Man in the corner: A case study approach to understanding the experience of living as an F2-male in the United States
(Note: This research proposal was written in the late 2020/early 2021 as part of a Qualitative Research course)
The United States (hitherto referred to as the US) immigration law states that dependents of international students, which includes their spouses and children, are not allowed to work (USCIS, N/A) in the US. For dependent spouses unable to continue working remotely for an employer in their home country, this adds on to the cost of the education through the income that is forgone when the other spouse, who is an international student, is studying in the US. There are also additional considerations with regards to family dynamics when the international student is married, for example, the number of children and the ages of those children. In addition, international students must show proof of funding for tuition and living expenses for themselves and their dependents every year before they are issued a form I-20, which allows them to continue to stay in the US and continue their studies (University of Wisconsin, 2021).
Many studies have focused on understanding how women who accompany their husbands on their studies build a support system with other women and spend their time during their husbands’ studies (Yellig, 2011; Bilas, 2018). However, there is a gap in the number of research studies that focus on males and especially male African spouses from sub-Saharan Africa that accompany their wives to the US. Do these men exist? Where are they? How are they faring? This case study research hopes to identify some of these men to understand their considerations before choosing to accompany their wives on their studies and how the experience of living as a dependent in the US is for them.
According to the Institute of International Education (IIE), the number of international students in the United States in the 2018/19 academic year was 1,095,299 (IEE, 2019). Of these students, 40,290 students representing 3.7 percent of international students were from sub-Saharan Africa (The Journal of Blacks in Higher Education (JBHE), 2019). As of December 2020, 5.62 percent of international students in the US were from Africa; 44.3 percent of these students are females, 24.5 percent are in a Master’s program, and 15.5 percent are in a Doctorate program (SEVIS, 2021).
In the 2019/20 academic year, about 6 out of 10 international students received the bulk of their educational funding from sources outside the United States (Israel & Batalova, 2021). Many of these students who are married are accompanied by their spouses and children — also known as dependents — when they travel to the US (Farrell, 2015). These dependents cannot work or engage in any economic activity (Department of Homeland Security (DHS), 2021; National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA), 2021). In addition to the cost of tuition, a reason 55 percent of intending international students cannot study in the US (Bustamante, 2021), international students have to show proof of $7,200 for their spouse and $3,200 for every child (University of Southern Carolina (USC), 2021). For students who cannot meet the financial requirement for their dependents, they decide to either forgo their admission or have to separate from their family during their studies.
For the married students who are able to follow through and come for their studies, some of the challenges include those related to finances, career, emotional/psychological well-being, among others. Bilas’ 2018 study focused on married students and noted how highly educated the dependents were. The study recommended to the higher institution where she drew her sample of participants from increase opportunities for spouses of international students to integrate into the campus community (Bilas, 2018). Bordoloi’s 2015 study show how international students’ wives experience “irreparable damage to their long-term career prospects” (Bordoloi, 2015). For more than 50 percent of wives of international students in a study in rural Virginia, the lack of professional activity was described as “a very painful experience, one of loss of valued aspects of their identity, and a severe blow to their self-esteem” (Frank De Verthelyi, 1995). Spouses of international students may also experience difficulties when re-entering the labor market in their home country (Föbker, 2019).
Yellig, in her phenomenological study of twenty participants (10 couples) mainly from Asia and Africa, found out that loneliness and role shock were some of the most significant challenges experienced by the accompanying spouses (including two males) in the study, particularly for those who had an established professional identity beforehand (Yellig, 2011). Yellig recommended coping strategies for accompanying spouses, which include “setting personal goals and engaging in a process of meaning-making” (Yellig, 2011). Family separation is also likely to occur (Enchautegui, 2013), or a wife may choose to forfeit the educational experience. Further research will explore to what extent the influence of the husband is in cases where a married African woman who has been admitted to a program in the US chooses to forfeit her admission, and educational advancement in the US.
What are the impacts of being unable to work or make an economic contribution to the family have on the male spouses of female AIS? How do the African men on F2 visas cope with this incapacitation thrust on them by this policy? What are the other considerations and challenges spouses of AIS have to deal with while living in the US? Does the policy and challenges they face expose them to financial, marital, emotional, psychological, and other vulnerabilities? What kinds of impacts do these challenges have on their human dignity?
While there are concerns about a decline in $41 billion that international students contribute to the US economy and 458,290 jobs supported (National Association of Foreign Student Advisers (NAFSA), 2019), who caters to the concerns of the issues that wane in the families of AIS with spouses and their dependents? How might we equip male and female spouses of AIS living in the United States better to navigate these considerations and challenges that they face?
Study Purpose and Research Question
Using eight to twelve individual case studies, this multiple instrumental case study will explore the considerations and challenges of living as a male spouse of a female African International Student (hitherto referred to as AIS) in the United States. The study will also seek to understand the needs of male spouses of female AIS, the coping strategies employed, and provide direction on how to meet those needs through self-help avenues, nongovernmental and institutional support, and influencing policy.
Specific research questions are as follows:
1. What are the considerations of the male spouse of a female AIS in the US?
a. Explore financial considerations before the start of spouse’s studies in the US and during spouse’s studies in the US
b. Explore career-related considerations before the start of spouse’s studies in the US and during spouse’s studies in the US
c. Explore emotional and psychological considerations before the start of spouse’s studies in the US and during spouse’s studies in the US
d. Explore other considerations and concerns before the start of spouse’s studies in the US and during spouse’s studies in the US
2. What are the challenges of living as a male spouse of a female AIS in the US?
a. Explore financial challenges during spouse’s studies and likely challenges post-completion of studies
b. Explore career-related challenges during spouse’s studies and likely challenges post-completion of studies
c. Explore emotional and psychological related challenges during spouse’s studies, and likely challenges post-completion of studies
d. Explore these and other challenges for the spouse’s and other dependents (if applicable)
3. How does the male spouse of a female AIS in the United States cope with the challenges of living as an F2 male in the United States?
4. What do male spouses of female AIS think are the root causes of the challenges of living as an F2 male in the United States?
5. What resources and support can external stakeholders provide to male spouses of female AIS to navigate the challenges they face while living in the United States?
Research Methodology: Multiple instrumental case study
This research will use a case study approach to develop an in-depth understanding (Creswell and Poth, 2016) of the experience of living as a male spouse to a female African International Student in the United States. This case study research will be conducted among individual male F2 individuals within a real-life, contemporary setting of living within the US as a spouse of a female AIS (Yin, 2014). It will analyze multiple individual instrumental cases towards understanding the research target group’s lived experiences.
The unit of analysis is the individual men, and each one is a case. These cases will be purposively selected. Snowball sampling will also be employed. Through data collecting and analysis, detailed description of the cases (Stake, 1995), and comparisons among the cases, themes will emerge to understand the case study group and guide action. The use of multiple case studies would also enhance the robustness of research findings (Yin, 1993) when consistent findings are discovered across the cases studied. This descriptive case study hopes to bring to focus the shared experiences of male spouses of female African International Students by identifying commonalities and pathways available for the male spouses and others in society to support them.
Fieldwork and Data Collection
After obtaining approval from the Institutional Review Board (IRB), the researcher will begin the process of identifying and recruiting male spouses of female African International Students (hitherto referred to as “F-2 males”). The researcher will make inquiries from contacts within her network and reach out to African Student Associations in US Colleges and Universities. After identifying the first case(s), the researcher will have the participant fill in a screener questionnaire to collect demographic data and other data to confirm that the potential participant is qualified for the study. The researcher hopes to recruit 8–12 F2 males across the US and have at least one participant from the various regions of sub-Saharan Africa; West, South, and East Africa.
The primary data collection tools will be interviews and focus group discussions. The researcher will conduct in-depth one-on-one interviews using a semi-structured interview guide. The semi-structured guide allows for sufficient flexibility while still covering the same areas of data collection. Based on feasibility and other constraints, these interviews will take place face to face to gain additional trust and credibility. Considering COVID realities and other transport logistics, some of the interviews may be conducted virtually. Supplemental data or records that corroborate interviewer accounts during the interview will also be requested if the interviewer feels comfortable providing soft copies, such as evidence of any financial shock, food, and housing poverty being experienced by the household to the household during their time in the US. Those records will be confidential and de-identified. The researcher will obtain consent from the interviewer to use those documents in the final report. These one-on-one interviews will be followed by a focus group session where participants discuss various recommendations that the researcher has identified from the individual interviews and share their thoughts on their importance and relevance in addressing their concerns.
Seventy-five to ninety minutes interviews will be conducted with the target group (male spouses of international students who have accompanied their wives to the US on their studies). These interviews will be audio-recorded. Prior to the interviews, each case study participant will have filled a form that included demographic data such as age, race, country of origin, educational qualification, demographic details about the wife and her program, information about other dependents, and other information considered relevant for analysis will be included.
The researcher hopes the one-on-one conversation would be a safe space for the participant to freely express himself without fears or concerns. Depending on what the experience of the F2-male in the US has been, this could be a very sensitive topic that the participant may not be willing to share in a focus group setting. After each interview session, the researcher will hold a debrief with the participant/interview to gauge how the interview session has been for them. This session will also be an opportunity to clarify any concerns, answer any additional questions, and point participants to support networks or resources if needed.
The interviews will be conducted in English. The flow of the semi-structured interview guide would include an icebreaker section before the discussion questions focused on the objectives of the study. The researcher will take note of themes as they come up during the interviews. Also, these individuals interviews are conducted as a first phase of the research so as to generate a list of self-help options and recommendations for external stakeholders that will be discussed during the upcoming focus group.
Post completion of individual interviews with F2-males and preliminary analysis, focus group discussions will be conducted with the group. These focus groups would be an opportunity for the F2-males to give their views on some issues that have come up in the research, discuss options and opportunities for better policy and support practices, and gauge the practicality of some of the recommendations identified from individual case study interviews to address the challenges they face. During the focus groups, participants will rank the strategies that were identified in the individual interviews and offer their views as to what extent they think proposed strategies and solutions are relevant, important, and feasible.
Addressing research concerns
Entry and organizational access
The researcher would obtain support for the research and buy-in from African Students Association so that they can share information about the research using their listserv. This informational communication will also include the link for interested F-males to sign up. The researcher will also design a consent form that provides details of the research topic and the proposed length of the interview. The researcher will give the interviewer the option to choose how, when, and where they will prefer the interview to take place. For participants without any preference, they will be provided details of a venue and time. All interviewees will be assured of privacy and confidentiality.
Procedures for interview
The interview will be conducted after informed consent has been provided and signature obtained from the participant. Participants will also fill a demographic form prior to the interviews. Interview questions would flow from general to specific questions with the option for the interviewee to withdraw at any time. In addition to audio-recording the interview, the researcher will take notes during the interviews and begin preliminary analysis. After the interview, there will be a check-in period with the interviewee to answer questions and clarify any concerns.
Dynamics between you (the researcher) and your participants/respondents
The researcher will obtain guidance from experts on any power relations and positionality concerns if an African female conducts these one-on-one interviews with F2-males. If there are any concerns that this might limit the interviewees’ full expression, the researcher will recruit and train a male African interviewer to conduct the case study In-depth interviews and moderate the focus groups.
The researcher will also ask follow-up and probing questions during the interview. The researcher conducting the interview will make known to the interviewee the presence of a co-researcher in a viewing room. At the end of the interview, the interviewee would be asked if there are any other issues related to the conversation that has not been addressed that they wish to talk about.
Data storage and security
Interviews will be transcribed immediately. Transcripts will be de-identified. Audio files stored will be stored securely in a password-protected or encrypted cloud.
Analytic Framework and Analysis Plan
By using the case study approach, the researcher hopes to delve into every individual case, identify themes within each case and themes that show up across the cases. To reduce the possibility of bias in the data analysis, data and findings will be analyzed with teammates that are neither African nor international students.
Some propositions that the study would explore include:
· The impact of gender roles in shaping the target group’s considerations and challenges. When the wife is pursuing her education in the US, and the husband has chosen to accompany her, he may have to take up more household chores and childcare duties than would have been the case in their home country. During the interview, the questions asked would confirm if this is the case and how the couple is navigating these changing roles.
· Male vulnerabilities and identifying ways in which the man feels vulnerable. Are there concerns that power relations in the household might shift due to the wife’s additional educational qualification? How does the man address present and the likelihood of future vulnerabilities with the consistent daily support for his wife’s education?
· The family’s income and the male spouse’s highest educational qualification is also likely to impact the financial, career-related, emotional, and psychological considerations before the start of the wife’s program and during the program. For example, suppose the family has substantial savings. In that case, the lack of income during the wife’s studies may not be a significant setback for the man or the family.
Sample Analytic Framework
Transcribing and preparing for analysis
All interview and focus group audio files will be transcribed, de-identified, and saved using pseudonyms. Notes, materials, and transcripts will be reviewed and read. The demographic information provided will also be analyzed alongside the transcript from the interviews and focus group responses.
Within case analysis
During the interviews, when reading the transcripts, and throughout the analysis process, as recommended by Creswell and Poth (2012), the researcher will prioritize memoing to keep track of the “evolution of codes and theme development.” These memos will be organized by participants and concepts. Data from individual interviews will be coded. Codes that are similar or speak to the same issue will be condensed into broader categories and themes. New codes that emerge from the data will be included in the analysis.
Narratives and themes from each case study will be presented in a discussion. Using the case study analysis template from Creswell and Poth (2016), a detailed description of the setting and the case context will be provided for each of the cases. A within-case theme analysis will follow this, highlighting themes and other findings from each case study (Creswell and Poth, 2012; Wolcott, 1994).
After the within-case analysis, a cross-case theme analysis exploring similarities and differences between the case studies will be conducted (Creswell and Poth, 2012) by identifying common themes across the individual case studies (Yin, 2009). This cross-case theme analysis will help identify patterns, “patterned regularities” (Wolcott, 1994). The analysis will conclude by presenting propositions and conclusions from the case studies.
To ensure the within-case and cross-case theme analysis are thorough, the researcher will read the transcript several times, become immersed in the details, and fully understand each case (Agar, 1980). The grid below would be used in Microsoft excel for better visualization of responses to questions and themes side by side.
Some efforts at data triangulation will be made (Patton 2002). If available and the participant is comfortable with sharing, Evidence of substantial expenses that constituted a financial shock and increased the need level of the male spouse and the household will be requested to corroborate data from individual interviews.
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Bilas, K. (2018). Making the invisible visible: International Student Spouses and their perceptions of University Support Systems. Northeastern University.
Bordoloi, S.D. “I Am Standing Still”: The Impact of Immigration Regulations on the Career Aspirations of Wives of International Students in the USA. Int. Migration & Integration 16, 607–624 (2015). https://doi.org/10.1007/s12134-014-0354-4
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Enchautegui, M. E. (2013). Broken Immigration Policy: Broken Families. The Urban Institute
Farrell, L. (2015, June 23). 5 Useful Tips for International Students With Dependents in the US Retrieved January 26, 2021, from https://www.usnews.com/education/blogs/international-student-counsel/2015/06/23/5-useful-tips-for-international-students-with-dependents-in-the-us
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Data collection protocol
Hello, my name is Dorcas Omowole. I hope you are doing well and staying safe. I am a student researcher. As part of my job, I conduct interviews on various issues of importance to our country and various populations. Please, do you have a few minutes for me to tell you about our ongoing interview in case you are interested in participating? Please, can I know your first name?
Dear [insert first name],
The following information is provided for you to decide whether you wish to participate in this study. You should be aware that your participation is voluntary, and you are free to choose not to participate or withdraw at any time.
This study I am working on now aims to understand the considerations and challenges of living as an F2-male in the United States. This study would involve your participation in an interview that will last for 60–75 minutes, after which you will be invited to a group interview. The two interviews will be audio-recorded.
We would be happy to share our findings with you after the research is completed. Your name will not be associated with the research findings in any way, and only the researchers will know your identity as a participant. Your time in participating in this study will be compensated with $100 at the end of the interview.
Please, do not hesitate to ask any questions about the study either before participating or during the time that you are participating. There are no known risks and/or discomforts associated with this study. The expected benefits associated with your participation is the experience of participating in a qualitative research study.
If you are interested in participating in this study, please sign your consent below. There is also a form to fill in some demographic details that will be used for analysis purposes only. A copy of this consent form will be given to you to keep.
Signature of Participant: Signature of Researcher:
In-depth Interview Questions
Introduction and ice breaker questions
1. Please tell me a little about yourself and the activities you engage in for relaxation.
2. How have those activities changed since you came to the United States?
· If activities have changed (ask): What are some of the reasons for this change in recreational activities?
Journey to the United States
3. What were your reactions when your wife received admission to the United States?
4. Did you consider not coming with your wife to the United States?
· What were some of the factors you considered when deciding whether or not to come with your wife to the United States?
o Probe: financial considerations, career-related considerations, any other considerations
5. What was your typical day schedule before moving to the United States?
6. In what ways have your typical day schedule changed since moving to the United States?
7. What were some of your concerns (fears) about your wife coming to study in the United States?
8. How did you address the possibility of not being able to work during your wife’s studies?
9. Do you have a passive source of income back in your home country?
Experience in the United States
10. How long have you been in the United States?
11. What program and level of education is your wife in?
12. Do you have any children?
· Probe on children, if children are not of school age, ask about childcare.
13. In one word, how would you describe your experience in the United States?
· Probe about the word chosen
14. What suggestions would you give to those interested in the welfare of African men who have accompanied their wives on their studies to the United States?
15. If you had the opportunity to go back in time, would you still have decided to accompany your wife to the United States for her studies?
Conclusion and wrap up
16. What are your plans post completion of your wife’s studies and time in the United States?
17. What recommendations would you give to an African man currently considering accompanying their wife to the United States for their studies?
18. Thinking about our conversation today, are there any other things that you would like to say?