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“But I Am (not) from…”: A Qualitative Analysis of Intragroup Self-Differentiation Processes Among International Degree Seeking Students in Germany

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Abstract

Studying abroad has become an educational path that many higher education students strive for worldwide. The number of higher education students enrolled outside their home country has risen considerably in recent years (DAAD and DZHW 2019). Even though international students are discursively constructed as a homogeneous group, higher education policy in Germany distinguishes between several subgroups. These individuals may differ from each other to a large extent in terms of study motivation, access pathways, preparedness, legal, financial, institutional constraints as well as in how they experience higher education. Extensive research has been carried out to understand the challenges and experiences of international students. Nevertheless, in most cases the analyses have focused on selected subgroups either from specific countries, social classes or even cultural backgrounds separately. This article addresses a mostly unexplored issue in the field of higher education research which is intragroup self-differentiation processes that international students experience. It is based on a qualitative content analysis of statements made by international students in the context of the joint research project “Success and withdrawal of international students in Germany (SeSaBa)”. The article discusses how international students negotiate multiple labels as they try to integrate into German higher education and society at large. This discussion will contribute to the debate on what higher education institutions can learn from a comprehensive consideration of their international students’ diversity.

Keywords

  • Student mobility
  • Student experience
  • Higher education internationalization
  • Qualitative research

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Notes

  1. 1.

    The term “refugee” is often used to refer to groups of individuals who might be facing different life circumstances such as asylum seekers who want to file an asylum request, asylum seekers who are waiting for a decision and persons who are entitled to be granted asylum, refugee protection or subsidiary protection (see BAMF 2019).

  2. 2.

    Given that this is a qualitative analysis, the discussion of statistical classifications is merely intended to offer background information for the argument that this analysis presents. For a more complex and detailed account of the statistical classifications and the classification of the world regions see DAAD 2010, DAAD and DZHW 2019, Destatis 2019.

  3. 3.

    Since Winter Semester 2017/2018 a tuition fee of 1500 € per semester has been introduced for non-EU/EEA/Swiss students in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg.

  4. 4.

    Available at: https://www.bmbf.de/de/deutschland-bei-internationalen-studierenden-begehrt-9380.html (retrieved on 18.12.2019).

  5. 5.

    “Wissenschaft Weltoffen” is a bilingual publication which offers up to date information and relevant data on the international nature of higher education and research in Germany. It is published on yearly basis by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) and the German Centre for Research on Higher Education and Science Studies (DZHW).

  6. 6.

    For instance, a new law on the immigration of skilled workers “Fachkräfteeinwanderungsgesetz” has been passed.

  7. 7.

    The “refugee crisis in Germany” refers to the entry into Germany of more than one million of individuals seeking protection in the years 2015 and 2016.

  8. 8.

    For data protection reasons, the residence status of international students is generally not recorded during enrolment. This means that international students become a homogeneous group in practical terms regardless of their educational biography. However, many special programs address the needs and particularities of different groups. From a sociological perspective, it is interesting to explore this paradoxical process between normalization and differentiation. In this paper I address how these differences affect the students’ own identity and experiences but not necessarily the institutional structures as such.

  9. 9.

    The joint project “Success and withdrawal of international students in Germany” (SeSaBa) is being conducted by the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), Hagen distance education university (FernUniversität in Hagen) and the Bavarian State Institute for Higher Education Research and Planning (IHF) in Munich. It is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) between 2017 and 2021. Funding code: 01PX16016A-C.

  10. 10.

    The original quote in German language can be found in Pineda (2018, p. 29).

  11. 11.

    The sample of the study consists of 4751 international students. To participate in the SeSaBa study a registration phase took place between October 2017 and February 2018. The aim of the registration was to ensure that only international students in their first semester who intend to graduate in Germany would participate in the study. The questions of the registration concerned the study status of the potential participants, the institution, the desired degree, the country of acquisition of the high school diploma and the nationality. After these questions had been successfully answered according to the criteria of the target group, the students were asked to provide their contact data (see Falk et. al. 2017).

  12. 12.

    See Pineda et al. (2019) for an example of how this qualitative analysis was used to explore a specific subtopic.

  13. 13.

    792 after the first survey, 806 after the second, 461 after the third and 364 after the fourth.

  14. 14.

    I have tried to preserve the original texts as much as possible. Grammar mistakes have not been corrected. In some cases, the text has been cut to present the information that is relevant for the analysis, given that some quotes are very long and detailed.

  15. 15.

    The website of the Ministry of Science, Research and Arts of Baden-Württemberg lists fee exemptions in detail. See https://mwk.baden-wuerttemberg.de/de/startseite/. (retrieved on 18.12.2019).

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Pineda, J. (2021). “But I Am (not) from…”: A Qualitative Analysis of Intragroup Self-Differentiation Processes Among International Degree Seeking Students in Germany. In: Berg, J., Grüttner, M., Streitwieser, B. (eds) Refugees in Higher Education. Higher Education Research and Science Studies. Springer VS, Wiesbaden. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-658-33338-6_7

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