Expectations, emerging issues and change for Chinese international students in a New Zealand university : a thesis presented in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Second Language Teaching at Massey University, Palmerston North, New Zealand
This study uses a sociocultural framework to trace the experiences of 24 Chinese
international undergraduate students studying business and information sciences in a
New Zealand university, using community of practice perspectives recognising the
university as a site of complex discourses requiring negotiation of new identities and
practices. The students’ expectations, the issues that emerged and the processes of
change they went through to meet their goals were investigated from retrospective and
longitudinal viewpoints, using semi-structured interviews supported by schematic
representations developed by the researcher and photographic representations
compiled by participants were.
The findings suggest that preparation before departure focused largely on expected
English demands, rather than wider matters of academic culture, and this was only
partially rectified during prior study in New Zealand. Students thus entered the
university unfamiliar with its specific discourses and found conditions for resolving
difficulties more limited than previously experienced. The anonymity and extreme
time pressure pertaining in large first-year classes led to bewilderment about
requirements, threats to the sense of identity as competent students which they had
arrived with, and often, failure of courses. Nevertheless, the investment, personal and
monetary, which this journey represented provided the incentive to persevere. Most
students were resourceful in negotiating a fit between their learning preferences and
the affordances of the university, resulting in very different journeys for each of them.
Measures adopted included those sanctioned by the university, such as developing
skills to meet the demands of academic literacies, and others less valued, such as
extreme dependence on teacher consultation. Success was gained through personal
agency which proved more important than the university goal of student autonomy.
Beyond the academic arena, other activities such as part-time jobs were significant in
contributing to a sense of identity as competent and educated adults, and to new
viewpoints which contrasted with original cultural norms. They continued to identify
as Chinese, but in a “third space” owing something to New Zealand influences. The
study concludes that entry criteria should include a component of university
preparation. It also recommends measures by which the university might enhance the
experiences of such students.