International student subjectivities: Biographical investments for liquid times

Year: 2005

Author: Singh, Parlo, Doherty, Catherine

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

The international student as an object of study has typically been understood through the frame of cultural identity, mapped back to notions of fixed, static notions of cultural difference. In contrast, this study seeks to understand how the practice of international study has emerged as an increasingly popular 'biographical solution' (Beck 1992, Bauman 2002) in order to pursue imagined career trajectories in a globalised and competitive world. Informed by recent studies of middle class strategy in Asia (Pinches) and the transnational Chinese diaspora (Ong 1999, Ang 2001) that challenge essentialist accounts of timeless Asian values and East-West binaries, the paper analyses interview data collected from 'Asian' international students attending preparatory programs at an Australian university. Specifically, the paper discusses the disciplinary formation of the 'international student' - the take-up of self-Orientalizing discourses (Ong), and engagement in practices of auto-ethnography (Pratt). In addition, the paper explores students' critiques of, and resistances to Orientalist discourses, and pragmatic willingness to submit to local demands to further their longer term goals. Preparatory programs emerge not so much as life-changing contact zones but rather necessary transit lounges, for the acquisition of cultural distinctions along their life routes.