Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Accompanying Partners of International Students: Reflections on Three Issues

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Higher Education

Accompanying Partners of International Students: Reflections on Three Issues

Article excerpt

International students have historically played an important role in the internationalization strategies of Canadian higher education (Arthur, 2004). Recently, the profile of international students has been raised in light of their crucial role in contributing to Canada's economy, industry innovation, and labour market planning, as well as its social and cultural diversity (Advisory Panel on Canada's International Education Strategy, 2012). Across the world, Canada ranks as the seventh most popular destination for international students and derives more than $8 billion annually from international student expenditures, including tuition and living expenses (Canadian Bureau for International Education [CBIE], 2013). Among the 265,377 international students in Canada at the time of the CBIE report, 55% were studying at universities and 26% at a trade school or another postsecondary institution (CBIE, 2013). Yet despite the large presence of international students in higher education, most research tends to focus on international students themselves, while little is known about the lived experience of their partners, primarily women, who accompany international students to their country of education. This research gap raises critical social justice issues, given the fact that many international students' accompanying partners are well-educated professionals in their home countries but experience adaptation difficulties, a lack of social support, career downgrading, and psychological distress in their new environment (Chen, 2009; Cho, Lee, & Jeżewski, 2005; Kim, 2012). Their status as neither students nor immigrants renders them "invisible sojourners" (de Verthelyi, 1995) from both academic and employment perspectives.

In appreciation of the social and relational context of international students' transitions, we conducted a systematic review of the existing literature base to identify, describe, and analyze the main issues and concerns facing accompanying partners of international students (APIS) studying in Canada. The literature almost exclusively focuses on the experiences of women accompanying partners. As such, in this article, we define APIS as women who move to another country to accompany a partner who is studying as an international student. Although some of these women may subsequently become students themselves or find employment in the new country, employment or their own education are not typically the primary motivation for them to move to a new country. Rather, they are accompanying their partners, who are engaged in international studies.

We identify three main issues with the existing studies of women partners of international students. First, we argue that existing research tends to focus overwhelmingly on their social and cultural adaptation difficulties while ignoring their agency and resiliency in dealing with challenges in a new living environment. Second, the influences of gender on their adaptation process are often highlighted, while these women's other social positions (e.g., race and class) are surprisingly ignored or minimized. Researchers need to examine how gender intersects with other socially constructed differences that contribute to such women's renegotiation of family relations and career trajectories, and their experiences in the new cultural environment. Third, we note the lack of research with this population and interrogate the assumptions made in comparing their experiences to trailing partners of expatriates or immigrants. Although these populations may share some commonalities regarding adaptation issues, the distinct situation of APIS requires unique attention and services from researchers and policy makers. We also suggest specific directions for future research. In so doing, we provide readers with a list of central and sub-research questions to address the three issues we raise with respect to existing research. Finally, we conclude by highlighting that more research is needed to strengthen the visibility of APIS. …

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