Rethinking How we Research the “International Student Experience”


Scholars have critiqued our current understanding of international students (internationals) for glossing over their diversity, resulting in the otherization, isolation, and reification of them as homogeneous (Hanassab, 2006; Jones, 2017; Lee, 2014). Further, the phrase “international student experience” suggests that their experience is singular. This proposal examines the heterogeneity of internationals’ experiences by using Chinese internationals in the U.S. as an example to illustrate how their experiences are diverse even within a single nationality. Eighteen students participated in three interviews and four journal prompts over one year. Findings reveal that their communication, engagement with subject, preparation for the future, and participation in extracurriculars vary by year of study, field of study and, to a small extent, gender. Findings point to how scholars, lecturers, and service providers need to re-conceive their engagement with international students’ experiences (not the “international student experience”) by understanding the diversity and complexity of internationals’ experiences. Just as the fourth industrial revolution fuses different material worlds and disciplines, research on international students’ experiences calls for more collaborations across countries, higher education offices, disciplines, as well as qualitative and quantitative researchers. This is important as internationals, not just technologies, hold great potential in connecting people and places worldwide.