The Experiences of Chinese International Postgraduates Studying in Singapore
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Postgraduate research presents particular challenges to students: self-management, independent research, extended writing, and working with a supervisor. If we add to these challenges those faced by international students - the complexity of a new culture, a new academic culture, and the difficulties of a second language - we begin to see the hurdles that such students must overcome. Postgraduate students are already well socialised into their discipline, its discourse, research, and methodology. However, when students undertake their study abroad, how easily do they 'fit' into their new environment? And in what ways does their previous disciplinary socialisation, clash with, or complement their new academic socialisation? Given the large numbers of Chinese international students studying abroad particularly at postgraduate level, a focus on individual student experiences was seen as important in advancing our understanding of these students' experiences and sensitising international providers of such education to the ways in which they may better respond to such students. The purpose of the study was to examine the experiences of Chinese international postgraduate students studying in Singapore to find out how they perceived their new learning environment, and to explore the coping strategies they employed to manage, understand and construct meaning out of their learning situation. The study also sought to focus on their particular learning needs, given their perception of their environment, and the ways in which higher education providers could best accommodate these needs. A qualitative constructivist methodology was used to examine the learning experiences and coping strategies of 12 Chinese international postgraduates balanced by gender and level of higher degree study involved. The students were interviewed twice over a five-month period, with each interview lasting approximately one hour. The study focused on understanding students' experiences of positive and negative incidents in their learning environment, on the construction of meaning around those incidents, and on students' subsequent responses to them. Potential differences across the variables of level of degree study, gender and marital status were also considered in the analysis. Four major themes were identified in the student experiences those of marginalisation: student/supervisory relationship, academic/organisational marginalisation, social marginalisation, and advantaging. The coping strategies identified are those of self-determination and technique. It was found that adjustment for students was most difficult in the first six to twelve months from entry into the new cultural context, largely due to the influence of previous educational and cultural experiences on expectations. Also highlighted was the range of interpersonal and intrapersonal coping strategies that students used to help manage their cultural transition. The importance of collegial support as a key coping strategy for international student adjustment was confirmed in the study. Self-determination was also shown to be a strong motivator for managing research work and interpersonal relationships. The research indicated a number of important differences between masters and doctoral students' experiences and highlighted differences concerning traditional gender roles. Implications arising from the study may inform intervention programmes that are directed to the points of tension identified in students' experiences. The tensions in student experiences may largely be understood in terms of unrealistic or unfulfilled expectations being brought to the new study context but grounded in the home culture. Addressing these needs may be seen in various ways, including: (1) changing student expectations to make them more realistic; (2) sensitising students in cross-cultural issues; (3) sensitising host university staff in understanding and responding to cross-cultural issues in students; (4) providing appropriate levels of support in dealing with issues as they arise; and (5) structuring opportunities for mutual support by students in the host institution. Further research is indicated into the investigation of the cultural transition experiences and coping strategies of other national or ethnic groups at postgraduate level. Investigation of the experiences of international Chinese students in other disciplines, other host countries, and at other education levels is also indicated.
Thesis (Professional Doctorate)
Doctor of Education (EdD)
School of Cognition, Language and Special Education
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