What do international students gain from studying abroad?

When I first became interested in this topic, I was an economist. My PhD supervisor pointed me to the works of the World Bank and I was immediately attracted to the idea of returns on education. I started to look at the various approaches to assessing returns on education which were primarily though jobs or remittances. But I soon realised that this lens does not capture the wide range of social and cultural factors that may shape their aspirations to study abroad, what they can and want to do when they return home.

I became deeply interested in Amartya Sen’s idea of capability as the substantive opportunities that people can have to realise the goals that they have reasons to pursue. This led me to a journey of discovering agency as something to be understood in reference to a person’s aims, objectives and commitment to others.

My book International graduates returning to Vietnam captures this concept of agency. It tells the stories of Vietnamese international students’ experiences when they return home. These stories are everyday experiences in the communities that they live in not something they observe from afar. They are neither struggles nor triumphs, but overlaps of adaptation and preservation of traditions, aspiration and survival, aloofness and trust.

Front cover PhamL

These stories highlight the challenges of Vietnam’s developing society as she finds her place in the world with a deep thrust of economic liberalisation. For these returning international graduates, economic pragmatism has virtue insofar as they are anchored within family responsibilities. Their sense of citizenship too lies within parameters of close networks of family and friends although the idea of civic responsibility has some ideals.

In writing this book, I was intrigued by the lack of research about returning graduates. Among the voluminous and growing number of studies about international students, there is very little focus on what happens to these students when they finish their education abroad. Of the few works on returnees, the rhetoric on jobs and employment as the value-add of international education is clear. This may be because the pull of international education has always been about personal gains aimed at the student market.

This book has a different lens. Written from the perspectives of the Vietnamese graduates, the book captures their experiences in their professional lives, their teaching lives, and their civic lives. What is the potential of acquired international education for them, their families, friends and communities? The book also departs from the literature on international education in its theoretical premise of normative agency and freedom, concepts associated with political philosophy and social theory.

You can find the book here, and here is the chapter list:

  1. Introduction: Rethinking international education
  2. International education: A bridge to ethical development
  3. Sen-Bourdieu framework: Conceptualising normative agency
  4. From theory to praxis: A sociological analysis of capabilities
  5. Encountering the Vietnamese habitus
  6. Priorities, motivations and expectations of returnees
  7. ‘Professional’ field: Skills, income, status and foreign firms
  8. ‘Intellectual’ field: Education reformers and conformers
  9. ‘Civic’ field: Negotiating the ideals of community, citizenship and community work
  10. Conclusion: Skills, knowledge, citizenship and reflexivity

This is my first book, so I am excited and also nervous. After all, when people read the book – the moment when the author and readers meet whether in person or on the virtual space – there is imminent critique. Critique is good, so I have learnt in academia. So, please email me or post your comments to this blog.

Stay tuned, I will include some excerpts or narrations from the book in future blogs. Follow me on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn if you would like to be notified of my blogs.

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