A Cultural Model of Internationalization: An Anthropological Study of the Motivations to Study Abroad Within a Group of Chinese Students
Abstract: The present study is a qualitative exploration of the motivations to study abroad within a group of Chinese students. The insights presented here are founded on an ethnographic fieldwork at Fudan University in Shanghai, China. The fieldwork entailed participant observation and qualitative interviews with students who where either currently enrolled at Fudan University or recent graduates. The puzzle that has inspired the study is how a current doctrine of internationalization within the field of higher education has implications for individuals and how the norms embedded in this field are translated into individual motivations and actions towards internationalization. Perspectives from psychological anthropology are employed to show how the informants interpret the phenomenon of studying abroad and how they themselves have become motivated to study abroad. Schema theory and the conceptualization of cultural models as sets of shared, cultural schemas will form the theoretical framework in which this question will be addressed. A cultural model of internationalization is proposed to reflect which meanings are attributed to the phenomenon, how these meanings are structured, and how they reflect social structures that have been internalized by the informants as a personal belief system. The concept of internalization draws partly on Bourdieu’s understanding of the habitus and is included to provide a conceptual bridge between both objectivity and subjectivity as well as between culture and practice. A central assumption of the thesis is that the cultural model reflects a dialectic relationship between the social world and the interpretations the informants make of their own reality. The thesis shows that the motivations to study abroad can be explained with the motivational capacity of the cultural model and that the internalization of the model has motivated the students to study abroad.
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