Australia is among the world’s top destinations for international students, with around 1 in 5 undergraduate students enrolling in Australian universities now being international. China is by far Australia’s largest source of international students, and over half of these students are women.
Mobile Study / Mobile Selves is a 5-year study of Chinese women students in Australian universities, conducted by Associate Professor Fran Martin as a Future Fellowship project funded by the Australian Research Council (FT 140100222, 2015 – 2020). A/Prof Martin is conducting in-depth ethnographic research with a core group of 50 female students from China who are studying or have studied in universities in Melbourne, Canberra and Sydney. From before their departure from China through to their postgraduate destinations, the study is building a picture of how these young women’s time in Australia affects both their gendered and their national-cultural identity.
Who are these women when they arrive in Australia – and who do they become?
The current wave of female educational migration from China reflects both young Chinese women’s mobile, transnational orientation and the increased individualization of their life projects: a sense of “living for oneself” as much as living for others. Motivated by much more than just the pursuit of degrees, these young women are engaged in projects of individualized self-making through their educational journeys. Full of hopes for personal autonomy and cosmopolitan experience, they are as yet unconstrained by the gendered demands of married life while also geographically removed from everyday obligations to natal family. The hypothesis that this project seeks to test through in-depth, longitudinal research is that young Chinese women’s experiences while studying abroad significantly affect their negotiation of the tensions between familial versus individual and national versus transnational identity: two sets of contradictions that centrally define the current generation of Chinese urban women’s sense of identity.