“Creating a Home away from Home”: Chinese Undergraduate Student Enclaves in US Higher Education

Yajing Chen, Heidi Ross


This paper draws on the theory of ethnic enclaves to study Chinese international student communities and their role in constructing Chinese undergraduate student experiences on US campuses. Enclave theory has primarily been used by sociologists to study immigrant and diaspora populations, but it can also provide an important analytical tool for scholars examining the internationalisation of student populations in higher-education settings. Student interviews and participant observation at a representative research-intensive, doctoral-granting institution in the American Midwest indicate that institutional and media characterisations of Chinese international student communities as closed and segregated are far too simplistic. Chinese student enclaves provide their members with crucial information, support, and social spaces that help them adapt to – and in turn change – their host institutions. Chinese students are active participants in and creators of campus cultures that are often invisible to university administrators, faculty, and peers.

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