Chinese Students at Uppsala University: “Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow” : A sociological analysis of ten students’ trajectories
Abstract: The idea of knowledge economy initiated by the World Bank, the increasing importance of English proficiency in the global labour market, and the expansion of Chinese higher education, all leads to the phenomenon of Chinese student migration to western countries for getting advantageous educational experiences and credentials. Through a qualitative, interview-based method and Bourdieusian sociological perspective focusing on species of capital (cultural, economic, social and symbolic capital), habitus and mode of reproduction, this study focuses on the analysis of the relation between social background of Chinese students and their adoption of a western education system and perception of future career through the trajectories of ten Chinese students at Uppsala University, one of the most renowned universities in Sweden. The study examines the role of various assets in the family of origin, as well as the importance of the students’ long journey in the Chinese education system. The findings indicate that the students came from a fairly well off Chinese middle class that had established itself in the parent generation through an upward mobility. Both inherited and acquired assets through family origin and the educational trajectory were important factors that affected the Chinese students’ decision of studying abroad. Among the three species of assets originated from the family, the economic asset played a particularly significant role in the Chinese students’ educational trajectory, irrespective of the composition of families’ capital resources. Family economic assets became increasingly crucial while students moved up to higher educational levels. It also investigates the students’ encounter with the “Western” world represented by an academic and international student environment. While most of the students said they appreciated what Uppsala University had offered in terms of academic life and cultural experiences, they somewhat contradictory kept a distance to both the new forms of academic culture they met and students from other countries. The habitus valued in their previous educational trajectory in China did not fit the criteria for academic performance in the western higher educational institution. It was instead partly contested. With regard to the future, the interviewed students expressed concerns as to the value of their experience and diploma on the Chinese academic and job markets due to the absence from Chinese contact and the culture rooted in social connection. A hypothesis emerging from the interview data is that the family-based social reproduction strategy expressed in the strong family investments in education leading up to the studies abroad potentially has as effect that the offspring, the students, become less dependent on this family-based reproduction. Instead, they regarded themselves as being entitled, by merit, to decide on their own future.
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