Re-imagining ‘interaction’ and ‘integration’: Reflections on a university social group for i

Vivienne Anderson

Abstract: International education research has long been preoccupied with the question of how to foster interaction between
international and local students. ‘Integration’ is imagined as a desirable endpoint of interaction, where international students become part of the broader social network and local students are accepting of and open to international students. However international-ness and local-ness are problematic categories. Numerous commonalities and differences are subsumed within them, and by considering ‘interaction’ and ‘integration’ only in international-local terms we may mask other kinds of interaction and integration that occur.
This paper discusses the complexities of developing a social group for women who were international and local students and partners of international students in higher education. The group was part of a broader doctoral research project and was initially aimed at fostering interaction between international and local women. However, throughout the two years of the project, multiple differences were constantly at play alongside moments of surprising commonality.
Women described the group as both a ‘safe house’ and a ‘contact zone’ (Pratt, 2002); on occasions an uneasy space, while also a source of connection, support, information, explanation, and learning. After considering how the women’s reflections troubled the initial project aims, the paper highlights three key implications of the project for international education   practitioners. These include the importance of (1) recognising interaction in international education as occurring multi-directionally, not only between so-called international and local students; (2) fostering, looking for, and affirming moments of understanding, rather than focussing on integration as an endpoint; and (3) recognising differences and similarities between students as complex and unexpected, not predictable or frozen.

Key Words: International education, Women, Interaction, Integration, Social groups, Contact zones

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