Date of Award

Summer 8-2023

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Educational Foundations & Leadership


Higher Education

Committee Director

Mitchell R. Williams

Committee Member

Laura E. Smithers

Committee Member

Christopher R. Glass

Committee Member

Tang T. Heng


The United States is the top destination for Chinese international students, receiving around 372,532 students from China from the academic year 2019 to 2020. The host institutions and countries have benefited from economic gains, diverse cultures, global competence, and human capital. The motivation of recruiting international students is framed in a global imaginary that is embedded in colonialism and neoliberalism. International students are often framed as cash cows and objects. Meanwhile, international students, particularly Chinese international students have been experiencing discrimination, prejudice, and exclusion due to their nationality and culture. The purpose of this narrative inquiry study was to examine and explore six Chinese international graduate students’ formal and informal learning experiences and how they enacted agency to respond to those experiences, specifically experiences related to neo-racism. Data collection consisted of three-phase semi-structured interviews and two journal entries. Data were analyzed through broadening, burrowing, restorying, and narrative coding techniques.

Findings of the present study revealed that participants had heterogeneous and multi-dimensional backgrounds, needs, struggles, navigations, and experiences at different stages. Participants experienced acknowledging, understanding, (re)constructing, (un)learning, and (re)defining their identities and contexts in their navigation as human beings. They viewed studying abroad as a learning and growing process and experience, which they have become to appreciate, learn, and respect different cultures, grow academically and professionally, and enjoy loneliness and independence. Furthermore, participants were discriminated against and stereotyped due to their nationality and culture. Program type added nuances in participants’ experiences related to neo-racism. Additionally, US-China geopolitical tensions shifted participants’ experiences and interactions with others.

Implications from the study include promoting professional training for faculty and staff for a positive relationship with international students and understanding the limitations and challenges of being international students. Advisors and professors need training regarding intercultural understanding and specific immigration regulations in order to enhance the experiences of international students. Collaboration among different offices on campus is needed to acknowledge the purpose of recruiting Chinese international students, beyond the obvious economic benefits, and to develop strategic plans for the academic and professional development of Chinese international students as well as their personal well-being.


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