Chinese International Doctoral Students’ Cross-Cultural Socialization: Leveraging Strengths and Multiple Identities

Shihua Chen Brazill
International Journal of Doctoral Studies  •  Volume 17  •  2022  •  pp. 087-114

The purpose of this study is to use narrative inquiry to discover and understand how Chinese students leverage their strengths and multiple identities in socializing to American higher education and their profession. Chinese students engage with American academic culture while embracing their multiple identities. I will explore the cultural strengths they use to socialize and develop their personal, social, cultural, and professional identities in their doctoral educational experience.

Chinese international doctoral students encounter a unique socialization experience during their doctoral studies because they lack meaningful cross-cultural support. Likewise, it is problematic that Chinese students are often viewed as a homogeneous group and much prior research has emphasized the traditional deficit perspective in explaining how Chinese students must adjust and assimilate to the university environment.

This qualitative research uses narrative inquiry to study Chinese international doctoral students’ socialization experiences while retaining their authentic voices. Narrative inquiry allows for a more nuanced understanding of the experiences of Chinese students compared to the perceptions imposed by other stakeholders. The narrative methodology provides diverse ways to understand Chinese student interactions within American culture, place, and context. This study applies the three-dimensional approach to retell participants’ stories. The three-dimensional approach is more holistic and provides a broad lens to learn about the interactions, past, present, and future experiences of individuals through time and space.

This research shifts the narrative from the deficit view to a strength-based perspective as to how Chinese international doctoral students can rely on their cultural values and multiple identities as strengths to succeed academically, socially, and emotionally.

Findings related to the literature in two important ways. First, findings support how the six cultural strengths of Yosso’s community cultural wealth apply to Chinese international doctoral students. Chinese students’ stories align with these strengths and through these strengths, they explore and develop their personal, social, cultural, and professional identity. Second, Chinese students’ stories as a counternarrative challenged and contradicted the essentialist view and misconception that Chinese students are a homogenous group personally, socially, culturally, or academically.

The findings from this study offer insight 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 multiple identities.

Chinese students and other diverse learners may benefit from peer and faculty mentors in different ways. Therefore, understanding the unique cross-cultural socialization needs and strength-based perspective will help tailor social activities and inclusive learning environments.

The current political, economic, and social relationships between the U.S. and China make it vital for American institutions to consider Chinese international doctoral students’ cross-cultural socialization journey.

Though it is hoped that this study is transferable, specific issues of how it can be generalized to other Chinese international doctoral students in other areas of the U.S. are beyond the scope of this study. Future research might explore how Chinese International doctoral students’ socialization experiences differ depending on where they study in the U.S.

doctoral socialization, Chinese international doctoral students, cross-cultural socialization, narrative inquiry, multiple identities, strength-based perspective
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