Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

(Re)construction: Ways International Students Talk about Their Identity

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Education

(Re)construction: Ways International Students Talk about Their Identity

Article excerpt

International students have often been spoken about in academic literature as a group with group problems and 'identities'. In this article, I use postmodern and poststructuralist ways of analysing to look at the ways international students (re)construct storylines about themselves. Some discourses construct closed and limited subject positions for students based on difference and sameness. Others are more fluid and complex, and are based on reinvention and hybridity. Students show resistance to some positionings made available to them. Acknowledging and celebrating the diversity of subjectivities that international students (re)construct may begin a process of exploding international education out of limited and constricted binarisms that are so often used in talking about what it is.


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global approach

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international students


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International students are a diverse group, but they have often been spoken about in academic literature and in academic conversations as an entity, rather than as individuals with a range of personal histories and experiences, and a range of personal motivations and desires which have constructed the desire to become an international student. Academic literature constructs the paradox of the high achieving / rote learning passive international student (Kember, 1996). Taken-for-granted, flawed assumptions are made about the level of skill of local students over against international students (Pearson & Beasley, 1996; Renshaw & Volet, 1995). Essentialising the language and skill levels of students as a group, such as South East Asian, is shown to be unsubstantiated. Stereotyping assumptions lead to the danger of dealing with students as racial groups. McAdam, in a study of first-year students at Monash University, concluded that 'it is likely that there are as many differences and cultural discontinuities within and between ... the category "overseas students" as there are between overseas students and Australian students' (McAdam, 1971, p. 108). The reasons for this are that:

   'overseas student' is ... a convenient stereotype ... Not only do
   most overseas students come from plural societies, each of which
   embraces a wide range of cultures and religions but, in addition,
   each national and racial group diverges markedly in its customs,
   goals and values from every other. (McAdam, 1972, p. 97)

If overseas students are often thought of as a group or number of groups, then it is easy for their problems to be seen as group problems. Lakshmana (1979, p. 85) found that 'there is a significant difference between the problems perceived as important and the difficulties actually experienced by the respondents'. Again the taken-for-granted assumptions about international students are misleading.

Postmodern ways of talking and thinking are valuable to begin to talk about and analyse the complexity that is 'covered' by the term 'international students'. Ways of talking about groups, 'truths' that are developed about them, and subject 'positions' made available to them are constructed through discourses and the practices that flow from them. Discourses can be talked about as ways of 'constituting knowledge ... social practices, forms of subjectivity and power relations which inhere in such knowledges and the relations between them' (Weedon, 1987, p. 108). Foucault's ideas about mapping out the genealogy of a discourse are a useful way of thinking about how 'truths' about international students have been constructed. The focus of genealogy is subjectivity, 'how power manufactures a particular subjectivity that is internalized and made the truth about oneself' (Prado, 1995, p. 85). Foucault has said that developing a genealogy of truth/ knowledge/ power relations is difficult, because genealogy 'operates on a field of tangled and confused parchments, on documents that have been scratched over' (Foucault, 1971, p. …

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