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'Vive la différence?': The 'international' experiences of UK students overseas

Waters, J and Brooks, R (2011) 'Vive la différence?': The 'international' experiences of UK students overseas Population, Space and Place, 17 (5). pp. 567-578.

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As interest in the geographies of student mobilities grows, this paper examines the experiences of UK students overseas. More specifically, it considers the 'international' nature of their experiences, asking: to what extent do students actively seek out and encounter 'cultural difference' through their educational choices? International students are often described by those advocating the internationalisation of education as potential 'global citizens', cosmopolitans and ambassadors of inter-cultural understanding. However, our research on UK students has suggested a more complex engagement with 'diversity' through international education. First, we examine the motivations of UK students, and show that whilst many claim to be seeking 'something different' from an overseas education, at the same time they also desire a 'knowable' destination. Film and television were very significant in terms of making certain places familiar to students and thereby influencing their decisions. Secondly, students' experiences of cultural diversity overseas were often confined to an international student community. This has several implications. Most obviously, it limits the extent to which students encounter cultures 'local' to the destination country. The separation and isolation of the international student community, however, does serve a useful function in terms of wider processes of elite class formation and social reproduction. Thirdly, we describe some instances of where individuals formed significant and meaningful relationships with foreign nationals, often as a direct consequence of their experiences of studying overseas. Clearly, this suggests a very direct engagement with 'cultural diversity', albeit of a certain kind.

Item Type: Article
Divisions : Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences > Department of Sociology
Authors :
Waters, J
Brooks, R
Date : 2011
DOI : 10.1002/psp.613
Related URLs :
Additional Information : This is the accepted version of the following article: Waters J, Brooks R. 'Vive la différence?': The 'international' experiences of UK students overseas. Population, Space and Place 17(5):567-578, which has been published in final form at
Depositing User : Symplectic Elements
Date Deposited : 28 May 2014 14:05
Last Modified : 09 Jun 2014 13:31

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