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It's more than a piece of paper: Chinese students' experience of learning in Australia

Zhang, Qinjuan Jane (2005). It's more than a piece of paper: Chinese students' experience of learning in Australia. PhD Thesis, Charles Darwin University.

Document type: Thesis
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Author Zhang, Qinjuan Jane
Title It's more than a piece of paper: Chinese students' experience of learning in Australia
Institution Charles Darwin University
Publication Date 2005
Thesis Type PhD
Subjects 1399 - Other Education
Abstract More and more Chinese adults are seeking study opportunities in other countries nowadays as a result of frequent interaction among countries and the globalisation of the world economy. Since the early 1980s, thousands of Chinese adult learners have come to Australia for personal and professional development. When they enter into a new country, their fist language and culture, which is in dominant position in their home country, becomes the minority language and culture in their host country. How do they adjust themselves to fit into the new learning situation and what changes they make in themselves while living and studying in the host country? By using a naturalistic and ethnographic approach this study explored the learning process experienced by a group of Chinese students who were obtaining higher qualifications in Northern Australia which is dominated by a language and culture foreign to them. This study involves a group of nine Chinese students from mainland China who undertook post graduate studies at a university in Northern Australia. It is a search for an understanding of the processes and actions that some Chinese students underwent in a foreign environment where their first language and culture became subordinate. This study explores the informants’ experience of learning to cope, survive and develop within a new cultural environment with a focus on their academic processes by examining their approaches to study and learning in a second language within the culture of the second language. It also examines the inner world of the informants in how they reacted to conflict caused by cultural difference and how they made sense of their new experience in Australia. The examination of those students’ learning processes in the Australian context demonstrated three major stages of their learning, namely, arriving, surviving and transforming. What stands out in the study is that those students’ learning as creating meaning and achieving personal knowing in the new learning context has displayed a close connection between critical reflection and situated learning and self-directed learning. This research has shown the reasons why Chinese students behaved as they were observed in a foreign context and theorized a particular domain that adult learning occurred. Based on the outcomes of the study, the thesis highlighted three issues relating to adult learning: 1. Informal learning is at the central stage of adult learning in cross-cultural contexts. 2. Critical self-reflection plays a significant role in situated learning. 3. Adult learning process in cross-cultural contexts is one of developing self-directed learning skills. The research identifies the important characteristics and issues related to adult learning in cross-cultural contexts. Moreover, it reveals the significant role of informal learning of the informants which is largely overlooked by other research on Chinese students, and the importance of critical reflection in situated learning and self-directed learning processes which has had little discussion in the literature. This study provides unique information that has a personal touch and that is not available in other research reports on Chinese students in Australia. The outcomes of this research will help researchers in social science and teachers of international students to understand Chinese students better. This research will also be helpful to those researchers who want to further study on Chinese learners.


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