07 SES 02 A, Learning Spaces and Negotiating Difference
The phenomenon of student mobility has increased significantly in the last decades due to various sets of factors, e.g. globalization and internationalization. Back in 1998, referring to a 25-year period, Bruch & Barty noticed a 300% growth in student mobility. Grillo et al. (2011) stated that between 1998 and 2008 the number of international students simply doubled. Meanwhile, the International Organization for Migration 2010 report showed that the “enrolment of overseas students remained robust, even during the global economic crisis, and the global competition for students is expected to intensify in the future” (p.17). In this global panorama, aside with heavy internationalized universities such as the North American or the English, Portuguese universities also attract significant numbers of foreign students, judging by the country’s small dimension. According to the General Department of Statistics in Science and Education (DGEEC), in the academic year 2011/2012, 20635 foreign students attended Portuguese universities. This number refers only to regular students (excluding Erasmus and other forms of international mobility) and is comparable with the total of students registered at the third biggest Portuguese university, University of Lisbon. In other words, student (im)migration currently constitutes a significant phenomenon in our country. However, in spite of its recent growth, student (im)migration has been rather understudied in Portugal.
Ready to fulfill what we consider a local research gap, our study focuses on the migration experience of foreign students in Portugal. We strongly believe that the knowledge based on the actual experience of this (until recently) ignored population could lead to improved integration strategies.
In our aim to understand the migration experience, we focus on two different concepts: identity and learning. Regarding ‘identity’, the analyses is supported on the views of two important authors in this field: Anthony Giddens and Claude Dubar. For Giddens, the identity of a person lies in the ability to maintain the continuity of a narrative (1994). According to Ethier and Deaux, during a change in physical location “the ways in which the person had previously maintained the identity are no longer valid and useful in the new context, and the person must change the way in which he or she maintains the identity” (1994, p. 244). In this context, migration is an experience that could compromise the continuity of one’s identity, causing what Dubar considers an identity crisis (2006).
Regarding the learning, the second concept of our focus, we aim to determine if the experience of migration provides potentialities for reflection that could lead to personal growth and interculturality. Actually, in this research area, positive outcomes of migration are frequently cited. For Brown, the migration experience “is often imbued with the power to transform individuals into intercultural mediators who learn to grow beyond the psychological parameters of the origin culture” (2009, p. 184). Can the experience of migration enhance the reconstruction of identity and, consequently, of learning? For Murphy-Lejeune (2003, p. 101) life abroad is “an extensive natural learning situation”, while for Kim “identity formation is the process whereby international students are in contact with unfamiliar surroundings […] where they can explore and (re)define their identity as a relevant aspect of their self” (2012, p. 107). In this context, redefining one’s identity appears to be a learning outcome of the migration experience. As Osborne refers, international students “come equipped with a social identity provided by their former life, which, however, most of them have never examined or questioned before” (2012, p. 1037). Taking as starting point the lived experience of foreign students, we will try to understand the complex relation between identity construction and (experiential) learning.
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