Negotiating exclusion in a digital age: Everyday social media practices among Chinese student-migrants in Australia

Xinyu Zhao1

1 School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria 3125, Australia

This paper proposes to scrutinise the changing nature of international students’ experiences of social exclusion in Australia in the context of their increasing daily use of social media. Specifically, it firstly engages with the empirical literature on international students’ lived experiences of social exclusion in Australia and points to the literature’s excessive focus on the “problems” and “challenges” and its limited attention to the agency of international students themselves. This paper goes on to review the complexities of the concepts of “social exclusion” and “social inclusion” which remain implicit in these studies. In addition, an analysis of studies on international students’ diversified use of social media suggests how the students’ struggles with social exclusion can be entangled with their everyday social media practices. This paper, therefore, argues for a closer examination of the complex ways international students integrate social media into their everyday lives and the subsequent impacts on their experiences of social exclusion and inclusion in different aspects of life. This renewed focus helps us better conceptualise the lived experiences of international students in a digitised world. Methodologically, digital ethnographic methods are discussed to seek a holistic and nuanced understanding of the interactions between international students’ everyday social media practices and their experiences and negotiations of social exclusion.


Keywords: digital ethnography; everyday life; international students; social exclusion; social inclusion; social media practices

Expectations and challenges of returning Saudi International student

Naif Daifullah Z Alsulami1

1 Umm Al-Qura University, Mecca, Saudi Arabia & Monash University. Melbourne, Australia

This paper is part of a doctoral study seeking to gain an in-depth understanding of how returning Saudi international students experience their re-entry to Saudi Arabia and why they have such experiences. The doctoral study aimed at knowing the impact of overseas studies programs on the lives of returning Saudis and identifying if the huge investment into education via a scholarship program (King Abdul Abdullah Scholarship Program) has brought positive impacts on the lives of returning Saudis. The literature review related to this doctoral study revealed that although many studies have focused on the adjustment issues experienced by Saudi international students in the host culture, the re-adjustment issues experienced after returning home have been under-researched. The participants of this qualitative study were 13 male and 8 female Saudis who spent about one to six years living in some English speaking countries such as the U.S., the U.K. and Australia, undertaking postgraduate studies. Preliminary findings from the interviews with the participants show that student expectations play a crucial role in the re-entry transition. None of the students had anticipated a need to re-adjust to their home culture, and friends and family had also assumed a smooth homecoming. Consequently, the returning students experienced unexpected challenges without much support from their home culture. These challenges included personal, cultural, educational, social and professional difficulties, as well as problems with their children. The gap between expectations and reality was a source of frustration for some participants, making re-adapting to their home country more difficult.


Niaf Daifullah Z Alsulami has a Master of Education specialising in international education from Monash University in 2014. He has started his PhD candidature from 2014 at Monash. Between 2010 -2012 he worked at Umm Al-Qura University in Mecca as a teaching assistant and researcher. Naif is an experienced teacher and researcher. He has experience as a qualitative researcher.

Using focused ethnography to understand brokering practices among international students

Sherrie Lee1

1 University of Waikato, Faculty of Education, Private Bag 3105, Hamilton 3240, New Zealand

The academic challenges of international students, particularly those with English as an additional language (EAL), have been mostly researched in the context of the formal curriculum (e.g. classroom communication styles, reading and writing skills). These challenges include inadequate English proficiency and differing educational expectations (Johnson 2008; Lee, Farruggia and Brown 2013), and being isolated from the host community (Sawir et al. 2008; Ward and Masgoret 2004). However, little is understood about students’ informal academic learning outside the prescribed curriculum, in particular, their brokering practices. Brokering practices are help-seeking interactions that bridge gaps in the seekers’ knowledge and understanding of new cultural practices thus enabling them to access resources they would find difficult to do so on their own. For EAL students, these help-seeking interactions may involve getting others to translate, interpret or explain particular aspects of the host academic environment. In this research, focused ethnography (Knoblauch 2005) is used to investigate the nature of brokering practices among ten international EAL tertiary students during their initial academic semester of fifteen weeks. Focused ethnography specifically addresses constraints in the research context (e.g. time and access to informants), as well as capitalizes on technological tools such as digital recording devices. In seeking to understand brokering interactions and relationships students have with their brokers, conventional ethnographic methods were adapted, for example, digital ethnographic methods (Pink et al. 2015) were used instead of participant observation. Digital ethnographic methods allows a large amount of data to be recorded and reviewed, a feature of focused ethnography known as data intensity. While this form of intensity has been argued to compensate for a short period of research activity, this research suggests that another form of intensity – relational intensity – is just as important in addressing research constraints. Relational intensity refers to the researcher’s ongoing responsiveness to the needs of research participants. The paper concludes that future focused ethnographic research should consider both data-related and relational forms of intensity in addressing research constraints.


Sherrie Lee is a PhD candidate at the Faculty of Education at the University of Waikato. Her research focuses on academic learning practices of international students using an ethnographic approach. She is also the President of the Postgraduate Students’ Association and a member of the Academic Board at the university. She was formerly a business communications lecturer at a polytechnic in Singapore. She completed her Master of Arts in Teaching (TESOL) at the University of Southern California. In her previous research, she examined the identity of an English learner as influenced by competing discourses and social relationships.

Negotiating exclusion in a digital age: Everyday social media practices among Chinese student-migrants in Australia

Xinyu Zhao1

1 School of Humanities and Social Sciences, Deakin University, Burwood, Victoria 3125,

This research examines the intersection of social media practices and everyday experiences of social exclusion and inclusion in Australia. Specifically, it interrogates how the Chinese student-migrants in Australia, as a particular group of “temporary” migrants, adjust, negotiate and challenge their experiences of exclusion through the use of social media in their daily lives. Recent scholarship on the connections between emerging information and communication technologies (ICTs) and social exclusion problematizes the often over-optimistic conclusions that foresee a future of social inclusion through access to technology; instead, it argues for the varied ways people use these new technologies and the contingent social implications they generate. This research, therefore, focuses on the complex ways Chinese student-migrants integrate social media into their everyday lives in Australia and the subsequent impacts on their experiences of social exclusion and inclusion in different aspects of life.

Theoretically, the study adopts a practice-based approach towards social media, which places specific focus on people’s actual “online doings”. It calls for a contextualization of social media practices through the everyday experiences of social exclusion and inclusion and for a further exploration of the social implications of these practices on daily life. Methodologically, digital ethnographic methods, including online participant observation, photography and in-depth interviews, are adopted to seek a holistic and nuanced understanding of the role of social media in the Chinese student-migrants’ lived experiences in Australia.

Keywords: Chinese student-migrants, social media, social exclusion, social inclusion, practice, everyday life, digital ethnography


Xinyu Zhao is a PhD student at Deakin University. His research interest lies in the intersection of transnational student migration, social ex/inclusion and new media. Educated in China, Xinyu received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Renmin University of China where he was a member of the Australian Studies Centre for three years during which he organised and participated in events promoting Australian literacy in China and enhancing China-Australia relations. He was a participant and Foundation for Australian Studies Fellow at the 2014 Australia China Youth Dialogue. He is now Partnerships Director at the Australian Federation of International Students.