Student Return Migration from A Processual and Relational Perspective: Analyzing the Returning Experience and Adaptation of Chinese Students in South China

Project: Research project

Project Details


Although China has been the largest sending country of international students, the number of Chinese students with overseas credentials returning to China after graduation is increasing in the past decades. Between 1978 and 2018, the total number of Chinese returnees with overseas education and training experiences was 5.85 million and 84.46% of Chinese students and professionals decided to return to China after completing their studies. While the Chinese government started to reach out overseas Chinese talents in the 1970s, the massive return migration of Chinese students is more driven by economic development in the post-reform period, the Chinese government’s efforts in attracting overseas talent back and the changed socio-economic contexts of the host societies of migrant students. Despite “Hai Gui” (Chinese professionals and student returnees) is debated in mass media and among the public, the academic exploration of return migration of Chinese students is still under-developed. While previous research on return migration focused on the return of temporary migrant labor and the retirement of first-generation immigrants, examined their return from the economic perspective, and interpreted it as the end of their migratory journeys, recent studies redefined return migration as a part of the migration process, paid more attention to the return of young migrants and investigated it from economic, social, cultural, emotional and subjective dimensions. In the case of student return migration, both research on international students and studies on Chinese students concentrated on their motives of return and their job-hunting experience before/after return. Relatively less attention has been paid to their post-return working and life experiences and their subjective interpretations of their return process. Although various problems encountered by student returnees in their job-hunting and return lives are identified, how they deal with these problems via their agency and diversified strategies are not discussed. Moreover, students’ social ties with friends and emotional connections and loyalty to their families are important factors pulling them back, yet their interpersonal relationships with their family members and friends in their post-return lives are ignored. To fill the gaps, the proposed project will investigate the return of Chinese students from a relational and processual perspective. Qualitative data will be obtained through in-depth interviewing and field observation in Shenzhen, a megacity in South China and a new destination which absorbs an increasing number of student returnees. A total number of 100 returnees with overseas education and aged between 23 and 33 will be interviewed. Forty-hour field observation will be conducted to provide data on the social context of informants and their daily activities. The project aims to enrich the theoretical and empirical discussions of student return migration by examining: 1) how student returnees negotiate their return and adapt to their new work and lives after return; 2) their agency and tactics in dealing with various problems in their work and lives; 3) how they redefine their relationships with family members and friends and how these relationships shape their returning and adaptation process; 4) how student returnees generate subjective interpretations or meanings of their return migration.

Effective start/end date29/06/2128/06/24


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