Theoretical Perspectives on International Student Identity


  • Vander Tavares York University



agency, higher education, identity, international student, language


Interest in international student identity has grown considerably over the last few years. In the context of international education, the emphasis on identity and the individual student may also be seen as an emerging response to the tendency of discussing international students and their identity-related experiences in homogenising ways. While there is considerable discussion about how international students’ sense of self is affected by cultural differences in higher education, a theory of identity is not always in place. The purpose of this paper is to bring together three theoretical perspectives on identity that are designed to account for specific cultural, social, and linguistic influences on identity construction. These perspectives are examined with examples from data-based case studies. This paper identifies the unique affordances of each perspective while also highlighting their mutual role in challenging broad discourses that have unfavourably defined international student identity.


Download data is not yet available.


Abdelal, R., Herrera, Y. M., Johnston, A. I., & McDermott, R. (2006). Identity as a variable. Perspectives on Politics, 4(4), 695-711.

Block, D. (2013). Issues in language and identity research in applied linguistics. ELIA: Estudios de Lingüística Inglesa Aplicada, (13), 11-46.

Campbell, C. G. (2017). Navigating my Blackness: An Afro-Caribbean international student experience. The Vermont Connection, 38(1), 42-50.

Canadian Bureau of International Education. (2020). International students in Canada continue to grow in 2019. Retrieved from

Chapdelaine, R. F., & Alexitch, L. R. (2004). Social skills difficulty: Model of culture shock for international graduate students. Journal of College Student Development, 45(2), 167-184. DOI:

Charles-Toussaint, G. C., & Crowson, H. M. (2010). Prejudice against international students: The role of threat perceptions and authoritarian dispositions in US students. The Journal of Psychology, 144(5), 413-428.

Choi, J. Y. (2015). Reasons for silence: A case study of two Korean students at a US graduate school. TESOL Journal, 6(3), 579-596.

Creswell, J. W., & Poth, C. N. (2016). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches. Sage Publications.

Duff, P. (2012). Issues of identity. In S. Gass & A. Mackey (Eds.), The Routledge handbook of second language acquisition (pp. 410-426). Routledge.

Gargano, T. (2012). Grounded identities, transient lives: The emergence of international student voices in an era of cosmopolitan learning. Journal of International Students, 2(2), 144- 156.

Gee, J. P. (1999). Introduction to discourse analysis. Routledge.

Gerring, J. (2007). Case study research: principles and practices. Cambridge University Press.

Gbrich, C. (2007). Qualitative data analysis: An introduction. Sage Publications.

Hamboyan, H., & Bryan, A. K. (1995). International students. Culture shock can affect the health of students from abroad. Canadian Family Physician, 41, 1713-1716.

Han, S. (2011). The fragmentation of identity: Post-structuralist and post-modern theories. In A. Elliot (Ed.), Handbook of Identity Studies (pp. 83-99). Routledge.

Haugh, M. (2008). The discursive negotiation of international student identities. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 29(2), 207-222. DOI: 10.1080/01596300801966849

Heng, T. T. (2018). Different is not deficient: Contradicting stereotypes of Chinese international students in US higher education. Studies in Higher Education, 43(1), 22-36. doi: 10.1080/03075079.2016.1152466

Hogg, M. A., Terry, D. J., & White, K. M. (1995). A tale of two theories: A critical comparison of identity theory with social identity theory. Social Psychology Quarterly, 58(4), 255-269.

Hornsey, M. J. (2008). Social identity theory and self‐categorization theory: A historical review. Social and Personality Psychology Compass, 2(1), 204-222.

Jackson, J. (2002). Reticence in second language case discussions: Anxiety and aspirations. System, 30, 65–84. doi:10.1016/S0346-251X(01)00051-3

Koehne, N. (2005). (Re)construction: Ways international students talk about their identity. Australian Journal of Education, 49(1), 104-119.

Lee, G. (2009). Speaking up: Six Korean students’ oral participation in class discussions in US graduate seminars. English for Specific Purposes, 28(3), 142-156.

Lee, J. J., & Rice, C. (2007). Welcome to America? International student perceptions of discrimination. Higher Education, 53(3), 381-409. doi: 10.1007/s10734-005-4508-3

Lewthwaite, M. (1996). A study of international students' perspectives on cross-cultural adaptation. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 19(2), 167-185.

Li, Y. (2004). Learning to live and study in Canada: Stories of four EFL learners from China. TESL Canada Journal, 22(2), 25-43.

Malcolm, Z. T., & Mendoza, P. (2014). Afro-Caribbean international students' ethnic identity development: Fluidity, intersectionality, agency, and performativity. Journal of College Student Development, 55(6), 595-614.

Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (1991). Culture and the self: Implications for cognition, emotion, and motivation. Psychological Review, 98(2), 224.

Markus, H. R., & Kitayama, S. (2003). Culture, self, and the reality of the social. Psychological Inquiry, 14(3-4), 277-283. doi: 10.1080/1047840X.2003.9682893

Marshall, S. (2009). Re-becoming ESL: Multilingual university students and a deficit identity. Language and Education, 24(1), 41-56.

Pavlenko, A., & Blackledge, A. (Eds.). (2004). Negotiation of identities in multilingual contexts. Multilingual Matters.

Popadiuk, N., & Arthur, N. (2004). Counseling international students in Canadian schools. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling, 26(2), 125-145.

Richards, K. (2009). Interviews. In J. Heigham & R. Croker (Eds.), Qualitative research in applied linguistics: A practical introduction (pp. 182-199). Palgrave MacMillan.

Ryan, J. (2011). Teaching and learning for international students: Towards a transcultural approach. Teachers and Teaching, 17(6), 631-648.

Ryan, J., & Carroll, J. (2007). ‘Canaries in the coalmine’: International students in Western universities. In J. Ryan & J. Carroll (Eds.), Teaching international students (pp. 3-10). Routledge.

Sawir, E., Marginson, S., Deumert, A., Nyland, C., & Ramia, G. (2008). Loneliness and international students: An Australian study. Journal of Studies in International Education, 12(2), 148-180. doi: 10.1177/1028315307299699

Shapiro, S. (2014). "Words that you said got bigger": English language learners' lived experiences of deficit discourse. Research in the Teaching of English, 48(4), 386.

Skyrme, G. (2007). Entering the university: The differentiated experience of two Chinese international students in a New Zealand university. Studies in Higher Education, 32(3), 357372. DOI: 10.1080/03075070701346915

Tatar, S. (2005). Classroom participation by international students: The case of Turkish graduate students. Journal of Studies in International Education, 9(4), 337-355.

Tavares, V. (2016). The role of peer interaction and second language learning for ESL students in academic contexts: An extended literature review [Unpublished master’s thesis]. York University.

Tavares, V. (2019). A review of peer interaction and second language learning for ELL students in academic contexts. Canadian Journal for New Scholars in Education/Revue Canadienne des Jeunes Chercheures et Chercheurs en Éducation, 10(2), 113-121.

Tavares, V. (2020). International students in higher education: Language, identity and experience from a holistic perspective [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. York University.

Tian, M., & Lowe, J. (2009). Existentialist internationalisation and the Chinese student experience in English universities. Compare, 39(5), 659-676. DOI: 10.1080/03057920903125693

Triandis, H. C. (2018). Individualism and collectivism. Routledge.

Turner, J. C. (1985). Social categorization and the self-concept: A social cognitive theory of group behaviour. In E. J. Lawler (Ed.), Advances in Group Processes: Theory and Research (2nd volume) (pp.77-122). JAI.

Wang, Y. (2012). Transformations of Chinese international students understood through a sense of wholeness. Teaching in Higher Education, 17(4), 359-370.

Wang, H. (2020). Stereotyped English language use and identity in Asian teaching assistants: A poststructuralist perspective. RELC Journal, 51(2), 294-308. DOI: 10.177/0033688218815703

Xing, D., & Bolden, B. (2020). Learning at half capacity: The academic acculturation reality experienced by Chinese international students. In V. Tavares (Ed.), Multidisciplinary perspectives on international student experience in Canadian higher education (pp. 41-61). IGI Global.

Yin, R. K. (2017). Case study research and applications: Design and methods. Sage Publications.

Yoon, H. J. (2013). Challenging the “non-native English speaker" identity in US higher education: A case of international graduate students. Working Papers in Educational Linguistics (WPEL), 28(2), 55-75.

Zhang, Z. (2011). A nested model of academic writing approaches: Chinese international graduate students’ views of English academic writing. Language and Literacy, 13(1), 39-59.



2021-05-05 — Updated on 2021-06-08

How to Cite

Tavares, V. (2021). Theoretical Perspectives on International Student Identity. Journal of Comparative &Amp; International Higher Education, 13(2), 83–97.



Research Article