The problem with international students’ ‘experiences’ and the promise of their practices: Reanimating research about international students in higher education

Year: 2021

Author: Deuchar, Andrew

Type of paper: Individual Paper

The increasing number of people studying abroad has drawn significant scholarly attention to the experiences of international students. While these works have productively informed policy and practice regarding how international students may be better supported, they have not always considered the active ways international students contribute to higher education. This paper suggests that adopting the notion of experience as a conceptual starting point is problematic because it only partially illuminates international students’ agency and reproduces understandings of them as a vulnerable group. The more active notion of practice, by contrast, suggests a more agentive subject who is a pivotal actor in spaces of education. The main argument in this paper is that the abiding focus on international students’ experiences will be productively unsettled by orienting attention to their practices, and theorising the notion of practice in more fluid and dynamic ways. After critically engaging with the existing literature, the presentation will outline four ways that a focus on international students’ practices may reanimate debates. A focus on practice will: (1) show how international students actively contribute to spaces of higher education including classrooms, campuses and other sites of sociality, (2) demand that researchers theorise practice in more expansive ways and consider the practices of a broader set of social groups, (3) encourage researchers to make use of a wider set of qualitative research methods, and (4) create a stronger political foundation from which to defend the interests of international students in a post-COVID-19 world.