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Maintaining and Sustaining a South Asian American/South Asian International Student Identity Model

Tue, April 16, 1:30 to 3:00pm, Hyatt Regency, Floor: Bay (Level 1), Bayview B


The central question of identity focuses on the universal questions of Who am I? and What will I be? (Jones & Abes, 2013). Individuals ponder these questions throughout life, but they become especially central during the college years. The (re)construction of identity development plays an integral role in shaping the overall development of college students (Kim, 2012a, p.100).

Within the identity development literature, however, there is very little about international students or South Asian students. This study aims to understand South Asian American and South Asian international undergraduate students’ multiple dimensions of identity at a historically/predominantly white American institution. Both groups will be included in order to explore whether/how South Asian identities vary over continents. Although they are the same race/ethnicity, each population has a unique history and experiences (Ibrahim, Ohnishi, & Sandhu, 1997) that may present varying influences on their identity development. This study will use the Model of Multiple Dimensions of Identity (MMDI) to examine the identity development of traditional age (18-24-year-old) undergraduate South Asian American and South Asian international students.

Internationalization is taking an increasingly central role in higher education (de Wit, 2017), with international students comprising 5.3% of the total US enrollment and the majority being from countries in Asia (IIE, 2017). According to the Institute of International Education (2017), three South Asian countries - India, Nepal, and Bangladesh - made the list of top 25 origins of international students in the US, comprising 19.1% of the total international students in the United States (IIE, 2017). International students face many added challenges including learning to navigate racial and ethnic conflicts as they manifest in the American socio-historical context (Kim, 2012a). Therefore, many international students reexamine their identity after moving to the United States (Jones & McEwen, 2000). Although research highlights many of these concerns, the identity development of international students is not included in many college student identity theories.

Research question: How do undergraduate South Asian American and South Asian international students negotiate their identities?
The sub-questions are:
• How do these two groups of students relate to and define their multiple identities as they understood them prior to coming to college?
• How do these two groups of students relate to and define their multiple identities during college?

To address these questions, the study will deploy life story methodologies consisting of in-depth, semi-structured, interviews with 10-14 students (half domestic and half international) focused on students’ experiences of identity development. Life story interviews foster an unfolding of the self and help participants gain an understanding of their experiences and the meaning they bring to their lives. The life story narrative highlights the most important influences, experiences, and lessons in a person’s life, which reveals people’s identity. I will then look for thematic categories (Riessman, 2008) within each life story, comparing their identity before coming to college and during college, as well as across individual life stories. I will also look for similarities, differences, and interactions between the institutionally defined groups of international and domestic South Asian students.


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