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I The Experiences of Chinese Students Abroad

Negotiating Transnational Life Worlds: Experiences of Chinese Student-Migrants in Australia

Hannah Soong

Introduction

Student mobility has increased steadily over the last decades, and international students are now more visible in most universities, especially in countries such as Australia, New Zealand, Europe, North America and some countries within the Asia-Pacific region (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, 2012). As many as one in five degrees conferred by UK universities in recent years is an international student (International Focus, 2009), and international education has established itself as the third highest export industry in Australia (Australian Bureau Statistics, 2011). However, current literature (e.g., Brown & Holloway, 2008; Carroll & Ryan, 2005; Marginson, Nyland, Sawir, & Forbes-Mewitt, 2010) frequently documents the unique challenges that international students face in adjusting to Australian higher education. Specifically, international students have to negotiate different academic systems, communication differences, racial and ethnic distinctions and a lack of social interaction with members within the host society (Arkoudis & Tran, 2007). While they are visibly culturally other within Western universities, and their legal status in the host country defines them as 'temporary outsiders', they are not homogeneously defined cultural subjects. Research regarding their needs and cross-cultural adjustment experiences is, therefore, important in order to promote future global intercultural understanding in our current times (Rizvi, 2011).

In Australia, there are an increasing number of international students who arrive intending to remain in the host country upon graduation as potential skilled migrants, and consequently discussions of the education-migration nexus are strongly emerging (e.g., Robertson, 2008, 2011). Like many other immigrant-receiving countries, Australia seems to act like a magnet attracting those living outside its borders by offering favourable conditions for linking study, work and migration. In 2010, approximately 244,000 onshore international tertiary students were enrolled in Australian universities (Australian Education International (AEI), 2010). Among the top five source countries of international students in Australian universities, China has dominated the higher education market in enrolments and commencements; followed by India, South Korea, Vietnam and Thailand (AEI, 2011). In confirmation of the education-migration nexus, between 2005 and 2008, about 62,200 international students remained in Australia as migrants after the completion of their studies (Robertson, 2011). This portion of student- migrants represented around 20 per cent of all economic migrants (Access Economics, 2009; cited in Robertson, 2011). Although the recruitment of international students as potential migrants intending to work in professional or managerial positions in Australia is not new, the link between international education and migration is often narrowly positioned as a policy problem (Robertson, 2011), and little is known about the lived realities and complexities of those international students with migration intentions.

Specifically, little is known about the lived experiences, positioning and reflections of international teacher education students, known as pre-service teachers1 in Australia. Teacher education degrees differ from other degrees because they are designed to prepare students to become future teachers in Australian schools. Thus, it may be assumed that such a cohort is undertaking their studies with the ultimate goal of permanent migration and secure employment in the education sector. However, even though teaching is one of the key occupations on the Australian General Skilled Migration list, this list is constantly under review. In reality, there are no guarantees that these pre-service teachers will qualify as skilled migrants when they finish university.

Despite this uncertainty, more international students are choosing to study in Australia, and in degrees such as teacher education that demand considerable intercultural adjustment and communication skills for engaging appropriately with local students, staff and parents. These international pre-service teachers are exposed to stressful intercultural sites where they will be assessed on how they teach in the schools they are allocated to for their teaching practicum. This research therefore focuses on the teaching practicum as an intercultural site - in other words, a site involving interaction among people of diverse cultures, requiring all parties to make adjustments, but in this case, requiring the transnational pre-service student to plan for adjustment through the development of linguistic skills, work knowledge, and global intercultural understanding.

Drawing from a larger study, this chapter draws on extensive interview data to examine the lived experiences of three Chinese international pre-service teachers studying in an Australian teacher education program. Although the three participants' voices cannot be generalised for other such students, their individual experiences and stories can raise bigger issues and exemplify the power of narratives to illustrate broader concepts. Thus, the initial research question was, 'How do the individual Chinese student-migrant participants experience processes of change and growth through the complex terrains of transnationalism and mobility?' And a second question, which emerged through the initial analysis, was, 'How do their experiences add nuances to the concepts of transnationalism, and imaginations of fantasy and nostalgia?'

 
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