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A Uses and Gratifications Approach to Weibo Use among Chinese International Students in the United States

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This study investigated how Weibo use is related to Chinese students’ acculturation and adaptation in the United States. Adaptation is conceptualized into three domains: social life adaptation (SLA), task-performance adaptation (TPA), and cultural
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  Chen Yang Assistant Professor of Communication, Robert Morris University 1 Abstract his study investigated how Weibo use is related to Chinese students’ acculturation and adaptation in the United States. Adaptation is conceptualized into three domains: social life adaptation (SLA), task-performance adaptation (TPA), and cultural adaptation (CA, composing of acculturation and de-culturation). Data show that students with lower income and those who plan to return to China or have not lived in the United States long tend to use Weibo more. Furthermore, Weibo use is positively associated with TPA but negatively with SLA. Chinese identity (or de-culturation) does not affect their Weibo use. However, people with strong acculturation use Weibo longer on an average day but with less frequency. Weibo appears to be a double-edged sword as Chinese students may use it to improve their living skills and cultural competence or to escape from a limited social life. Implications for uses and gratifications are discussed. Keywords:  acculturation, adaptation, social media, uses and gratifications, international students. * yangc@rmu.edu T Vol.15 No.3, 47 ∼ 73 DOI: 10.20879/acr.2018.15.3.47https://www.comm.or.kr A Uses and Gratifications Approach to Weibo Use among Chinese International Students in the United States  48   Asian Communication Research 15(3) China’s    booming   economy   has   prompted   the   need   for   more   intellectual   exchange    between   China   and   the   outside   world.   According   to   the   Chinese   Education   Ministry   (Luo,   2017),   544,500   Chinese   studied   abroad   in   2016,   more   than   triple   the   179,800   that   sought   education   overseas   in   2008.   Meanwhile,   the   United   States,    boasting   its   numerous   prestigious   universities   and   quality   higher   education,   is   a   favorite   destination   for   people   pursuing   academic   achievements.   With   the   hardship   caused    by   cultural   shock,   economic    burden,   academic   challenge,   and   language    barrier,   the   life   quality   and   psychological   well ‐  being   of   international   students   in   the   host   society   remains   a   concern   for   intercultural   communication   scholars.   The   global   media   landscape   has   changed   dramatically   in   the   last   15   years,   with   digital   media   and   social   media   slowly   taking   over   the   dominance   of   traditional   media   in   expatriates’   media   choices.   Chinese   students   are   no   exception   to   this   trend.   Although   America ‐  based   Social   Networking   Services   (SNSs)   have   obtained   a   lion’s   share   of   global   users   and    become   mainstream   worldwide,   most   Chinese   citizens   have   no   access   to   them   due   to   Chinese   government’s   tightened   Internet   censorship.   Starting   from   around   2008,   major   Western   social   media   (e.g.,   Facebook,   Twitter,   Instagram,   and   YouTube)   are    blocked   one   after   another    by   the   Great   Firewall   of   China,   a   website   filter   operating   in   mainland   China    based   on   IP   addresses.   Consequently,   Chinese   students   can   only   use   China’s   domestic   SNSs   (e.g.,   Renren,   QQ,   and   Weibo)    before   coming   to   America.Launched   in   2009,   Sina   Weibo   is   one   of   China’s   most   popular   microblogging   social   media   platforms   and   often   compared   with   Twitter   due   to   their   similarity.   According   to   Sina’s   2017   first   quarter   report   (Twitter   user   numbers,   2017),   Weibo   has   340   million   active   monthly   users,   a   30%   increase   from   the   previous   year.   This   number   already   surpassed   Twitters’   active   users   of   328    A Uses and Gratifications Approach to Weibo Use among Chinese International Students in the United States   49 million   per   month.   A   survey   conducted    by   Guangzhou   Daily   (2011)   sampling   1,300   young   Chinese   citizens   revealed   that   80%   of   them   have   experienced   some   kind   of   addiction   to   Weibo.   Because   Weibo   is    becoming   a   substantial   part   of   Chinese   netizens’   daily   life,   this   study   intended   to   find   out   whether   Chinese   students’   Weibo   use   will   remain   static   or   change   dramatically   after   travelling   abroad   with   a   more   open   digital   media   environment   and   shifting   motivations   for   using   SNSs. Literature Review Uses and Gratifications The   uses   and   gratifications   (Katz,   Blumler,   &   Gurevitch,   1973)   is   a   user ‐ centered   communication   perspective   that   deals   with   the   effect   of   audience’s   motivation   on   their   media ‐ consuming   activities.   It   advocates   that   audiences   are   active   and   goal ‐ oriented   media   users   who   can   customize   their   media   use   habits   and   choices   to   cater   for   specific   needs   (e.g.,   Katz   et   al.,   1973;   Rubin,   1983).   Since   its    birth,   this   approach   has    been   popular   among   media   scholars   in   analyzing   audience    behavior   and   media   effects   (Rubin,   2002).   Previous   literature   has   identified   and   examined   several   motives   for   mass   media   consumption.   Katz   and   colleagues   (1973)   propose   a   variety   of   need   gratifications   in   using   mass   media,   including   cognitive   needs   (learning   knowledge),   affective   needs   (emotional,   pleasurable,   aesthetic   experience),   social   interactive   needs   (communicating   with   friends   and   family),   tension   release   needs   (relaxation   and   diversion),   and   personal   integrative   needs   (enhancing   credibility,   personal   image,   and   status).   McQuail   (1987)   suggests   a   similar   list   of   media   use   motivations   including    50   Asian Communication Research 15(3) information,   integration,   social   interaction,   personal   identity,   and   entertainment.   Other   researchers   (e.g.,   Kim,   2018;   Kim   et   al.,   2015;   Shim,   2008)   advocate   that   media   dependency   is   a   way   for   audiences   to   facilitate   their   needs   for   local   community   engagement.   Nevertheless,   several   scholars   have   criticized   uses   and   gratifications   with   the   following   claims.   First,   a   majority   of   related   research   relies   on   the   assumption   that   media   users   are   self ‐ conscious   enough   to   report   their   needs   (Katz,   Blumler,   &   Gurevitch,   1973).   Second,   due   to   its   strong   emphasis   on   individual   characteristics,   uses   and   gratifications   may   make   it   difficult   to   generalize    beyond   the   people   studied   and   deliver   more   consequential   social   implications   (Elliott,   1974;   Ruggiero,   2000).   Third,   there   can    be   a   loose   or   even   random   connection    between   different   motives   and   media   use   habits.   For   example,   the   same   motive   for   pastime   can    be   achieved    by   going   to   the   movies   or   chatting   with   friends.   As   Severin   and   Tankard   (1997)   claim,   the   assumptions    based   on   typologies   of   motives   for   active   audiences   are   “simplistic   or   naïve”   (p.   335).   Much   of   early   uses   and   gratifications   research   focuses   on   traditional   media,   in   particular,   television   (Bryant   &   Zillmann,   1984;   Lin,   1993;   Rubin,   1983).   Nevertheless,   recent   scholars   have    begun   to   probe   into   audience’s   motivations   in   consuming   new   media   (e.g.,   Papacharissi   &   Mendelson,   2011;   Sheldon,   2008).   Dunn,   Lawlor,   and   Rowley   (2010)   argue   that   the   interactivity   of   the   Internet   as   well   as   the   active   role   of   social   media   users   could   put   a   stop   to   the   ongoing   questioning   and   criticism   concerning   the   validity   of   assuming   an   active   audience   (e.g.,   Lometti,   Reeves,   &   Bybee,   1977).   Past   research   (e.g.,   Park   &   Lee,   2014;   Sheldon,   2008;   Yang   &   Brown,   2013)   has   discovered   a   variety   of   gratifications   as   potential   motives   for   using   Facebook,   including   relationship   establishment   and   enhancement,   online   community,    A Uses and Gratifications Approach to Weibo Use among Chinese International Students in the United States   51 and   companionship.   Haridakis   and   Hansen   (2009)   find   out   that   many   people   use   YouTube   for   information   acquisition,   pastime,   interpersonal   relationship,   co ‐ viewing,   and   social   interaction.   Yang,   Ha,   Yun,   and   Chen   (2015)   propose   three    basic   motivations   for   SNS   use   (i.e.,   information    broadcasting,   information   seeking,   and   relational   maintenance)   and   argue   that   these   motives   drive   SNS   users   to   adjust   their   online   social   network   sizes   accordingly. Media Use and Life Abroad Many   studies   (e.g.,   Chaffee,   Clifford,   &   Yang,   1990;   Dalisay,   2012;   Yang,   Wu,   Zhu,   &   Southwell,   2004)   have   explored   the   relationship    between   mass   media   use   and   life   overseas   though   not   all   are   done   from   a   strict   uses   and   gratifications   perspective.   According   to   Walker   (1999),   media   use   can   meet   international   students’   need   for   information   when   social   relationship   is   slow   to   develop   in   a   foreign   land,   which   is   aligned   with   the    basic   assumptions   of   uses   and   gratifications.   Previous   studies   also   suggest   media   use   can   elevate   immigrants’   life   experience,    but   discrepancies   exist   regarding   what   exact   gratifications   host   media   and   ethnic   media   may   attain   in   this   process.   For   example,   Chaffee   et   al.   (1990)   suggest   that   host   media   contributed   more   to   a   person’s   cultural   adaptation   than   ethnic   media.   Other   scholars   (e.g.,    Jeffres,   2000;   Subervi ‐ Velez,   1986)    believe   that   host   media   use   is   positively   associated   with   acculturation   level   while   ethnic   media   use   is   negatively   related   to   it.   Nevertheless,   Lee   and   Tse   (1994)   argue   otherwise   that   ethnic   media   may   play   a   greater   role   in   the   acculturation   process   than   host   media    because   many   people   maintain   their   media   use   habits,   which   is   especially   true   in   the   early   period   of   moving   to   the   host   society   (Shim   &   Salmon,   1990)   Although   the   gratifications   of   acculturation   in   new   media   use  
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