Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Home Away from Home: International Students and Their Identity-Based Social Networks in Australia

Academic journal article Journal of International Students

Home Away from Home: International Students and Their Identity-Based Social Networks in Australia

Article excerpt

In 2011 Australia welcomed 332,700 international students, yet little is known about how their complex identities influence the social networks they make in order to negotiate everyday life in their overseas host nation. Emerging studies (Gray, Chang & Kennedy, 2010; Sawir, 2008; Kashima & Loh, 2006) are showing that international students in Australia create identities and social networks that are tied to the host nation while studying. As transient migrants, international students may have neither a singular national home-based identity, nor social networks exclusively connected to the home nation. Many transient migrants have multiple identities (Appadurai, 1996), and identity, rather than place-of-birth-based social networks dominate their sojourn in Australia. A study that includes identity-based social networks is crucial as we do not fully understand the different forms of social and cultural identities which transient migrants possess. By identity, this paper adopts Anthony Giddens' (1991) understanding of the term to mean a process of continuous individual development, which takes place on a daily basis. Identity thus is not static but complex and developing. According to Giddens (1991), postmodernity poses the challenge for individuals to create their own identities. He notes: "What to do? How to act? Who to be? These are focal questions for everyone living in circumstances of late modernity - and ones which, on some level or another, all of us answer, either discursively or through day-to-day social behaviour" (Giddens, 1991, p. 70). Furthermore, identity is influenced by an individual's interactions with others in their surroundings. Giddens (1991, p.54) explains that a "person's identity is not to be found in behaviour, nor - important though this is - in the reactions of others, but in the capacity to keep a particular narrative going. The individual's biography, if she is to maintain regular interaction with others in the day-to-day world, cannot be wholly fictive. It must continually integrate events which occur in the external world, and sort them into the ongoing 'story' about the self'". Thus identity is individualised and continuously evolving primarily because of the postmodern condition of globalisation. This paper adopts Giddens' notion of identity as being both individual yet complex due to everyday encounters with others. The implications of Gidden's notion of identity provide a way of exploring the role of the shifting layers of the identities of international students that are the results of their new experiences through social networks in their adopted country.

Challenges with Being Away from Home

Li and Gasser (2005) examined whether contact with individuals from the host country, ethnic identity, and cross-cultural self-efficacy of Asian international students predicts their sociocultural adjustment. The researchers found that contact with the individuals from the host country partially mediated the effect of cross-cultural self-efficacy on sociocultural adjustment. However, contact with the hosts did not mediate the effect of ethnic identity on sociocultural adjustment. Brown and Holloway (2008) investigated the initial stage of the international sojourn at a university in the South of England. They found that the initial stage of the sojourn was not characterised by feelings of excitement. Students were overwhelmed by negative psychological and emotional symptoms more commonly associated with culture shock (Ward et al., 2001; Ryan, 2005; Brown and Holloway, 2008). Khawaja and Dempsey (2008) compared international and domestic students enrolled at a large Australian university based in a capital city on variables such as accommodation, financial satisfaction, social support, mismatched expectations, academic stress, dysfunctional coping, and psychological distress. Results demonstrate that in comparison to domestic students, international students had less social support, used more dysfunctional coping strategies and had greater incongruence between their expectations and experiences of university life. …

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