International Education Equity for Doctoral Students: Duoethnographic Reflections from China and Cameroon

Research Highlighted:

Hou, M., & Jam, A. (2020). International Education Equity for Doctoral Students: Duoethnographic Reflections from China and Cameroon. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 15, 759-786.

Ms Minghui Hou, Old Dominion University, USA

Background and Research Questions

Over the past ten years, research on international student experiences has increased (Ammigan, 2019; Gautam et al., 2016; Kaya, 2020; Khanal & Gaulee, 2019; Rivas et al., 2019; L. Yan & Pei, 2018). Many studies have addressed the need for education equity in terms of gender, age, and socioeconomic status (Atuahene & Owusu-Ansah, 2013; David, 2012); however, few studies have related to international education equity (Tannock, 2018). While an overwhelming majority of these studies have focused on doctoral students, few have explored the internationalization of the curriculum for international doctoral students in the geopolitical context in the United States (Leask, 2015). In highlighting the current geopolitical context, such barriers include visa limitations, international students’ alienation and loneliness, discrimination and stereotypes (Pottie-Sherman, 2018), limitations in administrative, faculty, community cultural competence and financial concern (Zhu & Reeves, 2019). In review of the gaps presented, there is a critical need to explore the complex tensions of international education equity for students as it relates to the internationalization of the curriculum in doctoral programs in the United States. We address the following research questions: How do international students describe international education equity in their experiences as international doctoral students in the United States? How do international students articulate the factors to be considered for curriculum internationalization equitably?

Conceptual Framework and Research Methods

For the study, formal and informal curriculum is included in a variety of contexts, particularly in institutional and local contexts. In this study, Leask’s framework (2009) is combined with the literature on international education equity to fill the current literature gap. We postulated that involving interplay between the formal and informal curriculum in the internationalization of the curriculum is essential to achieve international education equity. In addition to the formal and informal curriculum, “resources; respect and recognition; love, care, and solidarity; power; and working and learning” (Lynch & Baker, 2005, p. 132) need to be provided to international students. Domestic and international students should have the same opportunities and resources. However, at the same time, extra resources should be provided to individuals who are “educationally disadvantaged by their social background” (Tannock, 2018, p. 17). International students have more difficulties in academic and social adjustment than domestic students (Andrade, 2006). They have suffered more severe emotional stress, fear, uncertainty, and racial discrimination in this unstable world (Rose-Redwood & Rose-Redwood, 2017).

Being born in curriculum theory, a duoethnography method is an appropriate fit for this study because it provides various topics across disciplines and forms of practices—curriculum of practice. The dialogue research of this method creates an informal curriculum or currere, which considers one’s life history to act and give meaning to actions and explore how the life history of individuals impacts “the meanings they give to those experiences by employing multiple voices in dialogue” (Sawyer & Norris, 2015, p. 2). International students tend to be considered as cash cows, objects, and intellectually unequal (Cantwell, 2019; Hayes, 2019). As a result, international doctoral students have been experiencing challenges based on cultural differences, limitations on sociocultural connections, language barriers, etc. (Xu & Grant, 2017; Xu & Hu, 2019). The utilization of a duoethographic method allows us, as international doctoral students, to explore four tenets— “its polyvocal/dialogic nature, the examination of life history as curriculum, the intent not to profess but rather to learn and change as the result of the conversation, and the importance of learning from difference” (Sawyer & Norris, 2015, p. 2). Overall, this process also allows us to examine our lived experiences and histories for the discourses that have shaped our views, perspectives, thoughts, and interactions (Sawyer & Norris, 2015).


We defined international education equity through our dialogues and emerging themes. The outline of the meaning of international education equity was described with three dimensions and emphasis: authentic inclusion, differentiated teaching strategies and assessments, and individualized resources including but not limited to financial resources and intercultural resources. Four prominent themes were identified related to international education equity for international doctoral students: (1) academic support (formal curriculum) related to teaching and learning strategies, language support, and mentorship; (2) financial support (informal curriculum) related to university funding and employment opportunities; (3) administrative support (formal curriculum) related to staff/faculty/community training on intercultural competence and training related to complexities of visa status for international doctoral students; and (4) community support (informal curriculum) in the context of geopolitical tensions due to unequal and stereotyped treatment, discrimination, exploitation, xenophobia, and maskphobia. Despite such encounters, the findings revealed that some faculty and staff are willing to support international students without knowing how to support them. As international students, we both shared the same needs to support our formal and informal experiences. For instance, we both needed financial support and mentorship. However, we also shared some nuances concerning academic support. Zhen, as a non-native English speaker, needed support on articulating and writing skills, whereas Victoria needed support on public speaking skills because English was already her primary language in Cameroon.

Author Bio

Minghui Hou is a second-year PhD student in higher education program from Old Dominion University, the United States. She is passionate about working with international students to build a welcoming and supportive learning environment. Her research interests are international education equity, internationalization of the curriculum, geopolitical tensions, neoracism, etc. She can be contacted via email:

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: