Cultural Identity in Flux: A Qualitative Study of Chinese International Students’ Construction of Being and Positioning in US Higher Education
Minero, Siwen Zhang
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CitationMinero, Siwen Zhang. 2020. Cultural Identity in Flux: A Qualitative Study of Chinese International Students’ Construction of Being and Positioning in US Higher Education. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Graduate School of Education.
AbstractConstructing one’s cultural identity in a cross-cultural context is a fundamental aspect of international students' experiences of studying in the US. While much scholarly work on international students in US higher education has focused on individual characteristics of learning and adjustments to the host country, work on Chinese international student (CIS) identity development in the context of competing worldviews is noticeably absent.
I conducted a qualitative interview study, recruiting 20 CIS in two American universities. My findings through thematic analysis showed the heterogeneity in the CIS’ interpretation of, and strategy for, responding to perceived criticisms of their home country and its culture. Conflicting images of Chinese culture, contrasting ideas about development, different perceptions of individual agency, as well as competing viewpoints on sovereignty all contribute to students’ perception of the threats to their identity. To respond to these areas of tension, students employed four types of responses: the detached bystander, the reactive defender, the pragmatic rationalizer, and the open-minded incrementalist. Three of these typologies indicate that while students’ responses lacked a sense of personal efficacy, they revealed strong trust in China's political leadership and, at times, with willing acceptance of the necessary individual sacrifices. The fourth typology, however, reflected a dynamic coping response, and moved beyond the initial affective response to make attempts, however limited, to signal their desire to participate actively in interpersonal debates and dialogues with others in the US.
Through the lens of Foucauldian Discourse Analysis, I offered two discourses that students drew upon: Talking about home country as “family” allowed students to express affectionate feelings of closeness and to justify their automatic defense to the critics; talking about home country as “strange” allowed students to, in their speech act, talk about the policies and problems in an abstract manner, allowing them to also act as an outsider, appreciating and resisting narratives that they may have heard, witnessed, or experienced. In so doing, I am able to explore not only the patterns apparent in students' talk about the home country but also what this talk makes possible for their identity building and their places in the world.
Citable link to this pagehttps://nrs.harvard.edu/URN-3:HUL.INSTREPOS:37364532