Immobility in mobility during Covid-19

Reflections on ‘being stuck’ in the home country of an international doctoral student




international doctoral education, mobility, immobility, sensemaking, digital mobility


While international education has long been characterised by mobility, the Covid-19 pandemic has shifted our attention to immobility as thousands of international students have experienced immobility in various ways, one of which is being stuck in their home countries.  This paper records how such immobility entailed the feeling of confusion and detachment in an international doctoral student and her efforts to overcome physical immobility by making use of digital mobility. Through the sensemaking framework, this paper not only illuminates the consequences of disrupted mobility on an international doctoral student’s academic learning and sense of belonging but also highlights the student’ agency, which then offers a research area that may yield interesting insights in this unprecedented time of uncertainty.

Author Biography

Anh Phan, University of Auckland

Anh Ngoc Quynh Phan is currently a PhD student at The University of Auckland, New Zealand. Her major research interests focus inter alia on transnationalism, migration, mobility, diaspora, identity, doctoral education, teacher education, and researcher development. Anh is familiar with various qualitative methodologies, such as narrative inquiry, critical autoethnography, collaborative autoethnography, and poetic inquiry.


Arnold, K. D., Lu, E. C., & Armstrong, K. J. (2012). The ecology of college readiness. ASHE Higher Education Report, 38(5), 1–138. DOI:

Astin, A. W. (1984). Student involvement: A developmental theory for higher education. Journal of College Student Personnel, 25(4), 297–308.

Bilecen, B. (2013). Negotiating differences: cosmopolitan experiences of international doctoral students. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 43(5), 667-688. DOI:

Bilecen, B. (2020). Commentary: COVID‐19 Pandemic and Higher Education: International Mobility and Students’ Social Protection. International Migration, 58(4), 263-266. DOI:

Bissell, D. (2021). A changing sense of place: Geography and COVID-19. Geographical Research. DOI:

Bolumole, M. (2020). Student life in the age of COVID-19. Higher Education Research & Development, 39(7), 1357-1361. DOI:

Bronfenbrenner, U. (1994). Ecological models of human development. In T. Husen, & T. N. Postlethwaite (Eds.), International encyclopedia of education (2nd ed., Vol. 3, pp. 1643–1647). Pergamon Press/Elsevier Science.

Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The Social Construction of Reality. Doubleday, Garden City, NY.

Cairns, D., França, T., Calvo, D. M., & de Azevedo, L. F. (2021). Immobility, precarity and the Covid-19 pandemic: the impact of lockdown on international students in Portugal. Journal of Youth Studies, 1-15. DOI:

Cao, Q. T., & Chieu, K. Q. (2021). To Return or Not to Return: A Dilemma of Two Overseas Vietnamese Students in the Netherlands Amidst the Coronavirus Outbreak. Journal of International Students, 11(2), 527-535. DOI:

Degn, L. (2018). Academic sensemaking and behavioural responses – exploring how academics perceive and respond to identity threats in times of turmoil. Studies in Higher Education, 43(2), 305-321. DOI:

Dunn, K. (2010). Embodied transnationalism: Bodies in transnational spaces. Population, Space and Place, 16, 1–9. DOI:

Engeström, Y. (1987). Learning by expanding: An activity-theoretical approach to developmental research. Retrieved October, 2015, from DOI:

Firang, D. (2020). The impact of COVID-19 pandemic on international students in Canada. International Social Work, 63(6), 820– 834. DOI:

Gomes, C. (2015). Negotiating everyday life in Australia: Unpacking the parallel society inhabited by Asian international students through their social networks and entertainment media use. Journal of Youth Studies, 18(4), 515–536. DOI:

Hari, A., Nardon, L., & Zhang, H. (2021). A transnational lens into international student experiences of the COVID-19 pandemic. Global Networks: A Journal of Transnational Affairs, 1–17. DOI:

Ingram, A. (2019). Geopolitics and the event: Rethinking Britain’s Iraq war through art. Oxford: John Wiley & Sons. DOI:

Jazvac-Martek, M. (2008). Emerging academic identities: How Education PhD students experience the Doctorate. Doctoral Dissertation, McGill University, Montréal, Canada.

Jenei, K., Cassidy-Matthews, C., Virk, P., Lulie, B., & Closson, K. (2020). Challenges and opportunities for graduate students in public health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Canadian Journal of Public Health, 111(3), 408–409. 17269/s41997-020-00349-8 DOI:

Le, A. T. (2021). Support for doctoral candidates in Australia during the pandemic: The case of the University of Melbourne. Studies in Higher Education, 46(1), 133-145. DOI:

Mills, J. H., Thurlow, A., & Mills, A. J. (2010). Making Sense of Sensemaking: The Critical Sensemaking Approach. Qualitative Research in Organizations and Management: An International Journal, 5(2), 182–195. DOI:

Neuwirth, L. S., Jovic, S., & Mukherji, B. R. (2020). Reimagining higher education during and post-COVID-19: Challenges and opportunities. Journal of Adult and Continuing Education, 1-16. DOI:

Patton, L. D., Renn, K. A., Guido-DiBrito, F., & Quaye, S. J. (2016). Student development in college: Theory, research, and practice (3rd ed.). Jossey-Bass & Pfeiffer.

Raby, R. L., Ward, R., & Rhoades, G. (2021). Listening to the Voices of Students Who Studied Abroad: Students and Their Agency to Maximize Their Abroad Experiences. Journal of International Students, 11(3), 628-646. DOI:

Redden, E. (March 12 2020). Go home? For some students it’s not easy. Inside Higher Ed. Accessed 5 August 2021 from https:// move-out-many-urge-attention-needs

Schewel, K. (2020). Understanding Immobility: Moving Beyond the Mobility Bias in Migration Studies. International Migration Review, 54(2), 328–355. DOI:

Weick. K. E. (1979). The Social Psychology of Organizing (2nd ed.). Addison-Wesley, Reading.

Weick, K. E., Sutcliffe, K., & D., Obstfeld. (2005). Organizing and the Process of Sensemaking. Organization Science, 16(4), 409–421. DOI:

Zhai, Y., & Du, X. (2020). Mental health care for international Chinese students affected by the COVID-19 outbreak. Correspondence, 7(4), e22. DOI:



How to Cite

Phan, A. (2022). Immobility in mobility during Covid-19: Reflections on ‘being stuck’ in the home country of an international doctoral student. Journal of International Students, 13(1).



Cross-Border Narratives