Serving international students beyond teaching them cultural differences?

by Suhao Peng

Over the past several decades, especially since the beginning of the 21st century, universities worldwide have expanded their international reach by welcoming inbound international students and sending students abroad. I have been an international student in Swedish and Finnish tertiary institutions over the past decade. In most cases, universities offer orientation programs for international students, especially those who are newcomers, to “help” international students adapt to the “new” learning environment by teaching and informing them of cultural differences. For most of us, this practice seems natural because individual experiences abroad are usually articulated or described as challenging and intercultural/international adjustment and/or adaptation can be problematic. However, this practice has extended to the point that international students are viewed as culturally deficient in the host environment and are often treated as a homogenous and exotic population. By uncritically creating the domestic-international dichotomy, “cultural difference”, “cultural shock” and “cultural clash” fixate and reduce local Self and foreign Other into an us-them separation (Holliday et al., 2010) instead of seeing both groups of students as strangers (Mendoza et al., 2022) who are equally simple and complex, equally similar and different, experiencing both success and failures during their stay on campus. As a result, such differentialist bias misleads both international and domestic students to an obsession with how they are different from each other, rather than adopting a universal continuum of differences and similarities for a more inclusive praxis (Abdallah-Pretceille, 2006). This bias manifests in many orientation programs and guidelines that teach international students how to behave in the host environment. For example, the orientation program offered for exchange students at my university describes Finnish people and Finnish learning culture (e.g., silent, honest, individualistic, responsible for their own studies), as well as exotic Finnish traditions and customs (e.g., sauna); the student housing company allocates almost all exchange students into three locations that are furnished and provides them with a list of dos and don’ts for international students, suggesting that cultural differences are problematic and difficult.

         In line with Dervin’s (2016) idea of diverse diversities, we need to acknowledge that every individual is diverse and has multiple identities, no matter whether they are local or international. For example, like the housing company’s practices mentioned earlier, listing dos and don’ts not only imposes unitary identity in an either-or manner (i.e., local or international) that separates international students from domestic students, but also compiles simplistic stereotypes instead of encouraging all university members to take risks and explore complex human conditions and diverse interpersonal interactions. In other words, international student programming is often superficial and uncritical and represents an unsustainable way of transmitting knowledge about a new culture without focusing on the inter- (i.e., to go across) of intercultural learning, which empowers reciprocal dialogues, mutual learning, equal treatment, and introspection of self with critical reflexivity rather than acquiring information of otherness and overgeneralizing cultural differences. The transformative nature of international education and intercultural learning is not guaranteed when these programs reinforce a Self-Other distinction because the starting point for self-transformation is subjective but not universally the same among a (national) population group. It is important for international educators to rethink how to redesign programming for international students to promote authentic and meaningful intercultural learning.


Abdallah-Pretceille, M. (2006). Interculturalism as a paradigm for thinking about diversity. Intercultural Education, 17(5), 475–483.

Dervin, F. (2016). Interculturality in Education: A Theoretical and Methodological Toolbox. Palgrave Pivot.

Holliday, A., Hyde, M., & Kullman, J. (2010). Intercultural Communication: An Advanced Resource Book for Students (Second edition). Routledge.

Mendoza, C., Dervin, F., Yuan (袁梅), M., & Layne, H. (2022). “They Are Not Mixing With Others”: Finnish Lecturers’ Perspectives on International Students’ (Mis-)Encounters in Higher Education. ECNU Review of Education, 5(1), 89–115.

About the author:

Suhao Peng, M.Sc., is a doctoral student at the School of Educational Science and Teacher Education, University of Eastern Finland, Finland. His research interests include international education, critical interculturality, academic mobility. 

“You Don’t Build Bridges to Safe and Familiar Territories”: Study Abroad Practice Based in Reconciliation as Falling Apart (Part II)

by Dr. Kalyani Unkule

Part II

This three-part article series aims to relate a new understanding of reconciliation with higher education internationalization practice, particularly study abroad, drawing on Anzaldúa and Keating’s (2002, p. 3) imagination of bridging as “the work of opening the gate to the stranger, within and without.” Part I discussed some of the challenges that reconciliation as a modality of transitional justice shares with higher education internationalization. Prominent critiques of standard practices deployed to achieve post-conflict reconciliation point to the need for embracing in-between-ness as the liminal space between discord and harmony, rather than an effort to arrive at standardized narratives in service of moving on, while leaving unexamined the dominant paradigms and systems linked to conflict. Part II will draw out specific interventions that stem from positing reconciliation as in-betweenness and study abroad as building bridges back to ourselves.

Study Abroad and Reconciliation

Over a decade’s worth of scholarship has diagnosed the lopsided growth of International Higher Education using a variety of frameworks including globalization studies, political economy, migration and mobility, cosmopolitanism, and neo-liberalism and its discontents. Yet, despite the systemic shock dealt by COVID-19, we see little evidence of this scholarship permeating state and institutional policies – an indication of the need to build that bridge between critical discourse and practice. Study Abroad remains a mainstay of the higher education internationalization portfolio and in the sections that follow, I revisit experiential learning and cultural competence – key concerns of study abroad – in light of foregoing engagement with the concept of reconciliation. 

Truth-seeking/Learning With

To adequately address the gap between nominal cultural diversity and genuine expression of cultural difference in learning spaces is to raise the question: What are the hidden curricula or tacit protocols or internalized expectations about presenting, re-presenting and suppressing embodied knowledges? Such probing invites rethinking into the role of program design in influencing student beliefs about worthy learning outcomes and may entail scrutiny of our program evaluation practices which, intentionally or not, set expectations around terms of engagement among collaborating institutions. At the heart of this inquiry is the question whether study abroad is meant for “learning about,” “learning from” or “learning with.”

The idea of two-eyed seeing (Bartlett et al., 2012) helps us reconceptualize peer-to-peer learning during study abroad. Two-eyed seeing refers not only to combining Indigenous ways of knowing with modern science but is at the same time a profound acknowledgement that both our intellectual and our spiritual nature must be invested in knowledge seeking. The instrumental conception of study abroad concerns itself solely with learning about. A more engaged view emphasizes learning from, but this ultimately risks hierarchizing worldviews. Learning with is a way of formulating study abroad that makes room for intentional peer-to-peer engagement. Unfortunately, contemporary institutional practices of organizing study abroad seldom include home students as an integral element of learning journeys of the visiting student. In addition, the deficit view of international students – especially those pursuing degree studies at western institutions – have entrenched paternalism in international educational practice.

Ways of Being/Experiential Learning, Meet Experiential Ontologies

Citing Sherene Razack, Robin DiAngelo spotlights the “knowability” of colonized peoples as an essential feature of progressive liberal attempts to contend with racism. In response, she proclaims that the need of the hour is not to teach white people about black people but “to teach White people about ourselves in relation to Black and other people of color” (DiAngelo, 2021, p. 4). In DiAngelo’s insistence on personal transformation, there is a recognition that systemic transformation often places the burden of fighting for change disproportionately on the emotional labor of the disadvantaged. The ascription of “knowability” should not be confused with a desire to understand the other in their context. Intended here is an instrumentalized knowing which seeks to turn the barbarian into a “reformed recognisable other” as Dei and Doyle-Wood (2014, p. 160) put it. This “knowing” for the sake of first denying and ultimately expunging other ways of being is the grounds on which the education by mimicry project has thrived.

Elaborating on the concept of education in pre-colonial Sierra Leone, Yatta Kanu (2014, p. 208) recalls that “because every education is for entering adulthood, […] Objective or abstract knowledge is not imparted as such because it is not believed that people first develop theoretical understanding of things and events and then apply this knowledge in making judgments and decisions; rather, the quest for understanding is conditioned and constituted by reflection upon how to act wisely in concrete situations.” The de-emphasizing of “objective” and “abstract” knowledge here is first and foremost an unmasking of the pretense of objectivity that often accompanies abstract knowledge. In study abroad, we have hastily instated “experiential learning” as the panacea, without adequate attention to the constructs and prejudices through which new experience is filtered. Here, I propose learning by flâneurship, a wandering which is “casual but not aimless” (Unkule, 2019, p. 147). A wandering which permits the novel to be novel rather than a superior/inferior version of the known, thereby freeing up the flaneur’s wanderings from the baggage of experience. The flâneurship model is the surrender of obsession with categories before an openness to content. If there is an ultimate aim for such a process, it is that of emancipation from one’s own conditioning.

In Part III of the series, we will conclude our exploration of the links between higher education internationalization and transitional justice by imagining international higher education as a just institution.


Anzaldúa G.E., & Keating, A. (Eds.). (2002). This Bridge we call Home: Radical visions for transformation. Routledge.

Bartlett C., Marshall M., & Marshall A. (2012). Two-Eyed seeing and other lessons learned within a co-learning journey of bringing together indigenous and mainstream knowledges and ways of knowing. Journal of Environmental Studies and Sciences, 2(4), 331–340. DOI: 10.1007/s13412-012-0086-8

Dei G.J., & Doyle-Wood, S. (2014). Is we who haffi ride di staam: Critical knowledge / multiple knowings – Possibilities, challenges, and resistance in curriculum/cultural contexts. In Y. Kanu (Ed.). Curriculum as Cultural Practice: Postcolonial Imaginations (pp. 151-180). University of Toronto Press.

DiAngelo R. (2021). Nice racism: How progressive white people perpetuate racial harm. Penguin Books.

Kanu Y. (Ed.). (2014). Curriculum as Cultural Practice: Postcolonial Imaginations. University of Toronto Press.

Unkule K. (2019). Internationalising the University: A Spiritual Approach. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan.

Decolonizing higher education in the classroom: Reflections from a graduate student

By Marisa Lally,  Doctoral Student at Boston College Lynch School of Education and Human Development

I recently guest taught a session in a Diversity of Higher Education course that focused on the decolonization of higher education as an approach to imagining the future of higher education. As an early doctoral student, this guest session was my first experience teaching master’s students in a higher education program. I used Stein et al.’s 2021 Developing Stamina for Decolonizing Higher Education: A Workbook for Non-Indigenous People as the central text of the course session. This workbook is aimed at non-Indigenous scholars and practitioners of higher education like myself and the students in the course. In this essay, I reflect upon my experience leading this class alongside the students of the course as a group of non-Indigenous educators. I hope that my reflections can serve as a resource or conversation starter for other educators who may approach the topic of decolonial approaches with students in the future. 

The Bus Within Us

One of the aims of the workbook is to support people invested in reforms toward decolonization in higher education to develop the stamina to do so. The authors acknowledge that the process of decolonization is non-linear and will require ongoing self-reflection and self-critique that may cause uncomfortable feelings. 

I myself encountered this experience during the class. A student asked me if I had posed the discussion questions that I had created for the class to any person from an Indigenous community whose land my university continues to withhold. In the moment, I felt “affectively overwhelmed” (Stein et al., 2021, p. 10) and made excuses to the class – I want to learn by reading first before asking for the labor of Indigenous people; my personal research focuses on neocolonialism rather than settler-colonialism; I am new to this learning about decolonization as an approach. I am in the wrong, but I chose this workbook for non-Indigenous people. I am wrong, but we are all complicit. Yes, but, yes, but, yes, but… 

I also began to question if I was committing harm by agreeing to guide a course session on decolonization rather than inviting an Indigenous scholar or community member to do so. Although I have begun to educate myself on the topic by reading, how long can I use this excuse before I take action? Is the students’ exposure to these ideas an action in itself? Is it, through the lens of the ‘Approaches to Reform’ offered in the workbook, no reform or minor reform to include decolonial approaches to higher education in a classroom if the Indigenous voices are only on the page and not in the room? Am I performing a “settler move to innocence” Tuck & Yang, 2012, p. 9) (i.e., an action to appease my own guilt) by leading this course and by offering this reflection? These are the questions I left with when our session was over. 

The workbook offered some answers to my questions through the bus metaphor. The contributors to the project invite the readers to “become familiar with, and accept (without endorsing), all of the passengers within ourselves: ‘the good, the bad, the ugly, and the broken’” (p. 10). Not only was I able to begin the process of knowing these passengers through written reflection, but I was also able to prompt students to begin to become familiar with these passengers through the guidance of the scholars in the workbook. I was also reminded that many passengers can be on the bus at once, and I can challenge the dualistic thinking to which I am accustomed. 

Using Examples 

Another strategy for introducing approaches to decolonization beyond prompting self-reflection through the bus metaphor was to offer some examples of potentially decolonizing efforts in higher education and to ask students to reflect on the examples’ place within the “Approaches to Reform” and “Layers of Accountability” offered in Chapter 2 of the workbook. Some of the case examples included the university website of Te Whare Wānanga o Awanuiārangi (a Māori institution of higher education), the mission statement of the Rhodes Must Fall student movement in South Africa, and a variety of land acknowledgments from institutions in the United States. These case study examples were especially helpful in guiding students to consider what makes decolonization a distinct and specific effort from other social justice approaches. Students specifically noted the focus on land, ecological sustainability, and the commitment to historical redress. 

In small groups, the students discussed where they thought the case may lie within approaches to reform and layers of accountability. They were also given the opportunity to discuss what the passengers of their bus (i.e., their layered affective responses) were doing as they considered these examples, as well as what such efforts would look like in their own professional contexts. The students shared feelings of overwhelm, discouragement, and optimism as we debriefed their various considerations of the case study examples. 

Concluding Thoughts 

I hope that, by offering these approaches to working with students who hope to begin careers as higher education staff, non-Indigenous educators can at the very least encourage a wider ripple of reform efforts, including greater inclusion and celebration of Indigenous perspectives, more equitable redistribution of resources, and, ultimately, begin the process of returning institutional land to Indigenous communities on a large scale. I express my endless gratitude to the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective for creating the workbook, and I encourage those who use the workbook to donate to the GoFundMe campaign listed on its first page. 


Stein, S., Ahenakew, C., Elwood, J., Andreotti, V., Valley, W., Amsler, S., Calhoun, B. & the Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective. (2021). Developing Stamina for Decolonizing Higher Education: A Workbook for Non-Indigenous People. The Gesturing Towards Decolonial Futures Collective. Retrieved from:

Tuck, E. & Yang, W. (2012) Decolonization is not a metaphor. Decolonization: Indigeneity, Education & Society, 1(1), 1-40. 

About the author:

Marisa Lally is a doctoral student at Boston College Lynch School of Education and Human Development.

Research with international students: Reflecting on critical and conceptual methodological considerations 

By Dr. Jenna Mittelmeier, Dr. Sylvie Lomer, and Dr. Kalyani Unkule

Our upcoming edited volume Research with International Students: Critical Conceptual and Methodological Considerations (published by Routledge in 2023) aims to provide comprehensive methodological guidance for researchers who include international students as participants. Our interest in developing this book stems from recognition within the Critical Internationalisation Studies Network that research with international students is a disparate subfield that operates under several problematic assumptions, which we highlight below. The book includes 27 chapters from global authors, many of whom are active within this network. In this blog, we wish to delineate why we believe this book is necessary and encourage ongoing discussion about how research on this topic can be made more ethical, critical, and equitable. 

In the last few decades, the exponential growth of international students has led to increased scholarly interest in wide-ranging factors associated with their experiences and contributions. Significant areas of interdisciplinary research now focus on international students’ academic transitions, social interactions, and intersectional lived experiences. One might argue that research about international students is a subfield of a subfield: sitting within the internationalisation branch of higher education studies. Previous systematic reviews show the ways that the wider internationalisation umbrella has expanded in focus: 2,300 articles reviewed by Kuzhabekova et al. (2015) and more than 200 articles per year highlighted by Tight (2021). Systematic reviews of internationalisation research also show that research about international students makes a significant thematic contribution which has grown substantially over time (Kosmützky & Putty, 2016; 2015; Yemini & Sagie, 2016) and continues to attract new researchers, including increasing interest from postgraduate researchers (Montgomery, 2019). However, the field remains disparate and there have been limited attempts to systematically review known evidence about supporting international students across the subfield, despite decades of research (although there have been reviews on limited subsets within this area, as we highlight on our website: e.g., Lee & Bligh, 2019; Lomer & Mittelmeier, 2021; Pham et al., 2021).

Although there is significant interest in this topic, there is presently limited conceptual and methodological guidance specifically for researchers (rather than teachers) who conduct their work with and about international students. We argue that this situation means there are several issues that remain pervasive in this research area. First, research about international students has historically operated from positions of deficit (Lomer & Mittelmeier, 2021), as they are often assumed to lack experiences or skills necessary for success, particularly compared to home students. International students are frequently portrayed in research as only experiencing challenges or difficulties, which fails to account for the complexity of their multidimensional experiences. For example, the subfield is rife with research that seeks to fix perceived problems with international students’ believed lack of critical thinking, language proficiency, classroom participation, or referencing knowledge. 

We argue, and we aim for our book to highlight, that such approaches fail to engage with more transformative reflections on what has been called ‘academic hospitality’ (see Ploner, 2018): the reciprocity between academic institutions as ‘hosts’ and international students as respected ‘guests’. Such approaches also fail to view international students as ‘epistemic equals’ (Hayes, 2019) whose knowledges and experiences are equally worthy of inclusion rather than erasure. In short, we argue that many of the ideological purposes for international student mobility outlined through institutional discourses – of meaningful mutual exchange and intercultural pedagogic transformation –  are not reflected in the epistemologies and conceptualisations of research on students’ experiences. 

Research with international students also routinely leaves them othered (Moosavi, 2021) or stereotyped (Heng, 2018) through assumptions that they should assimilate to the cultures and practices of their hosts. International students’ identities are often presented in limited ways, failing to engage with how their migrant student status intersects with, for example, gender, race, disability, or class to impact experiences abroad (although members of this network have made great efforts to actively work against this – see, for example, recent work by Yao & George Mwangi, 2022). Scholars have, thus, critiqued that research in this subfield does not always critically engage with issues of power, inequality, and ethics (George Mwangi et al., 2018), which are foundational for understanding students’ experiences within unequal environments. As such, we believe that there is greater need for practical suggestions and reflection points for developing more critical and intersectional approaches to research with (not just about) international students. Even the very definition of ‘international student’ (Jones, 2017) should be critically interrogated for and through our research methodologies. 

Research methodologies also frequently limit their ambition and innovation, as repetitive findings about international students fail to challenge intrinsic inequalities and epistemic injustices. The plethora of exploratory research that vaguely focuses on ‘experiences’ highlights this characteristic (Deuchar, 2022) through small-scale studies that often over-rely only on ‘semi-structured interviews’. Research with international students similarly remains under-theorised and often fails to critically define or reflect on key underpinning concepts (Lomer & Mittelmeier, 2021), such as ‘experience’. As a result, much research about international students remains limited in scope, ambition, and criticality.

Given the aforementioned common limitations of research with international students, we argue that the subfield should be putting more effort into creating methodological resources which specifically address considerations for research with and about international students. The framing of our upcoming book is intended as a start to this conversation, developed to reflect burgeoning issues of critical internationalisation studies and the ways that research on this topic has often been framed problematically. However, we hope for more scope generally within the subfield for reflecting on how research methodologies align with the critical conceptual questions that are being raised about internationalisation. We ask, therefore: How can research methodologies and designs reflect the conceptual criticality we seek in research with international students? 

Research with International Students is expected to be published by Routledge in late 2023. In the meantime, the authors are continually developing free online resources to support more critical research with international students, available at: 

Thoughts and considerations for developing this topic further are welcomed in the comments or by email to the authors.


Deuchar, A. (2022). The problem with international students’ “experiences” and the promise of their practices: Reanimating research about international students in higher education. British Educational Research Journal.

George Mwangi, C. A. G., Latafat, S., Hammond, S., Kommers, S., S. Thoma, H., Berger, J., & Blanco-Ramirez, G. (2018). Criticality in international higher education research: a critical discourse analysis of higher education journals. Higher Education, 76(6), 1091–1107.

Hayes, A. (2019). “We Loved It Because We Felt That We Existed There in the Classroom!”: International Students as Epistemic Equals Versus Double-Country Oppression. Journal of Studies in International Education, 23(5), 554–571.

Heng, T. T. (2018). Different is not deficient: Contradicting stereotypes of Chinese international students in US higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 43(1), 22–36.

Jones, E. (2017). Problematising and reimagining the notion of “international student experience.” Studies in Higher Education, 42(5), 933–943.

Kosmützky, A., & Putty, R. (2016). Transcending Borders and Traversing Boundaries: A Systematic Review of the Literature on Transnational, Offshore, Cross-Border, and Borderless Higher Education. Journal of Studies in International Education, 20(1), 8–33.

Kuzhabekova, A., Hendel, D. D., & Chapman, D. W. (2015). Mapping Global Research on International Higher Education. Research in Higher Education, 56(8), 861–882.

Lee, K., & Bligh, B. (2019). Four narratives about online international students: a critical literature review. Distance Education, 40(2), 153–169.

Lomer, S., & Mittelmeier, J. (2021). Mapping the research on pedagogies with international students in the UK: a systematic literature review. Teaching in Higher Education, 1–21.

Montgomery, C. (2019). Surfacing “Southern” Perspectives on Student Engagement With Internationalization: Doctoral Theses as Alternative Forms of Knowledge. Journal of Studies in International Education, 23(1), 123–138.

Moosavi, L. (2021). The myth of academic tolerance: the stigmatisation of East Asian students in Western higher education. Asian Ethnicity, 1–20.

Pham, H.-H., Dong, T.-K.-T., Vuong, Q.-H., Luong, D.-H., Nguyen, T.-T., Dinh, V.-H., & Ho, M.-T. (2021). A bibliometric review of research on international student mobilities in Asia with Scopus dataset between 1984 and 2019. Scientometrics, 126(6), 5201–5224.

Ploner, J. (2018). International students’ transitions to UK Higher Education – revisiting the concept and practice of academic hospitality. Journal of Research in International Education, 17(2), 164–178.

Tight, M. (2021). Globalization and internationalization as frameworks for higher education research. Research Papers in Education, 36(1), 52–74.

Yao, C. W., & George Mwangi, C. A. (2022). Yellow Peril and cash cows: the social positioning of Asian international students in the USA. Higher Education, 1–18.

Yemini, M., & Sagie, N. (2016). Research on internationalisation in higher education – exploratory analysis. Perspectives Policy and Practice in Higher Education, 20(2-3), 90–98.

About the Authors

Dr. Jenna Mittelmeier (University of Manchester,, Twitter: @JLMittelmeier)

Jenna Mittelmeier is Lecturer in International Education at the University of Manchester (UK). Her research focuses on representations of international students in higher education and the ways that curricula or pedagogies are shaped through internationalisation.

Dr. Sylvie Lomer (University of Manchester,, Twitter: @SE_Lomer)

Sylvie Lomer is Senior Lecturer in Policy and Practice at the University of Manchester (UK). Her research centres on policies related to international students and internationalisation, focusing on representations of international students in public policy discourse.

Dr. Kalyani Unkule (Jindal Global Law School,   

Kalyani Unkule is Associate Professor at O.P. Jindal Global University in India. Her research complements her practice in intercultural dialogue and impact-driven projects in higher education internationalisation and spiritual learning.

Theoretical Approaches to the Study of International Students

Theoretical Approaches to the Study of International Students

by Minghui (Hannah) Hou, Jing Yu, and Shinji Katsumoto

In current internationalization research, international students tend to be considered a homogeneous group, overgeneralized as ‘internationals’ (Lee, 2014). The ‘international student experience’ is assumed to apply to all international students, but there are nuances in international students’ experiences (Heng, 2019). Jones (2017) notes that international student experiences are influenced by their personal, familial, and institutional backgrounds. In our first essay on this topic, we introduced different methodological approaches to studying international student diversity. In this second essay, we present some key theoretical approaches on which scholars can develop their study and methods to explore and analyze international students’ diverse experiences in U.S. higher education.


Neo-racism is a framework to “explore structural racism in the context of immigration where race, culture, and nationality interact complexly to produce a hierarchy of social positions” (Cantwell & Lee, 2010, p. 497). Neo-racism is deeply rooted in systemic racism and white supremacy (Lee, 2020; Stein & de Andreotti, 2016). Lee and Rice (2007) demonstrate that neo-racism is new racism that is attributable to skin color as well as culture, national origin, and relationships between countries. In the US, international students from Asia, Latin America, and Africa are often the targets of neo-racism in the forms of verbal assaults, bullying, false accusations, and even physical violence, which international students from the Global North do not often experience (Lee, 2006). The COVID-19 pandemic has strengthened neo-racism, particularly among Asian American and Asian international students (Wu et al., 2021). For example, Chinese international students suffered stigmatization related to the “Chinese Virus” or “China Virus” (Wang, 2020). 


Neo-nationalism is defined as “a radical form of populism with specific characteristics, including protagonists leveraging the politics of fear to attach and blame perceived enemies, domestic and foreign, wrapped in the mantle of patriotism” (Douglass, 2011, p. 17). Neo-nationalism is discrimination based on one’s national identity (Lee, 2006). In the globalization era, national identity is reintroduced and reconceptualized as a form of global competition. International students have been increasingly vulnerable due to the rising neo-nationalism in Western countries (Lee & Castiello-Gutiérrez, 2019). Kiecker Royall and Dodson (2017) found a declining interest in traveling to the US due to geopolitical tensions. For example, political rhetoric in the US places Chinese citizens as ‘spies’ and ‘stealing intellectual properties’ (Lee, 2020). Chinese students and researchers often experience biases when they apply for jobs due to the growing scrutiny from the American government. International students from Mexico and the Middle East tend to encounter more harassment (Lee & Castiello-Gutiérrez, 2019). As an additional example, the US is currently considering an end to research partnerships with Russia and expelling Russian students from U.S. universities over the invasion of Ukraine (Jones, 2022). 

Critical Race Theory (CRT)

Critical Race Theory (CRT) is an analytical framework originating in Critical Legal Studies in the US. Many lawyers, activists, and legal scholars perceived that although the civil rights movement during the 1950s and 1960s has ended, the law itself is deeply unequal to racial minorities. Therefore, CRT was developed to accelerate the pace of racial reform in the US. CRT was also expanded beyond the confinement of US borders to include an international context that applies to migrant populations (Gillborn et al., 2012; Kitching, 2015; Vass, 2015).

Delgado and Stefancic (2017) offered one widely cited set of central tenets of CRT: 1) racism is ordinary and natural in the everyday experience of people of color; 2) the dominant ideology promotes interest convergence; in other words, white Americans are willing to create laws and policies that support people of color only if whites benefit as well; 3) race is not objective, inherent, or fixed, but socially constructed and manipulated within systems and institutions; 4) minorities are differentially racialized; 5) intersectionality and anti-essentialism are crucial to understanding race and racism; and 6) the voices of people of color must be recognized in order to counter dominant hegemonic narratives through storytelling. Prior research suggests that international students of color are by no means immune from racism and discrimination (e.g., Yao et al., 2019; Yeo et al., 2019), so the process of racialization is a crucial topic to investigate in international student-related research. 

Asian Critical Race Theory (AsianCrit)

Education scholars find it very useful to analyze how white supremacy subjugates people of color; for this reason, CRT has developed to address specific issues in various communities of color. Building on CRT, Iftikar and Museus (2018) advanced an Asian Critical Race Theory (AsianCrit) framework that is specifically tailored to Asian American experiences, issues, and concerns. There are six tenets in AsianCrit: 1) Asian Americans are in the process of Asianization, meaning the particular ways Asian Americans are treated as a monolithic group and are racialized by white supremacy in the US; 2) Global economic, political, and social processes shape the conditions of Asian Americans; 3) (Re)constructive history transcends the visibility and silence of racialized experiences; 4) Strategic (anti)essentialism and intersectionality are crucial to understanding race and racism; 5) Experiential knowledge can challenge dominant, white, European epistemology; and 6) AsianCrit aims to eradicate all forms of oppression and exploitation. By applying AsianCrit, Saito and Li (2022) discovered that Chinese international students’ racialized experiences are deeply rooted in the US historical context, which is in urgent need of institutional support and preventive strategies to protect them from these and other forms of racist hatred.

Transnationalism and Critical Race Theory

In addition to branch theories of CRT to address the specific issues of racial minorities in the US, another piece written by Yao et al. (2019) incorporates transnationalism into CRT. These authors illuminated four tenets to analyze the international student experience in the US: 1) Race and racism permeate the international student experience; 2) Whiteness as property and white supremacy are normative; 3) Intersectionality is crucial to understanding the international students’ multiple layers of privileges and oppressions; and 4) The lens of interest convergence is the most visible tenet of CRT in international student-related research in the US context. 


Although often portrayed as a homogeneous group, international students are diverse individuals. Students who are from diverse demographic and educational backgrounds experience different challenges in host institutions and need different approaches to support addressing their intersectional identities within academic study and social experiences. We have introduced multiple methodological approaches (in our previous essay) and theoretical frameworks (in this essay), which would be helpful to learning and researching the heterogeneity of international students. Often, higher education institutions tend to focus on the recruitment of international students rather than retaining them and providing appropriate support due to the benefits brought by the students, such as the internationalization of the campus and economic contribution (Arthur, 2017). We believe that it is critical to further understand the diversity among international students rather than to view them as a homogenous group of students with similar experiences in their host country.


Arthur, N. (2017). Supporting international students through strengthening their social resources. Studies in Higher Education, 42(5), 887–894. 

Cantwell, B., & Lee, J. (2010). Unseen workers in the academic factory: Perceptions of neoracism among international postdocs in the United States and the United Kingdom. Harvard Educational Review, 80(4), 490-517.

Delgado, R., & Stefancic, J. (2017). Critical race theory: An introduction (3rd edition). New York: New York University Press.

Douglass, J. A. (2021). Neo-nationalism and Universities: Populists, Autocrats, and the Future of Higher Education. JHU Press.

Gillborn, D., N. Rollock, C. Vincent, & Ball, S. (2012). ‘You got a pass, so what more do you want?’: Race, class and gender intersections in the educational experiences of the black middle class. Race Ethnicity and Education 15(1),121-139.

Heng, T. T. (2019). Understanding the heterogeneity of international students’ experiences: A case study of Chinese international students in US universities. Journal of Studies in International Education, 23(5), 607-623.

Iftikar, J. S., & Museus, S. D. (2018). On the utility of Asian critical (AsianCrit) theory in the field of education. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 31(10), 935-949. 

Jones, E. (2017). Problematising and reimagining the notion of “international student experience.” Studies in Higher Education, 42, 933-943.

Kitching, K.  (2015). How the Irish became CRT’d? ‘Greening’ Critical Race Theory, and the pitfalls of a normative Atlantic state view, Race Ethnicity and Education, 18(2), 163-182.

Lee, J. (2006). International student experiences: Neo-racism and discrimination. International Higher Education, (44).

Lee, J. J. (2014). Understanding international students: Beyond U.S.-centrism and towards international consciousness. In S. Harper & S. Quaye (Eds.), Student engagement in higher education: Theoretical perspectives and practical approaches for diverse populations (pp. 105-120). Routledge.

Lee, J. J. (2020). Neo-racism and the criminalization of China. Journal of International Students, 10(4), 780-783.

Lee, J. J., & Rice, C. (2007). Welcome to America? International student perceptions of discrimination. Higher Education, 53(3), 381–409.

Lee, J. J., & Castiello-Gutiérrez, S. (2019). Engaging International Students at U.S. Higher Education Institutions. In S. J. Quaye; S. Harper & S. L. Pendakur (Eds.), Student Engagement in Higher Education: Theoretical Perspectives and Practical Approaches for Diverse Populations (3rd ed., pp. 107-129). Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group.

Saito, L. E., & Li, J. (2022). Applying an AsianCrit lens on Chinese international students: History, intersections, and Asianization during COVID-19. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Leadership Studies, 3(1), 122-140.

Stein, S., & de Andreotti, V. O. (2016). Cash, competition, or charity: International students and the global imaginary. Higher Education, 72(2), 225–239.

Vass, G. (2015). Putting critical race theory to work in Australian education research: “We are with the garden hose here”, The Australian Educational Researcher, 42(3), 371-394.

Wang, T. (2020). Students caught between globalisation and nationalism. University World News.

Wu, C., Qian, Y., & Wilkes, R. (2021). Anti-Asian discrimination and the Asian-white mental health gap during COVID-19. Ethnic and Racial Studies, 44(5), 819-835.

Yao, C. W., George Mwangi, C. A., & Malaney Brown, V. K. (2019). Exploring the intersection of transnationalism and critical race theory: A critical race analysis of international student experiences in the United States. Race Ethnicity and Education, 22(1), 38–58. 

Yeo, H. T., Mendenhall, R., Harwood, S. A., & Huntt, M. B. (2019). Asian international student and Asian American student: Mistaken identity and racial microaggressions. Journal of International Students, 9(1), 39–65.

About the Authors:

Minghui (Hannah) Hou is a Ph.D. candidate in the higher education program at Old Dominion University. Her research focuses on international education equity, neo-racism, international student agency, US-China geopolitical tensions, etc. She has served as copy editor for the Journal of International Students and production editor for the Journal of Comparative & International Higher Education. Email:

Jing Yu is a Ph.D. candidate in Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at University of California Santa Barbara. She received M.A. in Teaching and Learning from the Ohio State University in 2015. Her research interests include international student mobility, intersections of race, class, and nationality, as well as international dimensions of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. She serves on editorial boards for Journal of College Student Development and Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice. Email:

Shinji Katsumoto is a Ph.D. candidate in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program and a graduate researcher at the Center for Research on Undergraduate Education at the University of Iowa. His research focuses on international student success and world university rankings in the international education context. His recent publications about international student experiences appear in such outlets as the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education and the Journal of College Student Development. Email:

Putin’s War: Supporting International Students During Global Crises

by Abu Arif, Juanita Hennessey, Sonja Knutson, Lynn Walsh (Memorial University of Newfoundland)

At a moment when the members of education communities around the world are working to find a way to live with COVID-19, internationalization of higher education (IHE) communities have also been challenged by Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to wage a war against Ukraine. When it is expected from international educators to reimagine international education in a way that is equitable and inclusive (de Wit & Jones, 2018), anti-racist (Buckner et al. 2021), anti-colonial (Beck & Pidgeon, 2020), and sustainable (Shields, 2019), Mr. Putin’s war is unnecessarily taking IHE communities away from these critical conversations. This situation forces international educators to think about a) what will be the world order due to this invasion, and b) how IHE communities will adjust to the new global political realities? In Canada, we are also thinking about how we best show up for international students from Ukraine and Russia, and what are the ways we can support refugees who are being deprived of a post-secondary education due to Putin’s invasion. 

Memorial University of Newfoundland (MUN) is the most eastern university in Canada with a total population of 4400 international students. The only university in Newfoundland and Labrador, MUN hosts international students from both Ukraine and Russia. Due to the nature of the world, we are not unfamiliar with supporting international students during wars and internal conflicts. We have established protocols to reach out to international students during emergencies/global crises. Almost immediately after the invasion started, we sent two separate emails to Ukrainian and Russian students. From conversations with Ukrainian and Russian students, it is clear that they are worried about whether they will be able to complete their programs due to financial issues and fear for the future of their immigration status. Quite understandably, students are also worried about their families back home, concerned about if/when they will be able to go back to their motherland, and struggling emotionally. This conflict has also illustrated that people impacted by war may not only be those who hold the citizenship of the countries directly involved. In addition to the Ukrainian and Russian immigrant communities, there are many international students, especially West Africans, with connections to Ukraine. Thus, when MUN gives consideration to who needs support in times of conflict and crisis it may be a larger community than indicated from the lists run through the student database.

Immigration is one of the top concerns for international students from Ukraine and Russia. Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (IRCC) will issue open work permits to Ukrainian students who are currently in Canada and cannot go home, so they can stay longer if they wish (IRCC, March 2, 2022). IRCC has also committed to waive fees for certain travel, including visitor visas and work and study permits (IRCC, March 2, 2022). The Federal Government has also announced the Canada-Ukraine authorization for emergency travel (CUAET) program to help Ukrainians and their family members come to Canada with the ability to work and study while in Canada. One thing to note here, Ukraine refugees will land in Canada as temporary residents, not permanent residents like all other refugees. Temporary residents are not eligible for health care/settlement help/language instruction/student loans. As for the Russian students, many are fearing expulsion from the country and are asking if they will face biases in case they need to extend their permits. They are also concerned that if they return home for the summer holidays, then they may be forced to join the Russian army and/or may face an embargo when returning to Canada to complete their studies. 

MUN has emergency funds to assist students in the short-term during crises such as grocery gift cards, tuition bursaries, or repayment plans for tuition. One of the challenges is that, as an institution, MUN is only equipped to help with interim financial aid. If the conflict or economic sanctions continue for an extended period, it will be increasingly more difficult for students, especially at the undergraduate level. In terms of personal support, MUN endeavors to work with students on a case-by-case basis. At a minimum, students should be aware of the types of services available (personal counseling, academic advising, career advising, etc.). Some will avail of services without assistance, but some may want a coordinated care approach. If the latter, then being able to advocate for students, reach out to units to arrange for services, and be the point of contact for both the student and the units providing support is necessary. 

MUN is looking for ways we can support Ukranians entering Canada under the CUAET program to carry on with, or embark on, post-secondary study. Discussions are being held on everything from application fees to scholarships, to documents required for admissions, to how to support this cohort to finance their studies. In addition, universities have the infrastructure – classrooms and housing – which generally have low usage through the summer months. As we have with previous wars, we have been in contact with our local settlement agency to let them know we are willing to share what we can should they be suddenly overwhelmed by an influx of arrivals. 

As we try to understand and support our students, we seek insight, advice, and suggestions from our colleagues facing similar situations at their institutions. In your experience, what supports are you able to offer your students on- and off-campus? What are the specific needs of students when it comes to violence experienced at home and how are you dealing with this? How is your institution supporting students from Ukraine who are in financial need? How might your institution be supporting Russian students who are concerned about the personal financial consequences of economic sanctions or the banning of Russia from SWIFT, which poses challenges in transferring funds from students’ homes for fee payment?  As Ukrainian families flee the country, it will be difficult for families to send money to their students for tuition. Will you accept deferred fee payments for the current and next semesters? How are you handling housing requests from students? We hope that through continued internal and external dialogue we can learn from each other about how post-secondary institutions are dealing with personal, academic, and financial issues their students are facing. Please share your thoughts with the Newsletter’s editors by submitting a response to 


Beck, K., & Pidgeon, M. (2020). Across the Divide: Critical Conversation on Decolonization, Indigenization, and Internationalization. In Merli Tamtik, Roopa Desai Trilokekar and Glen A. Jones (Ed), International Education As Public Policy in Canada (pp. 384-406). McGill-Queen’s University Press. 

Buckner, Lumb, P., Jafarova, Z., Kang, P., Marroquin, A., & Zhang, Y. (2021). Diversity without race: How university internationalization strategies discuss international students. Journal of International Students, 11(1), 32–49.

De Wit, H. & Jones, E. (2018). Inclusive Internationalization: Improving Access and Equity. International Higher Education, 94(94), 16–18.

Immigration, Refugee and Citizenship Canada (March 02, 2022). Additional immigration support for Those Affected by the Situation in Ukraine.

Shields, R. (2019). The sustainability of international higher education: Student mobility and global climate change. Journal of Cleaner Production, 217, 594–602. 

About the Authors:

Abu Arif is a doctoral student of Education at Memorial University of Newfoundland. He is an international student advisor (immigration and special projects) and founder of international network of tomorrow’s leader of CBIE. 

Juanita Hennessey is an international student advisor (outreach) of Memorial University of Newfoundland. She is a recipient of Memorial president’s distinguished service award  2016. 

Dr. Sonja Knutson is the director of the internationalization office of Memorial University. She  is also an acting director of the writing centre and an adjunct professor of education at Memorial. She is the winner of the CBIE leadership award 2012. 

Lynn Walsh is the Manager of the internationalization office of Memorial University. She is the current co-chair of internationalization of student affairs, CACUSS

Supporting People in/from Ukraine

The ongoing Russian violence in Ukraine is completely antithetical to the set of values that we, as practitioners and scholars of international higher education, believe and practice. We stand in solidarity with the people of Ukraine, and especially, with their higher education community of students, scholars, and administrators.

Given the difficult current conditions in Ukraine, there is much that we can do from afar to help. In this document, we are sharing some resources and ways of helping. We compiled these resources from our Ukrainian friends and colleagues who have been organizing relentlessly to raise awareness and provide support mechanisms to the people in Ukraine or those who have already been forced to flee.

  • Scholars at Risk has several resources for both scholars and practitioners seeking support as well as for advocates and prospective host institutions. Learn more about these efforts here.
  • The National Bank of Ukraine opened a fundraising account for humanitarian assistance to Ukrainians affected by Russia’s aggression. More information here.
  • The Come Back Alive Foundation accepts financial contributions to provide life-saving equipment to Ukrainian soldiers. Find out more here.
  • United Help Ukraine is an NGO that assists internal refugees by providing medical supplies and humanitarian aid: 
  • The Voices of Children Foundation works with affected children and families in Ukraine, providing emergency psychological assistance, and assisting in the evacuation process: 
  • Razom is a foundation that assists healthcare and education in eastern Ukraine: 

Also, please see these excellent blog posts by Professor Timothy Snyder on additional ways to help Ukraine:

Methodological Approaches to the Study of International Students

by Minghui (Hannah) Hou, Jing Yu, and Shinji Katsumoto

Although international students exhibit a variety of backgrounds in terms of nationalities, native languages, education histories, and other characteristics, the diversity within this group is often overlooked in higher education research and its data management. The U.S. National Center for Education Statistics’ Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System (IPEDS) racial category exemplifies the tendency to view international students as a homogeneous group because these students are categorized as a single racial category (nonresident alien); a racial category used in addition to American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian, Black or African American, Hispanic, Native Hawaiian, or Other Pacific Islander, and White. In a two-part essay, we want to share examples of theoretical frameworks and methodological approaches that acknowledge and address international students’ heterogeneity. In this first essay, we introduce quantitative and qualitative critical methodologies and offer several suggestions for the future direction of research about international students, focusing especially on the diversity within this student group.

Critical Quantitative Methodology 

Critical quantitative methodology is the employment of quantitative data and methods in a way that is guided or shaped by critical theory. According to Stage (2007), there are two aims of the critical quantitative approach. One is to “[u]se data to represent educational processes and outcomes on a large scale to reveal inequities and to identify social or institutional perpetuation of systematic inequities in such processes and outcomes” (p. 10), and the other is to “[q]uestion the models, measures, and analytic practices of quantitative research in order to offer competing models, measures, and analytic practices that better describe experiences of those who have not been adequately represented” (p. 10). The former goal needs large-scale datasets to conduct institutional- or national-level analysis while the latter goal requires researchers to reflect on their approach and the methods they are employing. The variable coding process offers a good example of how the traditional approach to conducting quantitative research may fail to describe the experiences of a certain group. Teranishi (2007) claims that a traditional approach to race categorization (e.g., 1=White, 2=Black, and so on) can give the impression that each category is homogeneous and can disguise the diversity within each category. For example, in such traditional coding, Asian students will be treated as one category and compared with other racial categories; however, it is critical to understand and explore the diversity within the category of Asian. Thus, researchers using quantitative methods should be cautious whether the employed approach misrepresents a certain group of students.

Critical Qualitative Methodology 

The term qualitative is an umbrella concept that encompasses many different forms of inquiry to understand social phenomena, including observation, individual and group interviewing, and textual and visual data analysis (Cresswell, 1998). The term critical refers to the capacity to inquire against the grain: to question the conceptual and theoretical bases of knowledge and method, to ask questions that go beyond prevailing assumptions and understandings, and to acknowledge the role of power and position in social phenomena. The notion of critical qualitative methodology includes self-critique and self-reflexivity and bears in mind that power relations are always existent (Yao & Vital, 2018). This can be done by rethinking what, why, and how we adopt particular approaches and including the marginalized population in our work, as well as engaging in “critical transformation at the local level” (Denzin et al., 2017, p. 484). For example, when we learn the method of interviewing, it is never simply the process of asking and answering questions. The key is that we need to be fully aware of the various ways in which power is enacted in the process of interviewing, which is part of a critical reflexive exercise.

Conclusion and Future Directions

Given current research on international students, it is important to keep in mind how critical scholars can be aware of and avoid creating power within research, regardless of the methodological approach, qualitative or quantitative. We posit that the following topics should be investigated in a post-pandemic world. First, it is worth exploring the mental health issues of international students. Against the backdrop of the global pandemic and the resurgence of anti-Asian racism, international students, especially students of Asian descent, suffer more blatant racism, which results in an increased likelihood of fear, anger, sadness, and mental health concerns, such as stress, anxiety, and depression. Second, international undergraduate and graduate students have confronted different challenges, so exploring heterogeneity within international students’ experiences can support the specific needs of international undergraduates and graduates. Third, the intersectionality of international students, such as class, gender, age, and nationality is important to investigate to reach a better understanding of how these identities shape students’ experiences and perspectives. Fourth, based on many research studies (e.g., Yao et al., 2019; Yeo et al., 2019), international students of color are also ‘raced’ in the US, so the process of racialization is a crucial topic to investigate. Lastly, considering the worldwide spread of geopolitical tensions and neo-nationalism, student mobility as the core of internationalization is a key topic for future work. More conversations and efforts should be made to make international student mobility more socially equitable and sustainable. 

The following questions can help researchers to better understand international students: 

  1. Given that the quantitative questionnaires developed for domestic students are often used for international students, what kind of student information should we ask to capture the diversity within the international student population? (e.g., nationality, K-12 education experiences in the U.S., TOEFL, or anything else?)
  2. What is diversity? Who defines diversity? Should international students be considered a diverse population? Who holds the power to make this decision?  What are the implications of the answer to this question in higher education settings?  

In the next edition of the Critical Internationalization Studies Network Newsletter, we will share theoretical frameworks that address international students’ different experiences based on the intersection of their immigration status, nationality, and race. Stay tuned!


Creswell, J. W. (1998). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions. London: Sage Publications.

Denzin, N. K., Lincoln, Y. S., MacLure, M., Otterstad, A. M., Torrance, H., Cannella, G. S., … & McTier, T. (2017). Critical qualitative methodologies: Reconceptualizations and emergent construction. International Review of Qualitative Research, 10(4), 482-498.

Stage, F. K. (2007). Answering critical questions using quantitative data. New Directions for Institutional Research, (133), 5–16. 

Teranishi, R. T. (2007). Race, ethnicity, and higher education policy: The use of critical quantitative research. New Directions for Institutional Research, (133), 37–49. 

Yao, C. W., George Mwangi, C. A., & Malaney Brown, V. K. (2019). Exploring the intersection of transnationalism and critical race theory: A critical race analysis of international student experiences in the United States. Race Ethnicity and Education, 22(1), 38–58.

Yao, C. W., & Vital, L. M. (2018). Reflexivity in international contexts: Implications for U.S. doctoral students international research preparation. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 13, 193-210.

Yeo, H. T., Mendenhall, R., Harwood, S. A., & Huntt, M. B. (2019). Asian international student and Asian American student: Mistaken identity and racial microaggressions. Journal of International Students, 9(1), 39–65.

About the Authors:

Minghui (Hannah) Hou is a Ph.D. candidate in the higher education program at Old Dominion University. Her research focuses on international education equity, neo-racism, international student agency, US-China geopolitical tensions, etc. She has served as copy editor for the Journal of International Students and production editor for the Journal of Comparative & International Higher Education. Email:

Jing Yu is a Ph.D. candidate in Gevirtz Graduate School of Education at University of California Santa Barbara. She received M.A. in Teaching and Learning from the Ohio State University in 2015. Her research interests include international student mobility, intersections of race, class, and nationality, as well as international dimensions of diversity, equity, inclusion, and social justice. She serves on editorial boards for Journal of College Student Development and Journal of Student Affairs Research and Practice. Email:

Shinji Katsumoto is a Ph.D. candidate in the Higher Education and Student Affairs program and a graduate researcher at the Center for Research on Undergraduate Education at the University of Iowa. His research focuses on international student success and world university rankings in the international education context. His recent publications about international student experiences appear in such outlets as the Journal of Diversity in Higher Education and the Journal of College Student Development. Email:

Crafting non-western ways for writing

by Dr. Sharin Shajahan Naomi, Assistant Professor, Gender Studies. Asian University for Women.

While writing my Ph.D. thesis on Tibetan Buddhism and feminism, and working particularly on the decolonialization of knowledge, I found a plethora of literature on challenging the colonial perspective at a conceptual level. Obviously, those enriched conceptual understandings were useful. But I was looking for more than that. Decolonial theorist Walter Mignolo (2011) said, “decoloniality focuses on changing the terms of the conversation and not only its content” (p. 133). In meaning-making and the style of argument, a deliberate epistemic disobedience should be used to challenge conventional Eurocentric hegemony s (Mignolo, 2009). To me, decoloniality was about conceptual liberation from both western hegemonic knowledge and praxis. My PhD thesis was an autoethnography on my experience exploring an organic relationship between Tibetan Buddhism and feminism. Edward Said tells us that it is ‘a fallacy to assume that the swarming, unpredictable, and problematic mess in which the lives of human beings are lived can be understood on the basis of what book-text-say’ (Said, 1979, p. 93). I became aware of that fallacy when the distance between my experience and a traditional method of academic writing to capture those experiences became profound. As a feminist, Bangladeshi, and spiritual woman, I realized that to bring out the non-western voice and view, I had to craft non-western ways of writing. This non-western way is crafted through alternative epistemology, subjectivity, and style of narratives.

I agree that, during a postmodern era, differences between east and west are becoming ambiguous, relational, shifting, and without fixed borders. However, if their differences are completely ignored and not talked about, this would be “blanket dismissal” of cultural differences (Tamdgidi, 2005, p.189). In the absence of acknowledgment of difference, discourse can become “culturally blind” and hegemonic (Tamdgidi, 2005, p.189). Knowing this difference is part of a decolonization of knowledge.

A great deal of my experience was spiritual. Some of the characteristics of spiritual experience include interconnection with the cosmos, a transcendent way of being, and a feeling of wholeness (Cascio, 1998; Cowley, 1993). This spiritual knowledge was not transparent and clear in a modern sense. There was ambiguity, uncertainty and unknowing which western positivist discourse and writing style do not value. But from a spiritual person’s perspective reality was multiplicitous and unfolding in a way that is undefinable. If this reality was summed up in the name of clarity and delineation, its dynamic nature would be renounced. In my search for a praxis to reveal this experience within the academic world, I found there were huge scholarly works on Asian epistemology or contemplative epistemology which were focused on all these concerns.

Western epistemology that has been developed for the academic world is considered to be positivist and reductionist. On the other hand, non-western epistemologies such as African, Indigenous, Buddhist and Hindu ways of knowing are spirituality oriented in ways that value multiple possibilities, transpersonal aspects of human experience, and open- ended interpretations of meaning. With the movement of decolonization, alternative epistemic interventions have been developed to challenge the hegemonic Eurocentric ways of knowing. To me, Asian epistemology became a good site for decolonial perspective since it is grounded in knowledge of self and reality-based upon Asian spiritual intellectual traditions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, and Confucianism that are different from a western cartesian self and rationality (Liu, 2008).

Asian epistemology refuses to fall under the Western category of the epistemic framework (Denzin and Lincoln, 2008; Liu, 2008). This epistemology bought my thesis closer to my way of viewing self and reality from a Buddhist perspective. Taking an Asian epistemological stance, I could argue for a kind of knowing that would not be reduced to emotional and subjective states nor would it be properly understood by logical deduction (Liu, 2008). This knowing could accommodate a spiritual and contemplative state. Asian epistemology includes contemplative epistemology. Contemplative epistemology is a form of knowing that comes from meditative ways, including mindful states, profound silence and stillness, openness, intense focus and clarity, creating detachment with the contents of mind, and so on (Haynes, 2009). This contemplative state can be reduced neither to reason nor emotion (Ferrer, 2002). Hence, it can hold both, while at the same time it is beyond. These practices invoke empathic ways of understanding, profound silence, unconditional love, deep awareness, the vastness of the way of our being, interconnectedness, and wisdom on a very subtle level of the transience of self and reality (Haynes, 2009; Zajonc, 2005). Contemplation is often misunderstood as something separate from the world and critical consciousness. This way of knowing, if combined with critical insight, gives a new insight into self, reality, and social actions (Burggraf, 2007; Klein, 1995). It can bring a new interpretive angle to human experience from a holistic critical perspective. This mode of inquiry includes the use of arts, poetry, photographs, and creative writing in research in ways that share a subtle level of human experience (Janesick, 2016). Contemplation is used in both eastern spiritual and Judeo-Christian traditions (Hart, 2004). It is non-dichotomous in terms of breaking a strict binary relationship between east and west. Trinh T Minh-ha (1991) says, “between rational and irrational enslavement, there is an interval, and there is a possibility for a third term in the struggle” (p. 8). That third term is something that is beyond naming and framing, at the same time it floats within rationality and emotions, names and frames, categories and various concepts. Contemplative epistemology is reminiscent of this third term which I embraced to write my spiritual experience in my thesis.

Traditional western writing style and narrative are centered around a singular cartesian rationale self who needs to demonstrate command and authority over the knowledge to the readers. Here, self is written as an autonomous and fundamentally intellectual entity through mind/body, object/subject, and self/outer world separation (Yagelski, 2011). The Subject needs to speak in a linear way from a transparent and focused position. My epistemology presented a subject that refused to identify a singular self with mastery and command over the readers. Instead, there was a dynamic intersubjectivity in my writing through multiplicity and dialogic selves which works as an antidote against conventional western cartesian subjectivity. My writing was not to be read, but to be experienced. In this experience, multiple meanings become available and a range of emotional, psychological as well as intellectual responses are invoked. Neither the author nor the readers controlled the meaning completely. As a result, knowledge could flow from the co-construction of reality.

There was no fixed stable self in my writing. This purposeful disappearance of a static, fixed I was closely associated with the Buddhist subjectivity constituted through non-duality of mind-body as well as non-duality of outer and inner worlds. There was a continuity of self without any essence (Collins, 1982). This no-self was reflected through continuous transformation and messy appearance and disappearance of multiple selves. No-self does not indicate ‘nothing’ in a negative way, but it points towards emptiness through a fuller and more vast way of being. Although feminist politics of claiming rights over body, mind, and surroundings may be controversial, Buddhist subjectivity accepts multiple possibilities and selves. In my thesis, feminist subjectivity found no hindrance to weaving with Buddhist subjectivity. Their relationship was intertwined and complementary where feminist self was critical against injustice and discrimination under patriarchy, and, at the same time, became part of a vast subjectivity in the spiritual dimension. Feminist epistemological stance was valued the role of gender, class, and race and prioritized women’s perspective in giving meaning to their experiences (Damaris, 2001; Jiang, 2005; Ramazanoglu & Holland, 2002). The profound characteristic of this feminist Buddhist subjectivity was the combination of an awareness of chaos, conditions and changes, as well as an awakening to the centeredness, calmness, and serenity within (Klein, 1995).

To Eurocentric ideas and scholars trained within western academia, one’s expressions are often considered to be more accurate and clearer on the basis of following conventional positivist rules of linearity, categorization, separation, and syllogism. In this process of writing non-western narratives, I had to be brave enough to stray from western linear narrative models. I used both Indian and Zen narrative styles, where patterns were not linear, and which evolved in a circular way (Alexandru, 2015, Syverson, 2011). Unlike western English narrative’s pursuance of a steady plot, Indian narrative allows deliberate digression for the purposes of performativity and multiplicity (Alexandru, 2015). From a Western perspective, this style lacks coherency and includes unnecessary talk. Margaret Syverson articulates how Zen literature differs from the style of conveying a message in Western discourse, presenting a narrative full of “unexplained contradictions” (Syverson, 2011, p. 283). These contradictions in Zen narratives are not given deliberately for muddying the concept, but to break the pattern orientation and disciplinary thinking of mind. It is quite different from logocentric ways – the basis upon which Western thought has been structured since Plato (Heine, 1995; McQuillian, 2001).

Western discursive practice, although a site of free and critical thinking, cherishes its disciplinary panoptic gaze; a gaze where the observer scrutinizes the observed and remains beyond observation of itself (Sosale, 2002). Knowledge in this hegemonic paradigm relies more on the approval of some elite group rather than the potential to contribute to human beings’ consciousness with new ideas (Stephen, 2015). By taking alternative epistemological position, subjectivity, and narrative style, I disidentified with the normative gaze for giving space to the voices of margin (Pérez, 1999). In the language of Édouard Glissant, my non-western approach became opacity that demanded freedom from the violence of absolute comprehension, control, and transparency (Glissant, 1997). I found that without this opacity, the subaltern cannot speak about spiritual experiences in western discourses. Crafting non-western approaches to writing an academic work should give more emphasis to this opacity that is rooted in non-western spiritual contexts, which represents a particular worldview and knowledge and a distinctive perspective and spectacular reality.


Alexandru, M-S. D. (2015). Performance and performativity in contemporary Indian fiction in English. Brill.

Burggraf, S. (2007). Contemplative modes of inquiry in liberal arts education. Liberal Arts Online, June. Retrieved from:

Cascio, T. (1998). Incorporating spirituality into social work practice: A Review of What to Do. Families in Society, 79(5), 523-531.

Collins, S. (1982). Selfless persons: Imagery and thought in Theravada Buddhism. Cambridge University Press.

Cowley, A-D. S. (1993). Transpersonal social work: A theory for the 1990’s. Social Work, 38(5), 527-533.

Damaris, R. D. (2001, 6th July). Revisiting feminist research methodologies (Working Paper Submitted to Status of Women Canada, Research Division). Retrieved from:

Denzin, N. K. and Lincoln, Y. S. (2008). “Introduction: Critical methodologies and Indigenous researcher”. In Denzin, Norman K., Lincoln, Yvonna S. and Smith Linda, T. (Eds.). Handbook of Critical and Indigenous Methodologies. SAGE

Ferrer, J.N. (2002). Revisioning transpersonal theory: A participatory vision of human spirituality. State University of New York Press.

Glissant, É. (1997). Poetics of Relation. (Wing, B. Trans.). MI: University of Michigan Press.

Hart, T. (2004, January). Opening the contemplative mind in the classroom. Journal of Transformative Education, 2(1), 28-46.

Haynes, D.J. (2009). Contemplative practice: Views from the religion classroom and artist’s studio. ARTS: Arts in Religious and Theological Studies 20, 25-33.

Heine, S. (1995). Review of Mind as Mirror and the Mirroring of Mind: Buddhist Reflections on Western Phenomenology by Laycock, Steven W. Journal of Chinese Philosophy, 22, 507-510.

Jiang, X. (2000). Feminist Epistemology: An Introduction. CSA Academic Perspective, 1, 56-58. Retrieved from:

Klein, A. C. (1995). Meeting the Great Bliss Queen: Buddhists, Feminist and the Art of Self. Beacon Press.

Liu, J H. (2008). “Asian Epistemologies and Contemporary Social Psychological Research”. In

Denzin, N. K. & Lincoln, Y.S. (Eds.). Handbook of Qualitative Research. (4th ed.). Sage.

McQuillan, M. (2001). Introduction: Five Strategies for Deconstruction. In McQuillan, M. (Eds.). Deconstruction: A Reader. Routlage. pp. 1-43.

Minh-ha, T.T. (1991). When the Moon Waxes Red: Representation, Gender and Cultural Politics. Routledge .

Mignolo, W.D. (2011). Geopolitics of sensing and knowing: on (de)coloniality, border thinking and epistemic disobedience. Postcolonial Studies, 14(3), 273–283.

Mignolo, W.D. (2009). Epistemic Disobedience: Independent Thought and De-Colonial Freedom. Theory, Culture & Society, 26(7–8), 1–23.

Pérez, E. (1999). The decolonial imaginary: Writing Chicanas into history. Indiana University Press.

Syverson, M. (2011). True Beginner’s Mind: Fresh Encounters with Zen. Appamada.

Ramazanoglu, C. and Holland, J. (2002). Feminist Methodology: Challenge and Choices. SAGE Publications.

Said, E. (1979). Orientalism. Vintage.

Sosale, S. (2002). The Panoptic View: A Discourse Approach to Communication and Development. In Servaes, J. (Eds.). Approaches to Development Communication. UNESCO.

Stevenson, I. and Haraldsson, E. (2003). The Similarity of Features of Reincarnation Type Cases over Many Years: A Third Study. Journal of Scientific Exploration 17(2), 283-289.

Tamdgidi, M. (2005). Orientalist and Liberating Discourses of East-West Difference: Revisiting Edward Said and the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam. The Discourse of Sociological Practice, 7(1&2), 187-201.

Yagelski, R.P (2011). Writing as a Way of Being: Writing Instruction, Nonduality, and the Crisis of Sustainability. Hampton Press.

Zajonc, A. (2005). Love and Knowledge: Recovering the Heart of Learning through Contemplation. Presented at Contemplative Practices and Education: Making Peace in Ourselves and in the World. Teachers College, Columbia University, February 11-13, 2005.

Practice Brief – a global pandemic: Reflections on the everyday and how to bring in critical perspectives 

A practitioner’s brief by Chelsey Laird

I am honoured by writing to you today from the unceded and traditional lands of the Coast Salish peoples. I am also humbled by the privilege of being safe from the catastrophic floods, landslides, and mudslides that many of our families, friends, and colleagues are navigating in the lower mainland of British Columbia at this time. 

I write this reflection from my perspective as an international education practitioner and administrator, but also as a doctoral student in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University. The intersection of these identities presents a perspective that is informed by my lived reality of what internationalization of higher education is, in the Canadian context. It is this space, between theory and practice of internationalization of higher education, where my research interests lie. I am specifically focused on the experience of higher education staff members. This is of particular interest in the current context of the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the internationalization of higher education.

As we enter 2022 and are nearing the end of the second year of the pandemic, I am struck by the magnitude at which higher education institutions have adapted to this new reality. Emerging practices include crisis communication, widespread shifts to virtual delivery of classes, alternative forms of student mobility, and internationalization at home initiatives. With each adaptation, new academic, pedagogical, operational, and administrative terrain has to be navigated.  

Of particular interest is how staff members have to adapt, pivot, and be flexible to ever-changing circumstances. Celia Whitchurch (2015, 2018) has explored the emergence of new actions and understandings of staff roles and responsibilities in higher education institutions. She uses the concept of “Third Space” to highlight the negotiation of relationships and power dynamics as it applies to the higher education environment. Whitchurch (2015) also typifies the concept “Third Space Professional” as those that develop new knowledge in practice constantly by applying their expertise to complicated tasks. The “Third Space” in higher educational contexts is fraught with paradoxical situations. For example, staff need to respond to external pressures that meet both policy and academic needs and work through challenges, agendas, and perceptions of a range of interests that require negotiation and flexibility (Whitchurch, 2015). To successfully manage this, Third Space Professionals exhibit skills, such as adaptability, creativity, improvisation, and negotiation (Whitchurch, 2018). Working in this space, where something new emerges, Third Space Professionals work through frustration and challenges by involving a degree of struggle, negotiation, persistence, and courage (Whitchurch, 2015).  And yet, much of this work remains or has become increasingly invisible, a phenomenon observed by Szekeres, in studies on higher education staff roles in the early 2000s (Szekeres, 2004; 2006).

While this leads me to conclude that higher education staff continue to work and operate in a context where they are assumed, and indeed, expected to have the skills and navigate through tensions and challenges in their everyday work. Some of these tensions are navigating between policy and practice, while other tensions relate to personal values and ethical quandaries. Now is the time to ask ourselves, our colleagues, and our leaders some difficult questions. For me,  posing these questions will bring staff members’ experiences to light. This can lead to inclusive, ethical approaches to the operations and administration of internationalization of higher education. It also has implications for more equitable and just practices in our sector throughout the pandemic.

Some questions to reflect on include:

  • How can we better support our practitioners?
  • What supports, knowledges, or spaces do staff members need as they navigate through key paradoxes in their work?
  • How can we empower practitioners to have more agency in their daily work?
  • How can practitioners bring critical perspectives to their everyday work, without being marginalized?
  • How can practitioners make the everyday experience of internationalization of higher education, and the challenges that they navigate and work through to be recognized, honoured, and appreciated?

About the author:

Chelsey Laird is a doctoral student in the Faculty of Education at Simon Fraser University, the Director of the University Mobility in Asia and the Pacific (UMAP) International Secretariat at Vancouver Community College, and a sessional instructor at University of the Fraser Valley all located in the lower mainland of British Columbia, Canada. 


Szekeres, J. (2004). The invisible workers. Journal of Higher Education, Policy and Management, 26 (1), 7-22. DOI: 10.1080/1360080042000182500

Szekeres, J. (2006). General Staff Experiences in the Corporate University. Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, 28(2), 133-145. DOI:10.1080/13600800600750962

Whitchurch, C. (2015). The Rise of Third Space Professionals: Paradoxes and Dilemmas. In Ulrich T. and Willima C. (eds.) Forming, Recruiting and Managing the Academic Profession. p.79-100. Springer. DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-16080-1_1

Whitchurch, C. (2018). Being a higher education professional today. In Carina B. and Natalie B. (eds.) Professional and Support Staff in Higher Education, University and Development and Administration. Springer Nature Singapore Ltd, p.11-21