Narrative Inquiry into Chinese International Doctoral Students’ Journey: A Strength-Based Perspective

Shihua C Brazill
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 16  •  2021  •  pp. 395-428

This narrative inquiry study uses a strength-based approach to study the cross-cultural socialization journey of Chinese international doctoral students at a U.S. Land Grant university. Historically, we thought of socialization as an institutional or group-defined process, but “journey” taps into a rich narrative tradition about individuals, how they relate to others, and the identities that they carry and develop.

To date, research has employed a deficit perspective to study how Chinese students must adapt to their new environment. Instead, my original contribution is using narrative inquiry study to explore cross-cultural socialization and mentoring practices that are consonant with the cultural capital that Chinese international doctoral students bring with them.

This qualitative research uses narrative inquiry to capture and understand the experiences of three Chinese international doctoral students at a Land Grant institute in the U.S.

This study will be especially important for administrators and faculty striving to create more diverse, supportive, and inclusive academic environments to enhance Chinese international doctoral students’ experiences in the U.S. Moreover, this study fills a gap in existing research by using a strength-based lens to provide valuable practical insights for researchers, practitioners, and policymakers to support the unique cross-cultural socialization of Chinese international doctoral students.

Using multiple conversational interviews, artifacts, and vignettes, the study sought to understand the doctoral experience of Chinese international students’ experience at an American Land Grant University. The findings suggest that Chinese international doctoral students use cultural capital (aspirational, linguistic, familial, social, navigational, and resistance) as leverage in this cross-cultural socialization process.

The findings from this study offer insights for practitioners into what institutions and departments might do to support Chinese international doctoral students in their socialization journey. It is vital to support the whole student through understanding their different forms of capital.

Future researchers may want to further explore how students experience this process. An important question for future researchers to consider is: do Chinese international doctoral students benefit from multilingual discourse with their peers and from a multi-lingual command of the literature? Also, does the ability to read scholarly publications in both Chinese and English bridge a gap and strengthen professional identity development?

Significant impact on society includes improved opportunities for cross-cultural learning, international partnerships, and support for positive socialization experiences where diverse students may use their cultural capital as strengths and express new ideas. Moreover, there is also an economic benefit for the institutions and communities that rely on international students’ economic contributions.

Future research may want to explore how students perceive and experience multilingualism as a benefit in their education; for example, does the ability to read scholarly publications in both Chinese and English bridge a gap and strengthen professional identity development?

Chinese international doctoral students, socialization, cultural capital, strength-based perspective, narrative inquiry
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