Dissertations, Theses and Capstone Projects

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in International Conflict Management (Ph.D. INCM)

First Advisor

Dr. Brandon Lundy

Second Advisor

Dr. Darina Lepadatu

Third Advisor

Dr. Ken Pendleton


As elite athletes are moving to foreign countries more than ever before, many experience acculturation difficulties that may affect their performance. Since research on these acculturation experiences is limited, this study explores the acculturation process of foreign athletes to top level sports teams and the host culture in the United States. The research was designed in two phases. In Phase I, the acculturation experiences of 18 first-year elite foreign student-athletes were studied during their first year through semi-structured interviews conducted at three Division I universities. Phase II consisted of a comparative case study analysis of two Major League Soccer clubs during one season, and thirty-eight semi-structured interviews were conducted with new foreign athletes, their teammates, and staff members. The cultural and personal acculturation processes of both groups of athletes were compared and contrasted, and factors that both help and hinder them were identified. The main findings for the student-athletes included: a) their engagement with the host culture on a deep level by taking classes and living on campus; b) their keen observation of cultural differences, their conscious awareness of their own personal adjustment, and efforts towards integration; and c) the manifestation of conflict between the roles of student and athlete. While the student-athletes struggled with acculturation stressors such as injuries and homesickness, the majority indicated that none of these challenges they experienced were major. Findings with the professional foreign athletes indicated: a) an interest in learning about American culture, although actual cultural learning was quite minimal; b) problems with the English language, which hindered their fulfilling of even their most basic needs; c) their struggles with acculturation stressors increased when their performance did not meet expectations; and d) their success largely hinged on team support. Given that serious problems were far more likely to occur at the professional level, the athletes indicated the level of support they need to integrate, and revealed that a systematic support structure, primarily from the teams, seems to be crucial for a smooth acculturation process.