Emerging Market Youngsters Experiencing Dual Mobility and Their Perception of Cosmopolitanism

Monday, 16 July 2018
Distributed Paper
Wei-Fen CHEN, Institute for Advanced Study, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong
Studying abroad is a motivated, voluntary, fix-term relocation to one foreign country out of deliberate choices. Such traits differentiate international students from other mobile individuals such as migrants, global citizens, global nomads, expatriates, sojourners, business travelers, and tourists. This study examines the craze for overseas education in emerging markets through Chinese students’ pursuit of undergraduate or postgraduate degrees in the U.S. These youngsters embody dual mobility trajectories consisting of upward mobility driven by higher education and horizontal mobility caused by geographical, cross-cultural relocation.

Research data were collected through in-depth interviews with twenty-seven first-generation international students from China who are currently enrolled in a major U.S. university. In 2016, 544,500 Chinese students went abroad for education, and 91.49% among them were self-funded. About one-third of the 1,043,839 international students currently in the U.S. were from China, which constituted the largest international student population in the U.S. by country-of-origin.

Two themes emerged from the data.

First, while the informants were aware that the overseas qualifications may no longer guarantee better salaries and employment, the drive for upward mobility in a traditional sense, they employ an alternative framework to develop overlapped definition of upward mobility and outbound mobility. They believed that they were “moving ahead/up” because of acquiring cosmopolitan capital during their geographical relocation.

Second, these emerging market youngsters performed westernized practices to signal their cosmopolitanism, but their acquisition of such values and acts were not from the immediate, local community in the U.S. Instead, they referred to their Chinese networks and native cultural context to ensure that they were pursuing the legitimate, popular “West,” which has already been familiar to, and endorsed by, the Chinese society.

The findings illuminate how emerging market youngsters negotiate with their glocal, transitional identities, and how their mobility experiences are leveraged to set boundary and signal distinction.