and non-academic settings. These perceptions would increase their likeness between and dependence on faculty members. Eventually, acquiring graduate degrees would be helpful for their future careers at universities back home.

Another distinctive finding was that Asian graduate students cooperated with other students in tackling complicated class subjects to get a good grade. This finding is consistent with a previous finding (Sato & Hodge, 2009). Asian doctoral students also had mutual support, usually from other Asian cohorts to pass courses. Students recognized that having supportive peers would increase their understanding in their future academic career.

It is important to note that this study did not find any family influence as extrinsic motivation for students to study. This result is in line with Zhou (2014)’s study indicating that family influence was not a persistent motivation for Chinese doctoral students. When Asian graduate students face predicaments and overwhelming stress in their host countries, family influence back home may play an invisible role.

Implications for Classroom Practice [TOP]

Several recommendations are suggested for educators strengthening various extrinsic motivations for students’ optimal learning in the classroom. Instructors can utilize instrumental value to give students reasons to persist and be encouraged (Niemiec & Ryan, 2009). For example, instructors may encourage Asian international students to write high quality research papers for publication in peer-reviewed journals and to become recognized researchers in the future. This would strengthen students’ external rewards. It is also suggested that educators talk with students on a regular basis to establish relationships with students, and to advise and assist students in writing theses or dissertations in order for them to get a degree. Zhou (2014) reported that receiving graduate degrees in the U.S. hold high utility value for Chinese doctoral students. Therefore, Asian graduate students would likely perceive that positive relationships with faculty serve to extrinsically motivate them for their future goals. In class, instructors may create small group activities to enhance student learning for mutual benefits and understanding. Classmates can also encourage to give written or oral feedback in person. As international students placed a high value on comments from faculty, as Dolan and Macias (2009) suggested instructors could give them constructive feedback. Especially Asian international graduate students would appreciate feedback both orally in person and in writing. Asian graduate students can also utilize peer support to deepen the knowledge in their field. These types of instructions can give students external reasons to study and to make their learning more enjoyable and comprehensive.

Limitations [TOP]

There were a few limitations in this study. First, all the interviews were conducted in English. Because the participants’ native languages were not English, there might have been linguistic biases in certain words. Their experiences and thoughts might have been more accurately captured if the interviews had been conducted in each student’s native language. Second, the family theme of the interview questions may need to be either modified or removed. Since the findings showed that students’ families did not have any influence on the students extrinsically, the family-related questions need to be re-considered. Third, since this study involved only a small number of female graduate students to assess their extrinsic motivation, the findings were only applicable in this limited setting. The findings in this study were based on these Asian international graduate students’ responses and they should neither be extended to other ethnicities nor to undergraduate students. This is one of the limitations of case studies (Merriam, 2009).

Conclusions [TOP]

This current case study explored Asian international graduate students’ types of extrinsic motivation by applying the Self-Determination Theory (e.g. Ryan & Deci, 2000). The findings showed that Asian students exhibited three identified themes, which motivated them extrinsically. Students used a variety of extrinsic motivations for different purposes. Students’ efforts more than abilities are likely to be influenced by their cultural upbringing, which may differentiate Asian international students’ extrinsic motivation from others. Their ultimate extrinsic goal was to find a faculty position at a university after getting a graduate degree. Toward their goals, they used various extrinsic motivations in order to give them reasons to study and to persist.

More research is needed to analyze the complexity of Asian international students’ extrinsic motivation. Since few qualitative research studies have focused on investigating solely Asian international students’ extrinsic motivations, future research will provide new insights about how students’ extrinsic motivations will influence their learning and success in multicultural classroom.

The findings of this research will help educators, schools, and researchers to understand how Asian international graduate students’ extrinsic motivations will affect their learning in the host countries. Understanding Asian international graduate students’ extrinsic motivation also would benefit host students who share the classrooms in order to learn from each other’s rich, cultural experiences.

Funding [TOP]

The author has no funding to report.

Competing Interests [TOP]

The author has declared that no competing interests exist.

Acknowledgments [TOP]

The author initially wrote this paper as a class project when she was a graduate student. The author is thankful for the students, who cooperated in her study, anonymous reviewers, and Dr. McInerney for sharing his interview questions. The author is also grateful for her husband, Clifford Clarke, for his editing and feedback on an earlier manuscript. The author is also appreciative of Pata-Pata’s continuous emotional support.

References [TOP]

  • Baker, S. E., & Edwards, R. (2011). How many qualitative interviews is enough? Unpublished manuscript, National Centre for Research Methods. Retrieved from

  • Chirkov, V. I., Ryan, R. M., & Willness, C. (2005). Cultural context and psychological needs in Canada and Brazil: Testing a self-determination approach to the internalization of cultural practices, identity, and well-being. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 36(4), 423-443. doi:10.1177/0022022105275960

  • Chirkov, V. I., Safdar, S., de Guzman, J., & Playford, K. (2008). Further examining the role motivation to study abroad plays in the adaptation of international students in Canada. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 32(5), 427-440. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2007.12.001

  • Chue, K. L., & Nie, Y. (2016). International students’ motivation and learning approach: A comparison with local students. Journal of International Students, 6(3), 678-699.

  • Deci, E. L., Vallerand, R. J., Pelletier, L. G., & Ryan, R. M. (1991). Motivation and education: The self-determination perspective. Educational Psychologist, 26(3-4), 325-346. doi:10.1080/00461520.1991.9653137

  • Dolan, M., & Macias, I. (2009). Motivating international students: A practical guide to aspects of learning and teaching. In P. Davies (Ed.), The handbook for economics lecturers (pp. 1-34). Bristol, United Kingdom: University of Bristol, Higher Education Academy Economics Network.

  • Dowson, M., & McInerney, D. M. (2003). What do students say about their motivational goals? Towards a more complex and dynamic perspective on student motivation. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 28(1), 91-113. doi:10.1016/S0361-476X(02)00010-3

  • Hofstede, G., & Bond, M. H. (1988). The Confucius connection: From cultural roots to economic growth. Organizational Dynamics, 16(4), 5-21. doi:10.1016/0090-2616(88)90009-5

  • Le, T., & Gardner, S. K. (2010). Understanding the doctoral experience of Asian international students in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields: An exploration of one institutional context. Journal of College Student Development, 51(3), 252-264. doi:10.1353/csd.0.0127

  • Merriam, S. B. (2009). Qualitative research. San Francisco, CA, USA: Jossey-Bass.

  • Niemiec, C. P., & Ryan, R. M. (2009). Autonomy, competence, and relatedness in the classroom: Applying self-determination theory to educational practice. Theory and Research in Education, 7(2), 133-144. doi:10.1177/1477878509104318

  • Open Doors. (2015). 2015 Open Doors report on international educational exchange. Retrieved from

  • Phan, H. P. (2008). Unifying different theories of learning: Theoretical framework and empirical evidence. Educational Psychology, 28(3), 325-340. doi:10.1080/01443410701591392

  • Phan, H. P. (2009). Exploring students’ reflective thinking practice, deep processing strategies, effort, and achievement goal orientations. Educational Psychology, 29(3), 297-313. doi:10.1080/01443410902877988

  • Project Atlas. (2013-2014). International students in the United States. Retrieved from

  • Project Atlas. (2015-2016). International students in the United States. Retrieved from

  • Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Intrinsic and extrinsic motivations: Classic definitions and new directions. Contemporary Educational Psychology, 25(1), 54-67. doi:10.1006/ceps.1999.1020

  • Sato, T., & Hodge, S. R. (2009). Asian international doctoral students’ experiences at two American universities: Assimilation, accommodation, and resistance. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 2(3), 136-148. doi:10.1037/a0015912

  • ICEF Monitor. (2015). The state of international student mobility in 2015. Retrieved from

  • Vansteenkiste, M., Lens, W., & Deci, E. L. (2006). Intrinsic versus extrinsic goal contents in self-determination theory: Another look at the quality of academic motivation. Educational Psychologist, 41(1), 19-31. doi:10.1207/s15326985ep4101_4

  • Wang, Q., & Hannes, K. (2013). Academic and socio-cultural adjustment among Asian international students in the Flemish community of Belgium: A photovoice project. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 39, 66-81. doi:10.1016/j.ijintrel.2013.09.013

  • Yan, K., & Berliner, D. C. (2013). Chinese international students’ personal and sociocultural stressors in the United States. Journal of College Student Development, 54(1), 62-84. doi:10.1353/csd.2013.0010

  • Yu, B. (2013). Asian international students at an Australian University: Mapping the paths between integrative motivation, competence in L2 communication, cross-cultural adaptation and persistence with structural equation modelling. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 34(7), 727-742. doi:10.1080/01434632.2013.796957

  • Zhou, J. (2014). Persistence motivations of Chinese doctoral students in science, technology, engineering, and math. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 7(3), 177-193. doi:10.1037/a0037196

  • Zhou, J. (2015). International students’ motivation to pursue and complete a Ph.D. in the U.S. Higher Education, 69(5), 719-733. doi:10.1007/s10734-014-9802-5

About the Author [TOP]

Naomi Takashiro received her Ph.D. in Educational Psychology. One of her research interests is goal-orientations. She teaches as an adjunct faculty at the Kyoto University of Foreign Studies, Kyoto, Japan.