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Title: “I wouldn’t imagine having to go through all this, and still be the same person. No way”: Structure and Agency in the International Student Experience
Author(s): Matthews, Blair
Supervisor(s): Field, John
Keywords: structure
international students
critical realism
higher education
social network analysis
Margaret Archer
Issue Date: 3-May-2017
Publisher: University of Stirling
Abstract: Research on the experience of international students often suffers from conflation, in that it uses culture (or nationality as a proxy for culture) as a categorising agent, thereby granting causal powers to cultural differences, and contributing to a deficit model of international students. In this research, I will argue that, while culture and structure both provide new sets of constraints and opportunities for international students, participants are active agents in shaping their own experiences, as they think, reflect and act in response to their situational context. Drawing on Archer’s concept of reflexivity, this thesis demonstrates that because international students are often not immediately able to exercise agency through conversation (thought and talk), they find a need to reflect on their experiences and develop a course of action based on greater autonomy (that is, they become more independent). However, while some students make the transition to independence relatively smoothly, for others, it is not so easy, and some participants may find it difficult to convert thoughts into effective action (or displaced reflexivity). Participants in the international student experience confront a situational context marked by four specific features: first, a lack of a sympathetic interlocutor (that is, they find themselves on their own); second, contextual incongruity (commonly conceptualised as culture shock); third, shared experiences, which leads to congruity; and fourth, troublesome events, which blocks agential action. This research provides empirical evidence of specific generative mechanisms which contribute to the shaping of agency in the international student experience.
Type: Thesis or Dissertation

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