Characteristics of closest friends: A comparison among U.S., international and Third Culture college students

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Counseling and Human Services


Janine M. Bernard

Second Advisor

Melissa Luke

Third Advisor

Dennis Kinsey


College adjustment, Friendship, Global nomads, Sojourners, Third Culture Kids, Transnational transition, TCKs, United States, International students

Subject Categories

Student Counseling and Personnel Services


This study investigates the characteristics of closest friends of female college students among three subcultural groups that were categorized based on their previous transnational transition experience(s): first cultural college students who did not have any transnational transition, second cultural college students who had only one transnational transition upon their college entry, and third culture college students who had more than one transnational transition during their childhood. Of the few studies that have examined young adult friendship, none of them have investigated College Third Culture Kids' (CTCKs) subjective perceptions of their closest friends. Prior studies and observations indicated the uniqueness and struggles of CTCKs' social relationships with peers in the U.S. The current study utilizes a Q methodology to examine the perceptions of female college students of the characteristics of their closest friends. Forty-five female college students sorted 45 statements expressing various opinions about the individual and behavioral characteristics of their closest friends on a scale from "Most Characteristic" (+4) to "Least Characteristic" (-4). Age and gender were controlled. In particular, differences and similarities of the characteristics of their closest friends between CTCKs and non-CTCKs were compared. As a result, three distinctive factor groups emerged representing three different patterns of characteristics of closest friends among the participants: the Socially Connected group (friend as playfellow), the Emotionally Connected group (friend as nurturer and complement), and the Functionally Connected group (friend as resource). Approximately 72 percent of the total participants were loaded on one of the three different friendship factor groups. Each subcultural group showed a strong preference toward a particular factor group. Ten CTKCs (out of 15 total CTCKs) were loaded in one of the three different factor groups. In particular, 50 percent of the CTCKs participants were loaded on the Functionally Connected friendship type, which is characterized as being responsible, intelligent, independent, and creative and less characterized as being physically attractive or easy-going. On the other hand, most of the non-CTCKs were loaded on either the Socially Connected friendship type, characterized as being easy-going, out-going, social, and energetic or the Emotionally Connected friendship type, characterized as being honest, loyal, accepted, supportive, and intimate. The current findings extend the literature on female college students' friendships in the U.S., and the findings of the current study are mostly consistent with previous assertions that CTCKs and non-CTCKs prefer different characteristics in their closest friends. In particular, the findings of the current study have yielded important clinical and educational implications for higher education. CTCKs characterized with the Socially Connected and Emotionally Connected friendship types could serve as cultural bridges to facilitate genuine multiculturalism on U.S. campuses.


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