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The internationalization of higher education as a site of self-positioning : intersecting imaginations of Chinese international students and universities in Japan Tsukada, Hanae


This study examines the construction of Chinese international students’ identities in the context of the internationalization of two Japanese higher education institutions. It employs a case study design. Two Japanese higher education institutions were selected because they had large international student bodies and English-medium programs. Both of these characteristics are central to recent Japanese internationalization policies and programs. At each institution, interviews were conducted with: 1) Chinese international undergraduate students; and 2) faculty and staff members who held leadership positions at their institutions in the area of internationalization. By using the concepts relating to imagination, the study analyzed how students saw their identities and future possibilities in and through their participation in international education in Japan. It also investigated how the institutions saw their social existence and translated it into their internationalization discourses and practices. An analysis of the intersection of the faculty/staff participants’ accounts of internationalization and international students’ stories illuminated the challenges and the potential of internationalization. Firstly, the findings revealed that the imaginations of both the institutions and students were shaped by their social positions and dominant social imaginaries of globalization. How the institutions with contrasting levels of academic prestige and international students with different socio-economic backgrounds participated in internationalization illuminated their self-positioning strategies in a competitive world. The closely linked self-positioning strategies of the institutions and students indicated the challenge of internationalization in disrupting the existing material and ideological conditions. Secondly, students’ stories indicated the potential and the limitations of the institutional environments, which are marked by many international students and the use of the English language. Some students described their transformative learning experiences emerging from the social, cultural, and political complexity of Japanese society and of their institutional settings. However, the majority of students tended to be disengaged from such complexity by seeing themselves living in an imagined pristine multicultural community on their campuses and feeling detached from the rest of Japanese society. The study concludes that internationalization in the paradigms of competition and a “creation of cultural diversity and a containment of cultural difference” (Bhabha, 1990, p. 208) holds limited potential for social transformation.

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