Biographical Self-Presentations of International Students 'being on the Move'

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 09:15
Location: Seminarraum Geschichte 1 (Main Building)
Oral Presentation
Silke LAUX, University of Hannover, Germany
When researching biographies in the context of globalization, mobility is one of the main features to take into account. Deterritorialization and cultural hybridization along with the interface of traveling and dwelling are assumed to produce new types of mobility beyond tourists and vagabonds, such as ‘life-style migrants’. For members of the middle class and young people in particular, ‘being on the move’ is central in their lives and often expressed in their self-thematizations as 'natural' part of their biographies.

My qualitative fieldwork with international summer university students reveals how a comparatively privileged mobile generation emphasizes the importance of being in other places for processes of self-observation, self-development and biographical turns. Narrative interviews, conducted both in Berlin and in the students’ home countries before, during and after their trips, were combined with participant observation, acquisition of social media postings, and personal pictures. First results indicate:

  1. Biographies are increasingly connected to transnational and transcultural spaces. Students’ experiences abroad become essential for post-trip lifestyles, global careers and entertaining self-thematizations on social media or back home. They are used to enhance one’s status in local communities, but also serve to present universal abilities of qualification and biographical control.
  2. The intercultural framing of the research in the context of international summer universities promotes group-specific narratives based on conjunctive student experiences abroad, self-discovery, adventure and authenticity. It fosters common sense argumentation, valuation and explanatory description when implicit narration seems insufficient for mutual understanding.
  3. Different patterns of selecting, presenting and combining experiences of mobility can be observed. Whereas social media tends to be playfully used to reproduce cultural stereotypes and to receive local affirmation for globalized biographies, the interviews reveal that periods abroad either function as exchangeable stations or as important liminal phases and rites de passage for processes of individuation, learning and transformation.