_The American University Meets the Pacific Century Project
Broadly, the AUPC project is examining how the escalating numbers of international undergraduates are transforming the American university. Many American universities, like top-tier universities throughout the world, are increasingly becoming global institutions, no longer held exclusively to national interests.
This larger context occasions several broad research questions. First, a number of scholars, anthropologist Aihwa Ong and geographer Katharyne Mitchell foremost among them, have alerted us to a veritable cultural warfare as Asian elites find their way to North American schooling. They ask whether the liberal democratic ideals of the American university, including multiculturalism’s commitment to an integrated national community, are foundationally shaken by international students who pass through the American university to accrue the technical skills for flexible citizenship elsewhere. We are thus interested in what American students assume about these new international students and their place in American higher education.
Second, we ask how this trend is shaping American undergraduates’ vision of their futures as global citizens in the broader context of the global economy, and in what some have called “the Pacific Century.” With the widely decried slippage in the U.S. global hegemony in scientific and technological fields and the particular attention to the “Rise of China,” these questions are particularly pressing. Also of note is that while U.S. international student numbers are up, we are in fact enjoying less of the pie of total global student mobility (slipping from 2001 to 2008 from 25% to 21%; while China grew from under 2% to 6%).
Third, we examine the impact of this internationalization on the racial realities of the American university. As globalization accelerates the mobility of people, ideas, and media, one perhaps unexpected consequence has been the rise of what sociologist Karen Pyke calls “intraethnic othering” or the heightened salience of divisions within what might be considered one ethnic/racial group. Preliminary work by the AUPC project has already documented the tense relations between those Asian Americans who find that they are becoming the minority of Asians on their campus, and those international undergraduates, who sometimes see themselves as wealthy, cosmopolitan elites with little in common with local Asian Americans.
Finally, we are interested in what has motivated international students to come to the United States and the reality of their study abroad experience. We consider these students’ future goals, ones that of course are impacted upon by the study abroad experience itself.
With these contexts and processes in mind, we focus on the following research questions:
- What are the motivations and expectations of these Chinese and South Korean international undergraduate students? Are they interested in the liberal and multicultural commitments of the American university? How do their goals change over time as they experience the realities of the American university?
- How do American students understand and respond to this new student body? Do they think of these international students as in any way detrimental to American multiculturalism and liberalism?
- Do Asian American students experience these demographic changes in particular ways? Are they inclined to distance themselves from these newly-arrived Asian students?
- What is the nature and extent of the interactions between domestic students and these international students?
- Do domestic students who aspire to become engineers and business professionals feel threatened by the significant number of students from precisely those countries that represent the greatest scientific and economic challenge to the United States? Are they worried about their professional futures?
- How are university professionals, including faculty, responding to and managing this new student body?