Academic journal article College Student Journal

Challenges for International Students in Higher Education: One Student's Narrated Story of Invisibility and Struggle

Academic journal article College Student Journal

Challenges for International Students in Higher Education: One Student's Narrated Story of Invisibility and Struggle

Article excerpt

A narrative study was conducted to investigate why a Chinese female international student keeps silent in her American classes. This study found that because of her silence, the participant internalized a deficient self-perception as a useless person in her group discussions and perceived that a deficient identity was attributed to her. Because the participant's American classmates' ideology of cultural homogeneity made her disempowered in her classes, the participant became the victim of the disempowering American higher educational setting. Therefore, this paper suggests that educators of American higher education should not attribute Chinese international students' silence to only their ethnic culture influences or personalities and should not overlook the possible disempowering nature of higher educational settings.

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Beginning her paper with this question: "What is invisibility?" Garth (1994) argues that invisibility does not mean something is not existent; instead, invisibility is often caused by social structures that make individuals voiceless and invisible. Do some female Chinese international students willingly choose to be invisible and silent in their American classes? If not, what makes them invisible and silent in their American classes? Despite the general perception that American culture is characterized more by diversity than by homogeneity, the American ideology of cultural homogeneity implies an American mindset that because Eurocentric culture are superior to others, people with different cultures should conform to the dominant monocultural canon and norms. This ideology essentially reveals that because Eurocentric culture is representative of the dominant culture in American society, American society values the knowledge and cultures of the dominant group as the model for other cultures and attributes to those who are unable or unwilling to fit the dominant culture a deficient identity. Because American society is characterized by the American ideology of cultural homogeneity, ethnic and racial minority students are evaluated according to the dominant norms and are expected to "learn to operate successfully in the dominant-white-system" (Yeh & Drost, 2002; The role of the dominant culture in schools). If they fail to fit the dominant norms, based on a deficiency orientation, they may be assigned a negatively formulated identity (Jansen & Wildemeersch, 1996). Because American society generally values assertiveness and considers keeping silent an indication of incompetence or ignorance, to avoid being assigned a deficient identity, most of the international students try to be more assertive and expressive. However, because second-language learners' and users' opportunities to speak are sometimes socially constructed and restricted, not all the speakers can choose the opportunities and conditions in which they can interact with target language speakers. Although not all those who listen consider those who speak as deserving their attention (Peirce, 1994), the concern of why some Chinese female international students keep silent in their American classes often over focuses on such students' responsibility and places the responsibility of their teachers and American classmates in the background. True, such students keep silent and become invisible in their American classes partly because of their Chinese cultural influence. However, what is greatly ignored is the possibility that such students do not speak and become invisible because they are silenced and disempowered by their American classmates. Therefore, a narrative study was conducted to explore a Chinese female international student's silent experiences in her American classes.

Conceptual Framework

Narrative is a powerful vehicle through which "other people's experiences can be understood and shared" (Kanno, 2003, p. 8) and "the existence and experience of inequality can be described" (Graham, 1984, p. …

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