Beyond the surface: international students’ perspectives on success at university (2020)
Type of ContentTheses / Dissertations
Degree NameDoctor of Philosophy
PublisherUniversity of Canterbury
AuthorsEulatth Vidal, William Ericssonshow all
There is increasing research interest on the international student experience and student success. Clear understandings remain undeveloped and gaps in the literature persist: ambiguity in the definition of success; focus on specific components of the category “international”; and unclear data on success factors. Using phenomenology, this study explores success at university from the perspective of international students and concentrates on three research questions:
(1) What does it mean to be an international student? (2) What does it mean to be successful at university? (3) Which factors, and to what extent, influence success?
In-depth semi-structured interviews were used with a purposive sample of twelve international undergraduate students from one university in New Zealand. Thematic analysis helped identify key themes from the research data.
This research demonstrates that while the official designation of being an international student is based on visa status, international students have different understandings of what this term means to them. The international student population constitutes a heterogeneous group of students whose identities have a double sense. They identify with a group of students who share a similarity of being in a country other than their own, yet they are aware of specific characteristics that make them unique. Furthermore, while some are able to feel like locals, others feel like outsiders.
The study also found that while success is a multidimensional and subjective term, some principles are common to students. Although academic indicators help explain students’ success, a more comprehensive measure that incorporates different aspects of development in students is needed. Multidimensional success encompasses the various plans that students have for their university life, with priorities that are highly individuated. Moreover, there are multiple and interrelated success factors that relate to three dimensions: intrapersonal characteristics, interpersonal processes, and institutional arrangements.
My study adds to the literature on international education by providing an in depth understanding of international students’ construction of what it means to be a successful student at a foreign university. It provides current and future international students with a tool that serves as a trigger for reflection that could help them in making sense of their individual experience and supporting a greater understanding of who they are as students and what would contribute to their success at university. The study also provides a basis for encouraging university representatives to reflect on their expectations about international students and find better ways to contribute to their success. This research outlines the implications for a comprehensive approach to address distinctive needs, one that enables international students to reach their full potential, promoting inclusion, equity, equality and educational quality.