Student Report on First-Year International Students’ Pre-College University and Expectations in a Joint-Venture University in China

This lecture by Professor Xin Zhang and Emmanuelle Chiocca was the last talk in the semester supported by The Third Space Lab.

Reported by Vicky Yongkun Wu

Nowadays, international students are showing an increasing interest in pursuing education in China. The Nov 18 Third Space Lab talk features a study that explores the motivation of first-year international students for applying to and attending a Sino-foreign joint-venture university (JVU) in China. Furthermore, it investigates what they expect to experience prior to matriculation.

Emmanuelle Chiocca, an Assistant Professor of Applied Linguistics and International Education at the Language and Culture Center (LCC) at Duke Kunshan University, and Xin Zhang, an Assistant Professor of Chinese and intercultural communication at LCC, together co-directed the Third Space Lab, which explores foreign language teaching and learning and intercultural encounters, and organized the event.

The talk, titled “Distinguishing Oneself: First-Year International Students’ Pre-College University and Expectations in a Joint-Venture University in China,” was structured into five parts: introduction, literature review, methods, findings and discussion, and implications and conclusion.

In the introduction part, Prof Chiocca and Prof Zhang mentioned the transnational turn in the internationalization of higher education (IHE), which refers to the rise of international branch campuses and joint-venture universities. In addition, China’s growing engagement in both research and practice of IHE is drawing an increasing number of international students from around the world.

Existing literature and theoretical framework, cited by both professors, point to economic and employability-related rationales. Current studies investigate international student motivation through a psychological angle: possible selves and anti-ought-to self. To further illustrate the concepts, the speakers provided detailed definitions for identifying research participants. For instance, “ideal self” refers to what one aspires to achieve or become, “ought-to self” refers to what one feels obliged to do or become, and “anti-ought-to self” indicates a learner’s aspiration to stand out and “do what is perceived by others as difficult or different. Based on the literature review, Prof Zhang and Prof Chiocca proposed two questions for further investigation: what motivates international students to attend a sino-foreign joint-venture university in China, and what do international students expect to experience prior to attending a sino-foreign joint-venture university in China.

In regards to methodology, the researchers used sequential mixed-method with qualitative investigations being dominant. They conducted a 24-item survey (with demographics and expectations), which was being analyzed to identify potential interview participants and online semi-structured 60-min interviews. 27 students with diverse prior international experiences, Chinese language experiences, and identities participated in the survey. In fact, the 27 students from the joint-venture university being surveyed made up around a third of the first-year international student population, which means that the research represents the international student group to a certain extent.

In response to what motivates first-year international students to join the joint-venture university, the researchers mainly covered five aspects: pioneering spirit, getting out of their comfort zone, bettering their future paths and opportunities, international and interdisciplinary liberal arts curriculum with integrated study abroad, and gaining intercultural encounters and global perspectives. To further illustrate, pioneering spirit is built on the context of engaging in the development of an innovative university with a short history.

In response to first-year international students’ expectations prior to attending the joint-venture university, the researchers mainly covered six aspects: gaining a unique perspective, seeing some evolution in their cultural identity, becoming more open-minded to develop a global mindset, developing a mature and independent self, growing language and intercultural skills, and being aware of unexpected changes to come. Indeed, as Prof Chiocca admitted during the Q & A session, students who participated in the project tended to be more engaged and hold positive aspirations.

In the discussion part, Prof Zhang and Prof Chiocca concluded that participants usually think of themselves as outliers who attach importance to the cultivation of difference. Their aspirations to distinguish themselves demonstrate their anti-ought-to self; their integrativeness and international posture are correlated with their ideal-future selves; and instrumentality promotion also reflects their ideal-future selves.

Finally, Prof Zhang and Prof Chiocca highlighted the implications of the study. Based on the findings, institutions should help students interpret information and adjust their expectations, and support students facing stress or emotional challenges. In addition, it is crucial to educate students through recruitment and orientation about future possibilities. Most importantly, institutions should cultivate agency in students to sustain their curiosity/thirst for being different.

The talk was a success. Participants expressed interest in future findings of the project and even teachers’ motivations and expectations of joining a joint-venture university.