Why Engagement?

Dr. Dream

Dream X Education Founder, Ed.D, M.Ed.

Research shows that the different perceptions of student engagement in the Western contexts challenge international student experiences in Canadian and North American institutions. For instance, a great number of challenges and stereotypes of Chinese international students towards their engagement have been reproduced by socio-economic inequitable policies and Western cultural norms (Flowerdew & Miller, 1995; Grabke, 2013; Liu, 2001; Tsai, 2017; Xiang, 2017; Zhao & McDougall, 2008).

Regarded as a multicultural society, Canada welcomes diverse people including international students from different backgrounds. Xiao (2017) reported the combination of high- quality education has made Canadian post-secondary institutions attractive for international students, especially from China. However, impacted by this dominant White culture and Canadian multiculturalism, Chinese international students face challenges towards cultural differences (Jao, 2013; Tsai, 2016; Wang, 2009; Xiang, 2017).

During the transitioning period, some international postgraduate students engaging at an English university including Canada still experienced such as depression, loneliness, anxiety, and stress due to cultural differences between their home country and Canada (Brown & Holloway, 2008). These cultural differences including different languages and cultural perspectives made them feel challenged and uncomfortable to orally and mentally engage in the schools and the society in Canada. Even in such multicultural society, different cultural experiences were still not represented equally, and some of their cultural identities were still not represented because the Anglo western dominance of being and doing is still deeply preferred within Canadian multiculturalism.

Different cultures and backgrounds significantly impact different levels of student transitioning engagement in and out of the classroom. Brown and Holloway (2008) reported that the pieces of evidence of negative mood states of international postgraduate students engaging at an English university such as depression, loneliness, anxiety, and stress due to the culture shock originated from cultural differences, especially at the beginning of this transition journey. Grabke (2013) reported the low beginning involvement issues of recent immigrant adult students (RIAS) towards cultural differences in the Canadian classroom. Similarly with those RIAS, a variety of international students felt isolated and disadvantaged because of their different cultural backgrounds such as how they dress and what their preferences are because of Anglo western dominance within such Canadian multiculturalism.

Jones (1999) claimed that cultural differences play a fundamental role to prevent most students from engaging in classroom discussions. Students who are unfamiliar with a different culture may prefer to be silent and have little interactions with others in terms of avoiding embarrassment. These silent behaviors, regarded as low involving and negative engaging in classrooms, have resulted in the stereotypes and misunderstandings of student engagements. Cultural differences have become one of the most negatively impacting factors on Chinese international students’ engagement impacted by such Anglo western dominance of being and doing within such Canadian multiculturalism. All of these factors result in Chinese international student engagement issues in the transitioning, the acculturation, and the lower engagement misunderstanding and stereotype in and out of the classroom.

Language barriers associated with Chinese identity have become essential challenges to Chinese international students who make efforts to engage in Canadian universities (Jao, 2013; Tsai, 2016; Wang, 2009; Xiang, 2017). This reflects a dominant ideology that marginalizes the engagement of students who are not native English speakers including Chinese international students in Canadian graduate institutions (Dei, 2012; Tweed & Lehman, 2002; Xiang, 2017).
Some existing literature on student engagement assumes Western dominant ways of interpreting student engagement without questioning the impact of the dominant ideologies on student engagement (Ballard & Clanchy, 1997; Jao, 2013; Tsai, 2016; Wang, 2009; Xiang, 2017). This taken-for-granted approach using Western educational values reflects better student engagement as positive interactions (Flowerdew & Miller, 1995; Grabke, 2013), while Chinese culture embodies student engagement as passive interactions (Tsai, 2016; Xiang, 2017). Cultural difference, language barriers, Chinese identity, teamwork, financial burdens and employment barriers, and standardization and deficit thinking cooperatively have been marginalizing Chinese international student engagement in Canadian schooling.

As a Chinese student, but identified as a domestic student by the Canadian educational system, studying and working in Canada, I had some similar feelings as these student and staff participants after hearing their experiences and stories in my doctoral project. Similar with some of those student participants, I have plenty of challenges to engage in Canadian graduate schools as a newcomer to Canada, a student from Chinese cultural background, a parent studying and working at the same time, and a female-identified researcher in Canadian educational systems in the transition period, I was regarded as passive by feeling shaming of sharing my own opinions and engaging in the group activities even I was actively engaging in my thinking and feelings in some cases in the classroom. However, in many environment in and out of the classroom, I have been always feeling part of my multiple cultural identities not well presented and empowered in the western educational system and dominant values towards student engagement.

On one hand, I am grateful that I have successfully completed my master’s and doctoral study in 4 years due to the support by the communities including my department, my faculty, and my university in many ways so that my student engagement has been gradually enhanced during my experience in Canada. Thanks for all of the encouragement, all of which make me achieve my dream that I never thought I could before.

On the other hand, the continuous support of international student engagement including enhancing these Chinese international student experiences in Canada and North America has been my life commitment. Thus, I have been thinking of how my academic research findings can be effectively supportive to international students more practically. Thus, I hope the foundation of DreamXeducation based on my doctoral project can provide some facts and perspectives so that we can critically dismantle the stereotypes and narrow ways of assessing Chinese student learning and practice as passive and shallow reproduced by the dominant ideology on student engagement in such western educational system and western cultural norms academically, and improve the awareness of Chinese international graduate student engagement experience practically.

I am grateful to have a variety of wonderful educators, researchers, scholars, and professional leaders from world-class universities, institutions, Top 500 companies who are experienced in the international student engagement join DreamXEducation to make a change. We work collaboratively with future and current international students to explore their interests academically, socially, and professionally and achieve their dreams based on their personalized needs. We are committed to making a difference in international student engagement in Canada and North America.


Retrieved from:
Xiao, M. (2020). Student Engagement: Chinese International Student Experiences in Canadian Graduate Schools. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Toronto.

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