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International student participation in college recreational sports

A descriptive study that examines the use and satisfaction of international students with recreational sports

National Research Institute

In order to better serve the recreational sports needs of international college students, Christina Hardin, GAA at The Ohio State University, conducted a survey to examine which facilities and programs were most often used by international students and their perceived level of satisfaction with each. The study also investigated the perceived learning outcomes associated with their college recreational sports experiences.

An increasing trend on college campuses is the recruitment and retention of international students. This emphasis helps to provide a diverse student body and enhanced learning for U.S. students. To ensure success in this area, universities often provide additional services to international students to make the transition into the United States higher education system smoother. Services include introduction to the university and the area, support through the adjustment process, answering questions, giving advice about personal concerns, cultural differences, immigration regulations, financial matters and providing social, cultural, and academic programs that meet the demands of international students. To assist in accommodating the recreational sports needs of international students, one should first assess the international student's perceived level of satisfaction with the current facilities, programs, and services - a goal of this study.

Of students who use the recreational sports facilities (based on card swipe data), international students are under-represented in college recreational sport participation at The Ohio State University. This means that there is a higher percentage (7.3%) of international students in the total student body than the percentage (5.7%) of international students that use recreational sports facilities. Boyer (1987) suggested that every college should develop "a comprehensive, well-supported program of intramural sports, one that serves all students, not a select few" (p.185-186). In order to ensure that all students were satisfied with the college recreational sports facilities, programs, and services, research specific to international students was conducted. Using the data from this study, recommendations will be made that aim to remediate the disparity between the percent of international students on campus and the percent of international students who use the recreational sports facilities.

There is a void in research specific to college recreational sports and the international student. Some research has been conducted on cultural differences in recreational sports, but it focused on students in their country of origin. Cheng et al (2004) found that cultural differences exist regarding participation in college recreational sports. For example, in China, 15.6% of students were involved in recreational sports, but in the United States, 51.9% of students surveyed reported being involved in recreational sports. However, both cultures revealed parental support for participation in recreational sports, peers as the number one contributor to involvement or noninvolvement in recreational sports, and basketball as the most highly reported sport of participation. Although studies such as Cheng's (2004) provide insight into cultural differences in recreational sport participation, no studies have examined recreational sport participation among international students who are studying outside their country of origin. Research has failed to provide an understanding of the types of services and programming that could better meet the needs of international students.

In order to meet the recreational sports needs of international students representing 130 countries at The Ohio State University, this study aimed to:

  • Determine the college recreational sports facilities and programs that international students are using and their perceived level of satisfaction.
  • Measure perceived personal gains as a result of participation.

To meet these objectives, the investigator, in collaboration with the Office of International Education, surveyed all (n=3,613) international students enrolled at The Ohio State University during the spring quarter of 2007. All international students received an electronic survey, which they were asked to complete and electronically submit. Seventy-three students followed through with the request.

Table 1. Respondent Student Status



graduate student



professional student



undergraduate student



no response






Table 2. International Student Participation and Satisfaction






standard deviation

adapted recreational sports




age group and camps








fitness programs








outdoor adventure center





sport clubs




Satisfaction: 5=Very Satisfied, 1=Very Dissatisfied

Key findings from the investigation also included:

  • 84.9% of respondents reported using the main recreational facility on campus (Recreation and Physical Activity Center)
  • International students who use the facilities, programs, and services do so less than their typical student peers
  • Extremely high percentages of respondents reported gains in self-esteem (75.9%), life skills (64.9%), and social interactions (61.7%) as a result of participation

The results of this study confirm the hypothesis that international students use The Department of Recreational Sports programs, facilities, and services less often than their college peers. However, 84.9% of the responding international students did report using the Recreational and Physical Activity Center, which indicates some awareness and interest in recreational sports. A limitation of the study is the extremely low (2.0%) survey return rate. In most cases, this would be considered unacceptable. Nevertheless, this study was a start at understanding the recreational sports needs of international students. Obviously, a much higher return rate is needed. Additionally, it is suggested that future research on international students include focus groups.

In order to increase the frequency and variety of program, facility, and service areas that international students are involved in, recommendations were made by the researcher. First, international students must be better educated about the Department and the vast variety of programs and services available. Marketing that is specifically directed toward international students may help in this endeavor. Specifically, the presence of a Department of Recreational Sports professional staff member at the international student orientation, or a presentation to this group, may provide ample information and interest to increase involvement. Finally, greater collaboration with other campus departments that frequently serve international students may increase awareness and participation. This collaboration may be in the form of specific recreational sports events or the use of recreational sports facilities to host other international programming. In summary, to better serve the recreational sports needs of international students on college campuses, ongoing research, qualitative and quantitative, needs to be conducted and reported.

Article summary provided by The National Research Institute for College Recreational Sports and Wellness. Tyler L. Fortman, GAA and Danell J. Haines, Ph.D.


Boyer, E. (1987). College: The undergraduate experience in America. New York: Harper & Row.

Cheng, S. T. (2004). A comparison of recreational sports and leisure time participation of college/university students in China, Japan, Korea, Iran, the United States, and Canada-with students in the Republic of China (Taiwan). Recreational Sports Journal, 30: 30-39.

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