From Dependence to Independence: Structure, Agency and International Students

Activity: Talk or presentation typesPublic lecture/debate/seminar


Research on the experience of international students often suffers from conflation, in that it uses culture (or nationality as a proxy for culture) as a categorising agent, thereby granting causal powers to cultural differences, and contributing to a deficit model of international students. In this paper, I will argue that, while culture and structure both provide new sets of constraints and opportunities for international students, participants are active agents in shaping their own experiences, as they think, reflect and act in response to their situational context. Drawing on Margaret Archer’s concept of reflexivity, this paper demonstrates that participants in the international student experience confront a situational context marked by a lack of a sympathetic interlocutor (that is, they find themselves on their own). Because individuals are often not immediately able to exercise agency through conversation (thought and talk), they find a need to reflect on their experiences and develop a course of action based on greater autonomy (that is, they become more independent). However, while some students make the transition to independence relatively smoothly, for others, it is not so easy, and some participants may find it difficult to convert thoughts into effective action (or impeded reflexivity). I argue that there are particular features of the international student experience (such as loneliness and boundaries) which tend towards a particular mode of reflexivity. This paper is linked to the conference theme of identity in that it provides empirical evidence of specific generative mechanisms which contribute to the shaping of agency in the international student experience.
Held atBritish Association of Lecturers in English for Academic Purposes, United Kingdom
Degree of RecognitionNational


  • agency
  • international students