An investigation of Chinese international postgraduate taught students’ ‘third spaces’ and their psychological well-being in Scotland

Wang, Wenhao (2023) An investigation of Chinese international postgraduate taught students’ ‘third spaces’ and their psychological well-being in Scotland. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This PhD study investigates the impact on health and well-being of the acculturation experiences of Chinese international postgraduate taught (PGT) students in Scotland. This is an important topic, as these students have only one year to acculturate to a qualitatively different social and educational environment. However, at present, there is little research on the psychological needs of Chinese students in Scottish higher education institutions. This is particularly true of their acculturation experiences in informal and recreational settings outside of study, work and home environments, which are known as third spaces. This PhD study, therefore, responds to previous calls by academics to comprehensively examine the critical factors that influence Chinese PGT students’ health and well-being during their acculturation in Scotland, including their involvement in third spaces.

This thesis is divided into two studies. Both studies adopted a qualitative research design centred on semi-structured interviews. Twelve participants from the University of Glasgow were selected for each study. Specifically, Study One explored Chinese PGT students’ overseas experiences of acculturation in Scotland. This study used the diagrammatic elicitation task to generate in-depth discussions of participants’ acculturation experiences throughout the academic year. During the interviews for Study One, the majority of the participants identified exercise as the most important third space activity for their psychological well-being. This finding, therefore, formed the basis of Study Two, which investigated how exercise affected participants’ well-being. Since Study Two took place during the initial stages of the COVID-19 pandemic, it also explored how COVID-19-related lockdown and social distancing measures influenced the students in question.

Thematic analysis was employed to make sense of the data. Furthermore, Study One used Martin Seligman’s theory of PERMA (positive emotions, engagement, positive relationships, meaning, and accomplishment) to contextualise and interpret Chinese students’ psychological wellbeing and third space participation. To reflect the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, Study Two adopted Paul Wong’s modified PERMA themes to incorporate the universal distress and lack of well-being of the COVID-19 age. This PhD study, therefore, offers distinctive insights into the participants’ complex acculturative experiences in Scotland before and during the pandemic.

The findings of Studies One and Two suggest that many Chinese international PGT students who found their third space were able to live a socially active life, thereby avoiding the dangers of isolation in confined student accommodations, in particular during the Christmas break and lockdown. Their third space experience significantly helped their acculturation, well-being and personal growth, both before and during the pandemic. Compared to students who chose not to engage with third spaces, or who engaged with them in a very limited way, those who took advantage of such spaces were likely to have a thriving and more meaningful international education experience. This result was largely due to a strengthened social network (positive relationships in the PERMA model), additional emotional support from peers (positive emotions), and engagement in an active lifestyle (engagement). . Based on these findings, it would be beneficial for many Chinese students to consider focusing on ‘positive relationships’ to support a smooth acculturation during challenging times. For example, in cases of mandatory isolation (e.g., a pandemic), the extra socialisation opportunities offered by third spaces are possibly even more important than before, given that many international students may lack the face-to-face and immediate support of classmates and university staff over a considerable period.

Studies One and Two expand on the existing literature and highlight the importance of third space groups, which have been thus far overlooked by many academics, in creating a happy and meaningful experience for many Chinese PGT students in a Western society. This knowledge can serve as a catalyst for better supporting this group of students in their acculturation from China to the United Kingdom.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > BF Psychology
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Elliot, Dr. Dely, Reid, Dr. Kate and Breslin, Mr. Mark
Date of Award: 2023
Depositing User: Theses Team
Unique ID: glathesis:2023-83775
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 24 Aug 2023 11:18
Last Modified: 24 Aug 2023 11:20
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.83775

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