Self-formation through International Education

The international student does not command her or his own destiny, any more than the rest of us. Yet students do command their own identities. They can change whom they are. And they do.” (Marginson, 2012).


Source: Aston Students Union

It is without a doubt that higher education is a method of ‘self-formation’ (Marginson (2012)). From learning academically, to personal and social growth, education can help form and change an individual’s identity.
International students are thrown into the unknown – and although they do so voluntarily, it is still a new culture, and a new physical and social landscape that the students must, in some way, adapt too. Where there are unusual surroundings, the self-formation of the student is pressured by new experiences and requirements, which ultimately proves that ‘under new conditions people do new things’ (Marginson (2012)). They ultimately will experience multiplicity, where their ‘self’ will be a mixture of the cultural experiences of both their homeland and their new environment.


The international student comes with bright eyes and big ideas on what Australia will be like for them – full of new opportunity and adventure. However, the effects of a lack of cross-cultural encounters and lack of willingness of ‘Australians’ to get to know them (Kell & Vogl, 2007), the inability to understand the “Australian culture”, as well as limited understanding of the English language and the social norms, and difficulty in comprehending speech due to the speed at which Australians talk and our colloquialisms (Kell & Vogl, 2007), make it extremely difficult for the international student to grow beyond the perimeters of their ‘homeland self’ into a developed, culturally-competent version of themselves.

The international student is likely to be studying overseas for the obvious reason to gain experience and knowledge that another international institution can provide. But it isn’t always the sole reason the international student leaves their homeland and travels abroad – the international student wants to experience, and create memories of being immersed in a culture other than their own, and it is this ‘web of different social relations’ (Marginson, 2012) that contribute to the international student forming an identity that is culturally competent and evolved.


So why are international students not experiencing the self-formation expected of an international student experience?

Could it be because we, as Australians, are ethnocentric? Are we living in a parochial world of our own, without the desire to foster international students into our ‘Australian culture’ and without the desire to experience, or openly invite relationships with individuals from other cultures?


Marginson, S (2012) ‘International education as self-formation: Morphing a profit-making business into an intercultural experience’, Lecture delivered at the University of Wollongong, 21 February 2012. Accessed 24/8/16.

Kell, P and Vogl, G (2007) ‘International Students: Negotiating life and study in Australia through Australian Englishes’, Everyday Multiculturalism Conference Proceedings, Macquarie University, 28-29 September 2006. Accessed 24/8/16.



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