Wandering at a Crossroad: An Exploration of Gendered Mobility Aspirations in the Study-to-work Transition of Chinese Graduates at Dutch Universities

Yanbo Hao

Yanbo Hao, Utrecht University, the Netherlands 


This Master’s thesis (supervised by Dr Maggi Leung) unpacks how gender impacts on mobility aspirations of Chinese international graduates in the Netherlands. The value of a gender lens in immigration study is increasingly highlighted nowadays, but gender analysis is infrequently applied to research on international student mobility. Drawing on Risman’s ‘three-level’ framework of gender analysis (2004) and Findlay and his colleagues’ (2012) argument that the post-study status transition should be understood within the life course, this paper analyses gender intertwining with post-graduation mobility at individual, inter-relational and international level. Through an online survey, semi-structured in-depth interviews followed by the method ‘story completion’ with Chinese international graduates and some parents, the findings underline how gender identities shape the personal goals of mobility, how gender roles in a relationship and international settings confine or facilitate mobility desires and how these gender effects are intersected. This research also stresses how gender-role ideologies are diverse and dynamic in one’s life course. Therefore, beyond taking the transition as a career start, Chinese international students also attach gendered meanings and responsibilities to post-education mobility, considering social roles they are engaging or will engage in. This research conduces to depicting unequal gender patterns in international students’ after-study mobility trajectories.


Individual factors: Gendered Expectations and Personalities

Individual factors refer to the construction of gender selves and subjectivities that drives students’ mobility trajectories. The survey data show a relatively similar big picture which prioritises career-related factors and takes the least notice to political effects is followed by most respondents regardless of gender. Yet it is still visible that Chinese male and female students hold different gendered selves while making mobility plans. Male students rank averagely higher than female counterparts on career prospects and special national preferential policies usually attracting skilled graduates with economic incentives (Harvey, 2015). By contrast, female graduates assess this mobility decision by more than the quality of career, also the conditions of future residence. They spotlight more, than men, on life-work balance, living comfort, family duties and natural environment.

With the gendered motivations as the first step, the discrepant capabilities of multiple locations and labour markets to satisfy students’ aspirations are thus decisive to the mobility decisions of skilled Chinese graduates. In the Dutch-Chinese context, females remaining in the Netherlands are attracted by more reachable stability of jobs in the Dutch labour market. Male returnees catalyse their return for catching up on ‘guanxi’ (social connections benefiting to task completion) which is importantly needed as professional skills in Chinese working culture. These coupled features indicate that differences in the construction of gender selves usually exert influences through institutional contexts. Sometimes the institutional contexts require the same from both genders. For instance, employees in China generally experience less job stability and the importance of the social network to career development. However, differences in gender selves differentiate how men and women view the opportunities, interference and restrictions of those contexts and then drive Chinese students to different destinations.

Inter-relational Factors: Relationship, Marriage and Childbirth

International students with a background of communal cultures usually face challenges in making individualised decisions. Chinese students, as a typical example, show great concerns about important others in their own mobility choices. This study finds that gender identities mainly exert inter-relational impacts around intimate relationships, marriage and childbirth.

The concept of ‘linked lives’, indicating that couples negotiate the disagreement on moving aspirations and project moving at a household level, is tested on Chinese graduated couples in the Netherlands. By a unanimous scenario, women tend to follow their male partners’ mobile trajectories. Interestingly, the mobility projects of some couples highlight the influence of perceived ‘most appropriate marriage age’ in Chinese conservative perspectives. Marriage, to those couples, is a crucial juncture in the life course, separating life spans of being mobile and settled. In contrast to the stay-or-return decision which is often described as a one-off movement, they determine to return at ‘the best marriage age’ for taking care of parents and creating a period in-between graduation and marriage. In this period, the couples would exploit the benefits from staying overseas to professional growth and meanwhile pave the way for the later settlement in China.

For single graduates, unwanted stresses of marriage and childbirth from parents and peers are sometimes strategically buffered by remaining abroad. Echoing the ‘zone of suspension’ concept proposed by Martin (2018), continuing overseas life can somehow relieve intergenerational tensions on marriage and create a space for graduates to advance career and encourage romantic relationships taking place in a natural pace and process. In this study, both genders confess the geographical distance help escape the head-on clash with external pressures they think unacceptable caused by their Chinese marriage.

International Factors: Contrasts of gender ideologies and practices in China and the Netherlands

Students’ attitudes are always in a transformation because of exposure to foreign settings. The overseas education motivates students to experience western social rules and thoughts, and then compare them to Chinese social and institutional norms. These dissimilarities in national contexts, including contrasts of gender expectations and prejudices, inspire a continuous adjustment of the study-to-work transition. Narratives in this study underline the difficulties of practising gender identities outside of the social ‘norm’ such as being too old to become a good wife or mother and being non-heterosexual. Staying in the Netherlands or moving to another western country where their identities are accepted or appreciated becomes a softer approach to dealing with external pressures, compared to combating against the norms or reluctantly changing themselves. It’s noticeable that gender impacts at three levels usually interact with each other in the formation of students’ plans. For example, messages in international contexts could shape gendered selves; in turn, selves determine from which angles students read and acquire from the contexts.

Gender: A Dynamic Concept

While unravelling how gender-role ideologies tangle with other social and economic domains, such as family, homosexuality and labour markets, this research notices the dynamic nature of gender inlaying in these scopes. Gender changes its meanings across one’s life phase. Expectations, duties and controls of gender are various and usually become more complicated while people are ageing and creating more interactions with individuals and institutions. The concerns shift from personal career aspiration to balancing career and family, from individualised choice to making a choice for (future) family, for instance. Gendered expectations and controls in society are also changing. Even in this research period, public policies targeting feminism in employment and discourses to LGBT acceptance witness some changes which might also somehow alter soon-to-graduate students’ aspirations of mobility. Leung (2014) argues ‘gender respects no boundaries’. What domains graduates accentuate and how gender exerts effects in these domains are changeable across time and space. Elucidating these questions is conducive to understandings of contemporary gender bias and inequality at an international scale.


Findlay AM, King R, Smith FM, Geddes A, Skeldon R. (2012). World class? An investigation of globalisation, difference and international student mobility. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers 37: 118-131

Harvey, W.S., (2015) “Winning the global talent war: A policy perspective”, Journal of Chinese Human Resource Management. 5(1), 62-74.

Leung, W.H.M. (2014). Unsettling the Yin-Yang Harmony: An Analysis of Gender Inequalities in Academic Mobility among Chinese Scholars. Asian and Pacific Migration Journal. 23(2):155-182

Martin, F. (2018). Overseas Study as Zone of Suspension: Chinese Students Re-negotiating Youth, Gender, and Intimacy. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 39(6), 688–703.

Risman, B.J. (2004). Gender as a social structure: Theory wrestling with activism. Gender and Society, 18, 429–450.


Biographical Summary

Yanbo Hao obtained his Research Master’s degree in Urban and Economic Geography at Utrecht University, the Netherlands. He conducted research on urban fragmentation, urban spatial expansion, social housing and rural development in China. Currently, his research interest is centred on inequalities in migration issues, especially education mobility, around which he studied on the gendered patterns of international student mobility and presented one paper at an academic conference on Chinese mobility in Europe. Yanbo could be contacted via haoyanbo1994@gmail.com.


Postdoc Opportunity at National University of Singapore (Second Call; Deadline 27 Sep 2019)

National University of Singapore

Social Science and Humanities Research (SSHR) Fellowship

Postdoctoral Fellow for Research Project on ‘Peopling Infrastructure:

Aeromobilities, Automation and Labour Mobilisations in Asia’

(Deadline: 27 September 2019)

Awarded by Singapore’s Social Science Research Council (SSRC), a Social Science and Humanities Research (SSHR) Fellowship, led by Principle Investigator Dr Lin Weiqiang (National University of Singapore) with collaborators Professor Peter Adey (Royal Holloway, University of London) and Dr Tina Harris (University of Amsterdam), is seeking to appoint a postdoctoral fellow to contribute to the team’s research activities on airport infrastructure, automation and labour.


Motivated by the rapid acceleration of aeromobilities in Asia, the SSHR Fellowship project aims to better understand the inner-workings of the aviation industry as well as inform related policies surrounding infrastructure building, technology and airport labour in the region. In particular, the project will focus on the daily labour that goes into the maintenance and reproduction of airport infrastructure as well as its relationship with technological (automative) counterparts. Our focus is on contemporary Asia and is concerned with the sustainability of the present turn towards mega-infrastructures.

Area of Expertise and Job Scope

The successful candidate should ideally be well-versed in the aeromobilities literature, and should have undertaken research demonstrating a focus on either:

–          The social, cultural and political intersections between labour and automation

–          Infrastructural politics (especially in transport) and its theorisations

He/she should have:

–          A PhD in Anthropology, Geography, History, Sociology or another relevant (Social Science or Humanities) discipline, or be awaiting conferment of a PhD (the PhD must be awarded by the time the post is taken up). An official letter from the Registrar’s Office of your university will be required to confirm the award of your PhD degree before contracts are issued.

–          Research interests and experience on any or combinations of airports, infrastructure, automation and labour

–          Regional expertise and/or demonstrable interest in Asia’s infrastructural projects

–          A promising trajectory in research and publication; a publication record in areas related to the above specified research interests and field areas is a significant advantage.

–          Excellent communication skills in English and preferably language proficiency in Arabic, Bahasa Melayu and/or Mandarin Chinese.

The successful candidate is expected to contribute significantly to the SSHR Fellowship project besides carrying out his/her own research plans. This includes, but is not limited to:

–          Conducting international fieldwork (predominantly in the form of semi-structured interviews) with up to 180 research participants.

–          Contributing to fresh research directions and co-writing.

–          Co-organisation of and/or paper presentations in workshops and conference sessions.

–          Collaborations with other researchers (in the department and beyond) where appropriate.

Terms and Conditions

The postdoctoral fellow will work closely with the SSHR Fellowship project team in the roles listed above. Detailed terms and conditions are as follows:

–          Contract to be awarded for 24 months in the first instance, starting January 2020 or as soon as possible thereafter.

–          There is a possibility that the appointment will be eligible for a 6 to 12 month extension (to be awarded on the basis of research progress and funding availability).

–          An annual salary of up to Singapore S$60,000. All salary and benefits-in-kind are subjected to taxation in accordance with local tax laws. Please note that University Housing will not be provided and appointees will have to make their own private housing arrangements. A small monthly contribution (of up to S$500/month) for housing expenses may be available, however this is not guaranteed.

–          Singapore citizens and permanent residents are eligible for Provident Fund benefits.

–          Medical benefits in accordance with the Medical Benefit Plan. See: http://www.nus.edu.sg/careers/whatyougettoenjoy.html

–          Formal vacation leave of 28 days per calendar year and capacity to apply for fieldwork and conference leave of up to 90 days per year.

–          Conference travel expenses will be available (a minimum of S$3,000 over the period of the postdoc). Further conference and research travel expenses may be available, subject to budgets).

–          There are opportunities to develop synergies with and/or participate in the activities of the FASS Max Weber Foundation Research Group (MWS RG), whose cognate focus is on ‘borders, mobility and new infrastructures’.

Application Procedures

Candidates should send the following documents with their application:

–          A cover letter detailing research background and interests, envisaged publication plans and proposed start date.

–          Full curriculum vitae with a complete list of publications and details of any relevant teaching experience.

–          Names and contact details of two referees.

Candidates should email their application to Ms WONG Lai Wa (geowlw@nus.edu.sgno later than 27 September 2019. Informal enquiries can be directed to the PI (Dr Lin Weiqiang at geolinw@nus.edu.sg).

Please visit our websites at https://www.moe.gov.sg/news/press-releases/results-of-the-inaugural-social-science-and-humanities-research-fellowship-call-and-2018-social-science-research-thematic-grant-call for information on the SSHR Fellowship project, and http://www.fas.nus.edu.sg/geog/ for information on the Department of Geography. Details of the MWS RG can be found at: https://www.fas.nus.edu.sg/researchclusters/max-weber-foundation-research-group-on-borders-mobility-and-new-infrastructures.html

Other benefits that the University provides and other information about working in NUS and living in Singapore are available at http://www.nus.edu.sg/careers/whyjoinus.htm. Terms and conditions, according to university guidelines, are subject to changes without prior notice.

Toward transnational communities of practice: An inquiry into the experiences of transnational academic mobility

Guo, S., & Lei, L. (2019). Toward transnational communities of practice: An inquiry into the experiences of transnational academic mobility. Adult Education Quarterly, 1-18. https://doi.org/10.1177/0741713619867636

Shibao Guo

Professor Shibao Guo, University of Calgary, Canada

Ling Lei 1

Ling Lei, University of Calgary, Canada

Transnational mobility characterized by multiple and circular movement of people and their simultaneous interconnections across transnational borders pose challenges to the conception of a closed boundary of community of practice (CoP). Through a qualitative case study of internationally educated Chinese transnational academics, who maintained academic and professional connections with their host countries of doctoral studies, this article demonstrates the building of transnational CoPs through their sociocultural learning in transnational space. It underscores tensions, negotiation of power relations, identity trans/formation, and potentials for change in transnational social space. It overshadows the significance of physical boundaries in organizing work, learning, and identities. The study highlights conceptualization of transnational communities of practice for understanding the experiences and identities of transnational academics.

This study explores the changing dynamics of Community of Practice (CoP) in transnational space by focusing on experiences of transnational academic mobility and connectivity. The concept of Community of Practice has been used widely by academics and practitioners to explore socio-cultural learning and identity development as a process for people to claim full membership to a community (Lave & Wenger, 1991). The journey from being a newcomer to becoming an expert as “legitimate peripheral participation” provides a way to speak about the relations between newcomers and old-timers, and about activities, identities, artefacts, and communities of knowledge and practice. It accentuates relations and prior experiences in shaping people’s identity formation and transformation through their participation in different communities of their life-worlds (Lave, 2008).

Yet, as multiple and circular movement of people across transnational spaces has become the norm in contemporary societies, the spatiality of CoP is facing new challenges. The geographically local boundary of the conceptualization of community (Wenger, 1998) needs to be re-examined vis-à-vis the new paradigm of transnational mobility. This paper, therefore, explores the changing dynamics of CoP in transnational space through academic migrants’ experiences of transnational mobility and connectivity.

This paper adopts the theoretical framework of transnational social space (Faist, 2000), where those relatively stable social ties or the meso-level network structures that lead to sustained interconnections across borders become the foci of analysis. The multiple affiliations and attachments across borders form a conceptual boundary of one’s social life, irrelevant to the physical boundaries of nation states, and these affiliations and attachments constitute an integral part of the individual’s social life (Levitt & Glick Schiller, 2008; Tsuda, 2012). This study employs a qualitative case study as the research strategy to explore the central research question: How did Chinese transnational academics experience and perceive CoP in their transnational knowledge networks? Twelve internationally educated Chinese researchers currently working as university faculty members in social sciences and humanities in three universities in Beijing were recruited. Data were collected through individual interviews, field observations, and publicly available documents including participants’ academic CVs, and official documents gathered from their institutions’ websites.

Findings of this study demonstrate transnational academics’ work and learning experiences as newcomers and old-timers in different academic CoPs locally in China and transnationally, particularly with their former PhD supervisors and colleagues, as well as the formation of transnational CoPs, and the formation of collective membership, identity, and belonging.

Consistent with Wenger-Trayner and Wenger-Trayner(2015), transnational CoPs are characterized by three indispensable dimensions, including the domain, or shared competence; the community, or relationships of interaction and learning together; and the practice or development of a shared repertoire of resources. In this process, the prevalence of virtual communication technologies has enabled transnational academics to build and maintain transnational connectivity, thus challenging the importance of physical proximity to claiming membership to CoP (Wenger, 1998).

This study directs our attention to how individuals’ significant migration experiences and connections shape their inclinations toward and ability to engage in trans-migration, transnational engagement, and living in diaspora. From the transnational CoP approach, the focus of analysis shifts from local social relations to social relations formed and maintained through self-identification and negotiation in various transnational communities.

The study has important implications for international talent deployment. It demonstrates that talent deployment policies can shift its focus from the physical flow of people to the dynamic flow and creation of knowledge through people’s professional practice. It also sheds light on transnational academics’ multiple cultural identities as not only an ethnic Chinese but also a transnational academic. It is important that host countries’ settlement and adaptation policies allow room for transnational academics to entertain multiple cultural identities and belongings. Finally, this study calls into question the power relations in transnational CoP. It calls for further examination of transnational CoP as not only a space of building democratic collaborative relationships, but also a space for negotiating knowledge democracy.

Author Biographies

Shibao Guo is Professor in the Werklund School of Education at the University of Calgary, Canada. He specializes in citizenship and immigration, Chinese immigrants in Canada, ethnic and race relations, and comparative and international education. His research has been funded by a number of organizations, including the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada; Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada; Asia Pacific Foundation of Canada; International Organization for Migration; and Education International. He has over 150 publications including books, journal articles, and book chapters. His latest books include: Immigration, racial and ethnic studies in 150 years of Canada: Retrospects and prospects (Brill|Sense, 2018), Spotlight on China: Chinese education in the globalized world (Sense Publishers, 2016), Spotlight on China: Changes in education under China’s market economy (Sense Publishers, 2016), Work, learning and transnational migration: Opportunities, challenges, and debates (Routledge, 2016), Revisiting multiculturalism in Canada: Theories, policies and debates (Sense Publishers, 2015). He is former president of Canadian Ethnic Studies Association and Comparative and International Education Society of Canada. Currently he serves as co-editor of Canadian Ethnic Studies. He also edits two book series for Brill|Sense Publishers: Spotlight on China (https://brill.com/view/serial/SPOT) and Transnational Migration and Education (https://brill.com/view/serial/TMAE?lang=en).

Ling Lei is a PhD student in Adult Learning at the Werklund School of Education, University of Calgary. She has her previous research background in intercultural studies. Currently, she researches in areas of internationalization of higher education, transnational intellectual mobility, and transformative learning in the context of transnational migration. Her recent publication includes a co-authored journal article, “Transitions and Transformations: Extracts from a Duoethnographic Exploration of Gender Identities in Canada and China.”



Faist, T. (2000). The volume and dynamics of international migration and transnational social spaces. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press.

Levitt, P., & Glick Schiller, N. (2008). Conceptualizing simultaneity: A transnational social field perspective on society. In S. Khagram & P. Levitt (Eds.), The transnational studies reader: Intersections and innovations (pp. 284-294). New York, NY: Routledge.

Lave, J. (2008). Epilogue: Situated learning and changing practice. In A. Amin & J. Roberts (Eds.), Community, economic creativity, and organization (pp. 283-296). Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Lave, J., & Wenger, E. (1991). Situated learning. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Tsuda, T. (2012). Whatever happened to simultaneity? Transnational migration theory and dual engagement in sending and receiving countries. Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, 38, 631-649. doi:10.1080/1369183X.2012.659126

Wenger, E. (1998). Communities of practice: Learning, meaning, and identity. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Wenger-Trayner, E., & Wenger-Trayner, B. (2015, April 15). Communities of practice: A brief introduction. Retrieved from https://wenger-trayner.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/04/07-Brief-introduction-to-communities-of-practice.pdf

Call for Collaborators: Vocational Ed for Non-traditional First-generation University Students

诚寻合作者:中国的职业教育发展受到了最高决策层的重视,但从职业教育到大学教育过渡,学生的适应如何却缺乏研究。本人系复旦大学高等教育研究所博士生,Weiping WANG,现在已经完成一篇关于中国国内(江苏省)从中职升入大学的学生学习体验的中文论文。文章采用的是质性访谈的方法,而且文章涉及的中职升本的学生,更多是家庭第一代大学生,因此对这些非传统学生的学习体验的深入关注,既是教育改革的问题,又涉及到社会公平问题。目前,在Studies in Higher Education 和 Higher Education Research & Development杂志上已经刊发了与英国和澳大利亚相关的文章,但是仍缺乏对中国国内有职业教育背景的学生在大学中的适应性的研究。所以,现在我想把该文章翻译成英文,以便在英文杂志上投稿。现在,诚意寻找精通中文和英文的合作者,学科背景是教育学或者人文社科相关专业,共同合作翻译或者部分修改文章内容,使其符合英文杂志的要求。如有感兴趣者,请与我联系。电子邮箱:17110460003@fudan.edu.cn

CfP: Mobilities conference July 2020 – Northumbria University

Im|mobile lives in turbulent times: Methods and Practices of Mobilities Research.

Thursday July 9th and Friday July 10th 2020
At Northumbria University, Newcastle Business School, City Campus East, Newcastle upon Tyne, NE1 8S , United Kingdom

This is an interdisciplinary, creative and experimental collaboration between Newcastle Business School, Northumbria NBS Tourism (MOS) with MFRN (Mobilities Research Network), the Department of Geography and Environmental Sciences at Northumbria University and the Centre for Mobilities Research (CeMoRe) Lancaster University.

Our aim is to offer a platform through which developments and insights of multi-modal methodologies can be applied to a range of interests, geographical contexts and experiences. We invite contributors from any discipline, including social sciences and the arts, digital design and technology, medicine, psychology, urban planning and business innovation.

Information about themes and registration please check out the link below.

Please, submit your abstract of maximum 300 words for consideration either via the website or send to Sharon3.wilson@northumbria.ac.uk by December 18th 2019. Acceptance confirmation January 14th 2020.