Living Through Ambiguity: The Cross-Cultural Experience of Chinese Students in London

Ding, Hong. 2009. Living Through Ambiguity: The Cross-Cultural Experience of Chinese Students in London. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis tells the stories of four mature Chinese students' journey to the West. It explores their expectations, discoveries, frustrations and dilemmas during their one year postgraduate study in London. In view of the recent trend of mainland Chinese students coming to study in Britain, I examine what they encountered upon arrival and how they coped with an unfamiliar environment. Central to my concern is how they perceived and interpreted their experiences.

Ethnography and narrative analysis served as methodologies for this inquiry. In-depth interviews were conducted and participants' narrative accounts subsequently analyzed. The combination of approaches was innovative as well as effective in unlocking how the impact of their journey influenced the construction of their identities. The study reveals that newcomers faced difficulties and ambiguities in academic, social and cultural dimensions. How they negotiated conflicting values and sought self-understanding was highlighted in the analysis. Findings from the research raise two questions: on a practical level, what support can be provided for Chinese students in their transition to the British education system? I emphasize that their predicaments are not adequately acknowledged at the moment. On a theoretical level, I argue that, when theorizing postmodern identity, the socio-cultural and political contexts in which individuals are historically positioned should not be neglected. Depending on who and where you are, different levels of flexibility are required for new mobility.

This study shows that participants' coming to terms with their cross-cultural experience involves active engagements in making the adjustment and constructing reflexively meanings out of it. The research concludes that meeting Chinese students' need for support is as important as the strategy of recruiting them. UK higher education institutions should respond to the new challenge so that possible change can take place to improve the quality of their educational and cultural experience.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


culture; identity; higher education; cross-cultural experience; narratives

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Educational Studies



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Date Deposited:

29 Jun 2020 08:43

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 14:31


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