Electronic Thesis and Dissertation Repository

Thesis Format



Doctor of Philosophy




Tarc, Paul

2nd Supervisor

Viczko, Melody



Today, an increasing number of Chinese families send their children to study in the West to open up future opportunities. While studying abroad has a long history in China from late Qing dynasty (1836–1911), in the last couple of decades Chinese student mobility occurred on a much larger scale. Chinese families view an undergraduate degree from the West as a way to enhance career opportunities and familial social status. My study examined Chinese families’ intentions and strategies to gain advantage in their transnational trajectory. Specifically, I explore how forms of capital accumulate and transfer through transnational educational routes. Pierre Bourdieu’s (1986) notions of capital and habitus, as well as Aihwa Ong’s (1999) concept of flexible citizenship were employed in this study as complementary frameworks to understand Chinese families’ exploitation of study abroad.

This research employed exploratory qualitative study methodology. Semi- structure interviews were conducted with 23 families (one parent and one student in each family). Each of these families had a child who had studied or was studying in a Western country. Nine key informants, including study-abroad agents, recruiters, principals, and ESL teachers, were also invited to share their knowledge in this research.

This study affirms that the formation of Chinese families’ flexible citizenship is a trend driven by cultural and social forces in Chinese national and local contexts with neoliberal permeation. These multilevel forces include social, cultural, political, and economic roots, which are interwoven in complex ways. My participants strategically mobilize their various forms of capital in order to develop flexible citizenship, but they also face challenges and lost partial cultural and social capital in China.

Insights developed in this study will benefit the following audiences: educational scholars who are interested in student transnational mobility in both China and the West; Chinese international students themselves and their families; officers working at Canadian academic institutions who are recruiting international students; and educators, principals/teachers/study-abroad agents who are working with international students, specifically Chinese students.

Summary for Lay Audience

Increasing numbers of Chinese families send their children to study in Canada to experience the diverse cultures, learn English, and improve individual and/or family social status. To achieve these goals, these families need to employ and accumulate personal and/or familial social resources. Chinese students’ transnational movement is impacted by globalization and multilateral economic/political factors. This research aims to investigate Chinese transnational families’ flexible strategies to obtain resources (social, cultural, and linguistic) in their educational trajectory.

I have interviewed 23 families who had sent children to study in Canada. Also, I talked to nine educators including ESL instructors, principals, and study-abroad agents, who had working experiences with Chinese international students. All in all, 55 people were interviewed in this research. Some interviews were conducted face-to-face and some were completed via phone or Skype upon requests from participants. I investigated why these Chinese families chose to send their children to the West. I uncovered the skills and resources needed in order to study in a Western country, and I also looked at challenges and frustrations that Chinese international students faced while studying abroad and how they responded to these challenges.

Chinese international students’ strategic choices of furthering their education in another jurisdiction are impacted by multilevel forces that have social, cultural, political, and economic roots which are interwoven in complex ways. These factors include the impacts of intense academic competition in China, policy changes in the Chinese context, and changes in cultural attitudes towards experiencing education in another country. It is challenging to claim which factor outweighs others because of how these factors intersect and because the interaction process is complicated.

My participants hoped to use economic resources in exchange for working experience in the West, competency in English, as well as, to some extent, networking in the West. Simultaneously, they lost partial proficiency in Chinese, cultural familiarity, and social connections in China.