Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Falling between the Cracks: Ambiguities of International Student Status in Canada

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Falling between the Cracks: Ambiguities of International Student Status in Canada

Article excerpt


As Canadian universities seek to attract more international students, there is a need to recognize and respond to the diversity within this group and to question the binary categories of domestic students and international students. Relying primarily on 116 qualitative interviews with international undergraduates at the University of British Columbia, we utilize American students as a case study from which to explore the complex and blurred boundaries between these two categories. Americans resemble domestic students in some respects and international students in others, yet they are often less prepared to meet adaptational challenges because they have low expectations of cultural and institutional differences. We compare the experiences of Americans and international students from other countries, as well as other groups of students who fall between the cracks of the domestic and international student classifications. We argue that, by targeting services on the basis of these broad administrative categories, categories that were created for financial purposes, the university reduces the take-up of the very services students need.


À une époque où les universités canadiennes cherchent à attirer de plus en plus d'étudiants internationaux, il est nécessaire de reconnaÎtre la diversité de ce groupe et d'agir en fonction de celle-ci. Cela demande de s'interroger sur la division binaire des étudiants entre les catégories « canadien » et « international ». En nous appuyant sur 116 entrevues qualitatives avec des étudiants internationaux en études de premier cycle à l'Université de la Colombie-Britannique, nous entreprenons une étude de cas des étudiants américains, afin d'explorer la complexité et l'imprécision des frontières entre ces deux catégories. Sur certains points, le profil des étudiants américains est semblable à celui des étudiants canadiens, mais sur d'autres, il s'apparente plutôt à celui des étudiants internationaux. Pourtant, ces étudiants américains sont souvent moins prêts à faire face à des difficultés d'adaptation, car ils ne s'attendent pas à être confrontés à des différences culturelles et institutionnelles. Nous comparons les expériences des étudiants américains avec celles d'étudiants internationaux provenant d'autres pays, ainsi qu'avec celles d'autres groupes d'étudiants dont la situation ne correspond pas aux classifications « canadien » ou « international ». Nous soutenons que, quand les services d'aide ciblent les étudiants sur la base de vastes catégories administratives conçues pour des raisons financières, l'université contribue à limiter l'utilisation des services dont les étudiants ont précisément besoin.

Canadian universities have recently expanded their efforts to "internationalize" their student bodies (Chen, 2006; Douglas, 2005; Knight, 1997, 1999; Nerad, 2010). As job markets demand employees who can navigate an international stage, universities enhance their competitiveness by preparing students to engage with other cultures. They view an international student body as an asset and testimony to the university's dedication to global citizenship (Teichler, 2004). At most Canadian institutions, international students also pay closer to the real cost of post-secondary education, offsetting costs for domestic students whose tuition is subsidized. For these reasons, universities have turned to aggressive recruiting outside Canada, increasing international scholarships, and promoting their support services to enrol more international students (Altbach & Knight, 2007; Bond & Thayer Scott, 1999; Shute, 1999).

The potential value of international students for Canadian society is well documented (Association of Universities and Colleges of Canada [AUCC], 2001; Cudmore, 2005; Dwyer & Peters, 2004; Mueller, 2009; Pidgeon & Andres, 2005). Federal and provincial governments and organizations have acknowledged this potential by marketing Canada as a country of academic excellence,1 a message that resonates with international students (Humphries & Knight-Grofe, 2009; Picard & Mills, 2009; Savage, 2009). …

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