bilingual comment


Identity Construction of International Students

By Ran Xiang

Ran Xiang is a second year MA student in Educational Studies at UBC. Before pursuing her current degree, she completed her first MA in Comparative Literature at University of Alberta and worked in an educational NGO in Beijing. Her research interests are in identity politics, migration and cultural studies.

Identity Construction of International Students

August 12, 2022

November 2015

According to the UNESCO Institute of Statistics, the number of students pursuing higher education abroad has been increasing since 2002. While the US and the UK remain the largest international student host countries, Canada has gained increasing popularity, ranking 7th amongst the most popular destinations worldwide. Although their major duty is to study, the life of international students is much more than classroom learning. They may participate in various campus events, make friends, volunteer or work part-time jobs, and travel back to their home countries or to other countries during breaks. Most international students regard their study abroad experiences to be enlightening and definable periods of their lives.

The term international students merely indicates that students need to acquire legal documents to study in Canada, but there is great variety within the student body, ranging from age, nationality, language proficiency, program and prior learning/working experience. My research, however, aims to investigate Chinese international graduate students in Canada from the perspective of potential immigrants, thus examining them under the framework of transnationalism/cosmopolitanism, trying to unravel their social experiences and how it affects their identity construction and life trajectory afterwards.

International students possess similar qualities to immigrants in that they engage in transnational practices, such as returning home regularly to visit friends and family and maintaining a transnational social network that spans between two countries. Transnationalism is characterized by simultaneity—one possesses feelings attached both to destination and origin and one can be at more than one place—and the development of transnational ties (Chan, 2002). Additionally, as international students are exposed to different cultures and people, they may develop a more open-minded attitude towards difference. According to Vertovec and Cohen (2002), the essence of cosmopolitanism suggests something that “(a) transcends the seemingly exhausted nation-state model; (b) is able to mediate actions and ideals oriented both to the universal and the particular, the local and the global; (c) is culturally anti-essentialist; and (d) is capable of representing variously complex repertoires of allegiance, identity and interest” (p. 4). The cosmopolitanism I meant, based on their theorization, is a dispositional orientation or a competence, a mode of engaging with the world, somewhat similar to Hiebert’s idea of “everyday cosmopolitanism,” which perceives “cosmopolitanism as a way of living associated with an appreciation of, and interaction with, people from other cultural backgrounds” (2002, p. 212). The increasing number of Chinese graduate students in Canada and the fact that they are also one of the major sources of new immigrants to Canada make my research important in unveiling their experiences and their identity construction since it will provide not only empirical data, but also theoretical insights on the formation of transnational Chinese identity and more importantly potential Chinese-Canadian identity.


Chan, K.B. (2002). Both sides, now: Culture Contact, hybridization and    cosmopolitanism. In S. Vertovec & R. Cohen. (Eds). Conceiving cosmopolitanism: Theory, context and practice. (pp. 191-208). New York: Oxford University Press.

Vertovec, S., & Cohen, R. (2002). Introduction: Conceiving cosmopolitanism. In Vertovec, S., & Cohen, R. (Eds). Conceiving cosmopolitanism: Theory, context and practice. (pp. 1-24). New York: Oxford University Press.