The U.S. economy receives consistent and increasing benefits from international students in higher education, an estimated $41 billion during the 2018-2019 academic year. However, the existing research literature has failed to determine whether Intensive English Language Programs (IELP) adequately prepare these students for college-level composition in digital mediums. The objective of this study is to distinguish the perceptions of how academic digital composition and identity were developed among international students relative to their experiences in an IELP. This dissertation research sought to understand the cultural perspectives of international students around a) their digital writing identity, b) digital composition in academia, and c) their perceptions of preparedness for undergraduate studies. The theoretical paradigm is grounded in Vygotsky’s socio-cultural theory and constructivism. The methodology took a transcendental phenomenological approach based on the work of Husserl. The research took place online with international students who attended an IELP in the United States amid a pandemic in 2020. Data collection included a questionnaire and semi-structured interviews with nine students holding F1-Visas for academic study in the United States. The findings of this study reveal that international students are unaware of their digital writing identity and have limited opportunities to explore their identity through digital composition in their IELPs classes. However, international students’ preparedness for their undergraduate or graduate coursework varies on the individual experience studying at an IELP.

Library of Congress Subject Headings

Students, Foreign--Education, Higher--United States; English language--Rhetoric Study and teaching (Higher); Students, Foreign--Identity

Date of Award


School Affiliation

Graduate School of Education and Psychology



Degree Type


Degree Name


Faculty Advisor

Paul Sparks