A Dialogue with the Past: Thinking Through Lifestyle Choices

  • Lily Lei YeEmail author
Part of the Palgrave Studies on Chinese Education in a Global Perspective book series (CEGP)


In this chapter, I report the key findings concerning Chinese international doctoral students’ choice, motivations and decision making in relation to study abroad. This chapter explores how Chinese doctoral students’ decision to study abroad shapes their self-identity. After the introduction section, I present students’ stories to illustrate how they construct and maintain a robust “choice biography” of self-actualisation. Students’ stories demonstrate that their decision to study in the UK is shaped by different motivations. I conclude that participants’ narratives suggest that they are autonomous, self-determined agents whose decisions to study abroad are lifestyle choices, guided by their different goals of self-actualisation and personal development. The students’ active management of their life trajectories disrupts common understandings of Chinese students as a homogeneous group of “passive” learners.


  1. Adams, M. (2006). Hybridizing habitus and reflexivity: Towards an understanding of contemporary identity? Sociology, 40(3), 511–528.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Archer, M. (2003). Structure, agency and the internal conversation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Bourdieu, P. (1977). Outline of a theory of practice (R. Nice, Trans.). Cambridge: Cambridge University.Google Scholar
  4. Bourdieu, P. (1986). The forms of capital. In J. G. Richardson (Ed.), Handbook of theory and research for the sociology of education (pp. 241–258). New York: Greenwood Press.Google Scholar
  5. Dervin, F. (2009, June 12–14). The solidification of Chineseness in academic mobility: Critical reviews of ‘intercultural’ research articles on Chinese students. Paper presented at CAFIC conference, Beijing.Google Scholar
  6. Dervin, F. (2011). A plea for change in research on intercultural discourses: A ‘liquid’ approach to the study of the acculturation of Chinese students. Journal of Multicultural Discourses, 6(1), 37–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Edwards, V., & An, A. (2006). Meeting the needs of Chinese students in British higher education. Available at
  8. Gargano, T. (2009). (Re)conceptualizing international student mobility: The potential of transnational social fields. Journal of Studies in International Education, 13(3), 331–346.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Giddens, A. (1984). The constitution of society. Berkeley: University of California Press.Google Scholar
  10. Giddens, A. (1990). The consequences of modernity: The raymond fred west memorial lectures. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.Google Scholar
  11. Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and self-identity: Self and society in the late modern age. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  12. Goode, J. (2007). Empowering or disempowering the international Ph.D. student? Constructions of the dependent and independent learner. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 28(5), 589–603.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Grimshaw, T. (2007). Problematizing the construct of “the Chinese learner”: Insights from ethnographic research. Educational Studies, 33(3), 299–311.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Ho, D. (1976). On the concept of face. American Journal of Sociology, 81, 867–884.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Ho, D. Y. F. (1994). Face dynamics: From conceptualization to measurement. In S. Ting-Toomey (Ed.), The challenge of facework (pp. 269–286). New York: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  16. Lash, S. (1994). Reflexivity and its doubles: Structure, aesthetics, community. In U. Beck, A. Giddens, & S. Lash (Eds.), Reflexive modernization: Politics, tradition and aesthetics in the modern social order. Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
  17. Mouzelis, N. (2000). The subjectivist–objectivist divide: Against transcendence. Sociology, 34(4), 741.Google Scholar
  18. Norton, B. (2000). Identity and language learning: Gender, ethnicity, and educational change. Harlow: Pearson Education.Google Scholar
  19. Phelps, J. M. (2016). International doctoral students’ navigations of identity and belonging in a globalizing university. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 11, 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Reynolds, J., Wetherell, M., & Taylor, S. (2007). Choice and chance: Negotiating agency in narratives of singleness. Sociological Review, 55(2), 331–351.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Tian, M., & Lowe, J. (2009). Existentialist internationalisation and the Chinese student experience in English universities. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 39(5), 659–676.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Trahar, S. (2007). Teaching and learning: The international higher education landscape—Some theories and working practices (ESCalate Discussion Paper). Available at Accessed 8 Jan 2018.
  23. Webb, J. (2004). Organizations, self-identities and the new economy. Sociology, 38(4), 719–738.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Zhou, J. (2014). Persistence motivations of Chinese doctoral students in science, technology, engineering, and math. Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 7(3), 177–193.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Beijing Institute of Fashion TechnologyBeijingChina

Personalised recommendations