Chinese Students’ Resilience in Making Post-Graduation Plans Under the US-China Geopolitical Tensions


  • Xiaojie Li University of Arizona



Chinese international students, post-graduation plans, geopolitics, agency, United States


As the US-China geopolitical tensions escalated, this study sought to investigate how Chinese students respond to the political circumstances when making their post-graduation plans. Drawing from interviews among 15 Chinese international students who graduated from a US university, this study found that most Chinese students did not change their post-graduation plans due to the heightened tensions between the US and China, while they enacted agency to overcome the difficulties imposed by the geopolitical context. This study challenged the deficit view of international student research by indicating that Chinese students could adapt to a set of perspectives, transform these perspectives into actions, and leverage useful resources to protect their career and life aspirations. The study also warned the danger of the continuity of the anti-China political rhetoric and emphasized the role of higher education institutions in buffering the negative political impact and supporting Chinese and all international students.

Author Biography

Xiaojie Li, University of Arizona

Xiaojie Li is a PhD student in the Center for the Study of Higher Education, University of Arizona. Her major research interests lie in international student mobility and experiences, transnational education, and intellectual migration.


Alberts, H. C., & Hazen, H. D. (2005). There are always two voices: International students’ intentions to stay in the United States or return to their home countries. International Migration, 43(3), 131–154. DOI:

Baruch, Y., Budhwar, P. S., & Khatri, N. (2007). Brain drain: Inclination to stay abroad after studies. Journal of World Business, 42(1), 99–112. DOI:

Bozionelos, N., Bozionelos, G., Kostopoulos, K., Shyong, C. H., Baruch, Y., & Zhou, W. (2015). International graduate students’ perceptions and interest in international careers. International Journal of Human Resource Management, 26(11), 1428–1451. DOI:

Castiello-Gutiérrez, S., & Li, X. (2020). We are more than your paycheck: The dehumanization of international students in the United States. Journal of International Students, 10(3). DOI:

Creswell, J. W. (2013). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five approaches (3rd ed.). SAGE Publication.

Falkingham, J., Giulietti, C., Wahba, J., & Wang, C. (2019). The impact of Brexit on international students’ return intentions. In Global Labor Organization Discussion Paper (Vol. 342). DOI:

Findlay, A., Prazeres, L., McCollum, D., & Packwood, H. (2017). “It was always the plan”: International study as “learning to migrate.” Area, 49(2), 192–199. DOI:

Fong, V. L. (2011). Paradise redefined: Transnational Chinese students and the quest for flexible citizenship in the developed world. Stanford University Press. DOI:

Geddie, K. (2010). Transnational landscapes of opportunity? Post¬graduation settlement and career strategies of international students in Toronto, Canada and London, UK [University of Toronto].

Geddie, K. (2013). The transnational ties that bind: Relationship considerations for graduating international science and engineering research students. Population, Space and Place, 19(2), 196–208. DOI:

Gümüş, S., Gök, E., & Esen, M. (2020). A review of research on international student mobility: Science mapping the existing knowledge base. Journal of Studies in International Education, 24(5), 495–517. DOI:

Hazen, H. D., & Alberts, H. C. (2006). Visitors or immigrants? International students in the United States. Population, Space and Place, 12(3), 201–216. DOI:

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:

Institute of International Education. (2021). A rising for ebbing tide: Do Chinese students students still want to study in the U.S.?

Jones, E. (2017). Problematising and reimagining the notion of ‘international student experience.’ Studies in Higher Education, 42(5), 933–943. DOI:

Kaul, V., & Renzulli, L. (2022). Duality of persistence: Academic enclaves and international students’ aspirations to stay in the United States. Journal of International Students, 12(2), 467–488. DOI:

Kellogg, R. P. (2012). China’s brain gain?: Attitudes and future plans of overseas Chinese students in the US. Journal of Chinese Overseas, 8(1), 83–104. DOI:

Kim, D., Bankart, C. A. S., & Isdell, L. (2011). International doctorates: Trends analysis on their decision to stay in US. Higher Education, 62(2), 141–161. DOI:

Lee, J. (2021). A future of endless possibilities? Institutional habitus and international students ’ post-study aspirations and transitions transitions. British Journal of Sociology of Education. DOI:

Lee, J. J., & Li, X. (2021). Racial profiling among scientists of Chinese descent and consequences for the U.S. scientific community.

Lee, J. J., & Rice, C. (2007). Welcome to America? International student perceptions of discrimination. Higher Education, 53(3), 381–409. DOI:

Ma, Y. (2020). Ambitious and anxious: How Chinese college students succeed and struggle in American higher education. Columbia University Press. DOI:

National Science Board. (2020). The state of U.S. science and engineering.

Nilsson, P. A., & Ripmeester, N. (2016). International student expectations: Career opportunities and employability. Journal of International Students, 6(2), 614–631. DOI:

O’Meara, K., Eliason, J., Cowdery, K., Jaeger, A., Grantham, A., Mitchall, A., & Zhang, K. (2014). By design: How departments influence graduate student agency in career advancement. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 9, 155–179. DOI:

Pew Research Center. (2021). Most Americans support tough stance toward China on human rights, economic issues.

Robertson, S., Hoare, L., & Harwood, A. (2011). Returnees, student-migrants and second chance learners: Case studies of positional and transformative outcomes of Australian international education. Compare, 41(5), 685–698. DOI:

Rose-Redwood, C., & Rose-Redwood, R. (2017). Rethinking the politics of the international student experience in the age of Trump. Journal of International Students, 7(3), I–IX. DOI:

Saldana, J. (2016). The coding manual for qualitative researchers (3rd ed.). SAGE Publications Inc.

Szelényi, K. (2006). Migratory decision-making among international graduate students in the U.S. Knowledge, Technology, & Policy, 19(3), 64–86. DOI:

Todoran, C., & Peterson, C. (2019). Should they stay or should they go? How the 2017 U.S. travel ban affects international doctoral students. Journal of Studies in International Education, 24(4), 440–455. DOI:

Tran, L. T., Rahimi, M., Tan, G., Dang, X. T., & Le, N. (2020). Post-study work for international graduates in Australia: opportunity to enhance employability, get a return on investment or secure migration? Globalisation, Societies and Education, 18(5), 495–510. DOI:

Tran, L. T., & Vu, T. T. P. (2018). ‘Agency in mobility’: towards a conceptualisation of international student agency in transnational mobility. Educational Review, 70(2), 167–187. DOI:

Yao, C. W. (2018). “They don’t care about you”: First-year Chinese international students’ experiences with neo-racism and othering on a U.S. Campus. Journal of The First-Year Experience & Students in Transition, 30(1), 87–101.




How to Cite

Li, X. (2022). Chinese Students’ Resilience in Making Post-Graduation Plans Under the US-China Geopolitical Tensions. Journal of International Students, 13(2), 189–205.

Most read articles by the same author(s)