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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Crossing borders, constructing identities : a collective case study of Chinese international graduate students at a Canadian university Xiang, Ran


This study explores how international Chinese graduate students, especially those contemplating immigrating and who therefore fall into a fuzzy international student /immigrant category, (re)construct their identities through their social experiences at a Canadian university. Theoretically, discourses on migration, transnationalism, cosmopolitanism and diaspora and on Chineseness are employed. Students who are diasporic orientated tend to feel more patriotic than they are back home and have a strong identification with being citizens of the Peoples Republic of China. Cosmopolitan oriented students on the other hand are decentered and don’t have a strong attachment to any particular identity, so they feel neither Chinese nor Canadian. Finally, transnational orientated students identify strongly as both Chinese and Canadian. Methodologically, the study employs qualitative case study, with semi-structured in-depth interviews as the main data collection tool and reviewing postings on social media as a triangulating strategy. Five Chinese graduate students, each being a case, from diverse backgrounds studying in Canada on study permits constitute a collective case study. My findings suggest that all participants inhabit in transnational social field by maintaining transnational ties and relations with home country via social media. However, students with clear an immigration agenda are more likely to have extended social circles to transit from students to permanent residents, whereas those have not yet decided their future plans have smaller social circles that evolve around life in university and within academia. Chinese students develop complex and hybridized identities in Canada, from diasporic-oriented, to both diasporic and cosmopolitan oriented, to extremely transnational and cosmopolitan oriented. Where exactly their identities locate in the continuum largely depends on participants’ upbringing, disposition and life experiences: the more participants mingle with a mixed group of people, expose themselves to various cultures, the more they become transnational and cosmopolitan oriented, tolerant and appreciative of differences and less attached to clear-bounded identities.

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