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Overcoming prejudice, seeking support: Transnational social media communication of female Vietnamese students in South Korea and Singapore

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Abstract

This study examined the role of social media in the daily lives of migrant students. The focus of this study was students’ use of social media and the benefits that they derived from it, particularly for communication with friends and family back in their home country. A total of 45 female Vietnamese students participated in a week-long social media-deprivation exercise in which they abstained from using social media to connect with friends and family in Vietnam and/or focus group discussions on their daily communication practices. A cross-cultural comparison was conducted to evaluate the differences between twenty Vietnamese students living in South Korea and 25 Vietnamese students living in Singapore. The findings indicate key differences in the sociocultural environment that influence their social media communication. Vietnamese students in South Korea drew closer to their co-national friends due to stronger perceptions of discrimination than their counterparts in Singapore, who integrated more easily into the multi-cultural environment. The findings suggest that international students should optimize their social media use to build diverse and encompassing social networks that are mutually reinforcing rather than mutually exclusive to facilitate adaptation.
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/tjtm/2018/00000002/00000002/art00002
1
Overcoming prejudice, seeking support: Transnational social media communication of
female Vietnamese students in South Korea and Singapore
Soontae An, Ewha Womans University
Sun Sun Lim, Singapore University of Technology and Design
Hannah Lee, Ewha Womans University
Becky Pham, Singapore University of Technology and Design
Abstract
This study examined the role of social media in the daily lives of migrant students. The focus
of this study was students’ use of social media and the benefits that they derived from it,
particularly for communication with friends and family back in their home country. A total of
45 female Vietnamese students participated in a week-long social media-deprivation exercise
in which they abstained from using social media to connect with friends and family in
Vietnam and/or focus group discussions on their daily communication practices. A cross-
cultural comparison was conducted to evaluate the differences between twenty Vietnamese
students living in South Korea and 25 Vietnamese students living in Singapore. The findings
indicate key differences in the sociocultural environment that influence their social media
communication. Vietnamese students in South Korea drew closer to their co-national friends
due to stronger perceptions of discrimination than their counterparts in Singapore, who
integrated more easily into the multi-cultural environment. The findings suggest that
international students should optimize their social media use to build diverse and
encompassing social networks that are mutually reinforcing rather than mutually exclusive to
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/tjtm/2018/00000002/00000002/art00002
2
facilitate adaptation.
Keywords
cross-cultural comparison
media deprivation
Singapore
South Korea
transnational communication
Vietnam
Introduction
In this era of globalization, an ever-increasing number of students are choosing to study
abroad. International students constitute a substantial proportion of migrant populations in
many countries (Tran and Gomes 2017). In particular, with the country’s rapid economic
development, many Vietnamese students are studying abroad in pursuit of better educational
opportunities (Le 2014). In Korea, Vietnamese ranked second in the total number of
international students (Statistics Korea 2016). In Singapore, Vietnamese students increased
from 7000 in 2011 to 10,000 in 2013 (Clark 2013; ICEF Monitor 2014). Given that 45 per
cent of people in Vietnam are under 24 years of age, youths who choose to study abroad are
more likely to increase (Turauskis 2014).
How international students acculturate and adjust to new environments has become
an important issue for society as a whole (Tran and Gomes 2017). In this respect, recent
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/tjtm/2018/00000002/00000002/art00002
3
studies (Gomes 2015, 2016; Gomes et al. 2014) have shown that social networks have a
positive effect on new country adaptation. In particular, social media plays an important role
not only in helping them connect with family and friends in the home country but also in
making new friends in the host country (Hjorth and Arnold 2013; Lin et al. 2012; Olding 2013;
Rahnan 2014). However, few studies have focused on Vietnamese students despite their
sizeable numbers and the growing importance of the country on the world stage. The current
study examined the use of online communication tools by Vietnamese students living in South
Korea and Singapore and the impact of such tools on their lives.
While Singapore has instituted multicultural policies as part of the country’s founding
principles, South Korea has only recently begun to grapple with issues of diversity, having
been largely homogenous for much of the country’s early history. By comparing Vietnamese
students studying in these two countries, the differential impacts of each host country’s social
and cultural settings were also evaluated. Our investigations sought to identify key insights
that will aid Vietnamese students’ adaptation to their host countries and the utility of social
media in this endeavour.
Literature review
Vietnamese international students in Singapore and South Korea
Vietnam is currently one of the fastest-growing sources of international students (Turauskis
2014). The number of Vietnamese students studying in South Korea is also increasing due to
the influence of the Korean Wave. According to Statistics of Korea (2016), there are currently
88,468 foreigners residing in Korea with a student visa. Most foreign students studying in
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/tjtm/2018/00000002/00000002/art00002
4
South Korea are Chinese, followed by Vietnamese. Singapore is another popular destination
for Vietnamese students, with 10,000 Vietnamese students studying there in 2013 (ICEF
Monitor 2014). Yet these students, especially female ones, have to confront particular
prejudices in the host countries. Notably, the sudden influx of Vietnamese migrants into more
developed Asian countries such as South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan through
marriage since the 1990s is a byproduct of rapid industrialization and unequal development in
the region (Belanger et al. 2011). Back then, Vietnamese women with poor economic
conditions often married Singaporean or Korean men to better their life situations, but in the
process, experienced stigmatization and discrimination. Given this backdrop, female
Vietnamese migrants are still labelled today with pejorative terms such as ‘helpless’, ‘pathetic’
and ‘sold women’ (Belanger et al. 2011; Seol et al. 2013). While migrant workers (exported
remunerated labour through state-promoted programmes) are considered legitimate migrants
and not subjected to the gendered construction under Asian societies’ patriarchal order, female
marriage migrants are viewed as passive migrants who depend on foreign men despite their
different roles in the domestic and public spheres (Belanger et al. 2011). This social
perspective on Vietnamese marriage migrants may therefore be transferred to female
Vietnamese students who also often migrate at a young age and may get married to local
people to settle in the host country upon finishing their studies. As a result, we choose to
specifically focus on the perspectives of female Vietnamese students.
However, Singapore and South Korea have differing approaches to the practice and
acceptance of multiculturalism. Both countries are no strangers to charges of racial
discrimination, but it has been observed in previous research that Singapore is more open to
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/tjtm/2018/00000002/00000002/art00002
5
foreigners than Korea. Throughout its history, Singapore has been a melting pot of different
ethnicities and cultures. When Singapore was established in 1819, it depended heavily on
immigrants from China, India and the Malay Archipelago. Singapore today continues to be
mainly constituted by individuals from these three ethnic groups (Yeoh and Lin 2012).
Singapore has also adopted an ‘open door policy’ towards skilled foreign manpower known as
‘foreign talent’ due to its limited local manpower and the high demand for such manpower due
to its rapid industrialization beginning in the 1980s (Yeoh and Lin 2012). However, negative
perceptions of Singapore’s ethnic minorities still persist in daily contexts (Velayutham 2016)
and anti-foreigner sentiments have intensified in recent years. Studying Singaporean citizens’
online xenophobic posts, Gomes (2014) suggested that Singaporeans felt disillusioned and
abandoned by the Singapore government as the influx of foreign talent made them anxious
about the future, while Liu (2014) argued that even immigration of Chinese newcomers from
China to Singapore based on co-ethnicity and common Chinese cultural heritage reinforces
cultural, political and social differences, and heightens competition for scarce resources. By
contrast, South Korean society is traditionally homogeneous and mono-ethnic, with a small
yet steadily increasing proportion of foreigners in the total population since 2005 (Kim 2012)
and widespread prejudice against foreigners from low-income countries (Lim and Kim 2011).
South Korea also emphasizes its monoculture and history to drive nationalist fervour so as to
defeat adversaries and develop the country’s powerful economy – a mindset that does not
permit a complete acceptance of immigrants (Kang 2010).
Given these differences between Singapore and Korea’s social environments,
Vietnamese students’ acculturation processes in these two countries offer an interesting case
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/tjtm/2018/00000002/00000002/art00002
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for comparative analysis.
International students’ use of social media and its influence on their lives
Digital media contributes to the formation of interpersonal bonds by connecting individuals
irrespective of their geographic location (Gordon and Manosevitch 2010; Gordon and Schirra
2011; Kilkey and Palenga-Möllenbeck 2016). In particular, the emergence of mobile media
enables communication that transcends time and space (Goggin and Hjorth 2014), through
which people can actively communicate with even distant family and friends, while also
expanding their social networks by meeting new people online (Dekker and Engbersen 2014;
Madianou and Miller 2013).
Uprooted from their home countries’ networks and familiar environments,
international students have to make new friends and cope with adaptation challenges upon
arriving in their host countries. Many studies have shown that social networks provide
information and emotional support, thus helping with international students’ adaptation
process (Gomes and Alzougool 2013; Gomes et al. 2014; Hendrickson et al. 2011; Kashima
and Pillai 2011). In particular, the emergence of Internet-based social media has contributed
towards connecting international students with those living in their home countries and in host
countries (Hjorth and Arnold 2012; Lin et al. 2012; McFaul 2016).
Hjorth and Arnold (2012) have reported that international students actively utilize
social media to build and maintain connections with families and friends they left behind
because such interactions grant them a sense of belonging and emotional support (Chen and
Yang 2015; Gomes et al. 2014; Wong 2014). Social media thus helps them to overcome
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/tjtm/2018/00000002/00000002/art00002
7
homesickness and gain psychological well-being.
Social media usage also contributes towards online bridging capital and social
adjustments. Lin et al. (2012) have confirmed that using social media such as Facebook has a
positive effect on bridging social capital formation. Gomes et al. (2014) have also found that
international students are connected to friends in the host country through social media and
that such networks are beneficial for both social and educational purposes. It has also been
reported that interactions with locals can increase resilience and prevent depression/stress
among international students, thus providing them with higher levels of personal satisfaction
(Glass and Westmont 2014; Hendrickson et al. 2011; Russell et al. 2010). Therefore, it is
crucial for international students to build a broad network of relationships through social
media.
However, many international students who use social media tend to reach out to co-
nationals in the host country. McFaul (2016) has mapped the network of international students
and found that they have relatively more friends who share similar cultures. Cao and Zhang
(2012) have also reported that interactions with co-nationals/co-culturals can significantly help
students emotionally and academically during the adaptation process.
Gomes (2016) interviewed international students in Australia and Singapore who
hailed from multicultural countries. She found that although international students want to
make domestic friends, the former usually stay in their dormitories after school while the latter
live with their families and have relatively busy lives. Therefore, there is limited time and
opportunity for the two groups to interact. Cultural differences and the absence of language
skills are the biggest obstacles to the expansion of their social networks. International students’
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/tjtm/2018/00000002/00000002/art00002
8
transience and sparse social networks then undermine their overall sense of belonging and
identity. This also affects their media use because they tend to prefer native media that they
are familiar with (Gomes 2015; Rahman 2014). In this respect, Chang and Gomes (2017) have
explained that ‘a country move’ does not mean ‘a digital move’. Because there are no borders
online, international students continue to rely on media networks established in their own
countries.
Studies on the social media experience of international students have focused on the
widespread use and benefits of social media. However, little is known about social media use
in relation to cultural experiences. Although previous studies have investigated homesickness
and cultural adaptation of international students in their host countries, few studies have
focused on cultural characteristics such as stigma in host countries. In addition, there is a lack
of an in-depth study on why students are trying to maintain connections with family and
friends in their home countries or what is specifically gained through these connections.
Hence, this study aimed to investigate how patterns of social media use varied according to
sociocultural circumstances.
Technology domestication theory and five types of social media users
Technology domestication theory focuses on the meaning of technology to users and non-
users, how technology is integrated into daily life and what technology represents to
individuals (Birkland 2013; Madianou 2016). This theory proposes that digital media
constitutes a central part of daily life. Furthermore, digital media consumption is considered
an active rather than passive process in which people adapt digital media to their own needs
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/tjtm/2018/00000002/00000002/art00002
9
and lifestyles. Adaptation is not just a practical or an instrumental process but can be laden
with emotion (Madianou 2016; Madianou and Miller 2013).
Drawing on domestication theory, Birkland (2013) identified five distinct media user
types. Enthusiasts tend to view media in a very positive light. They consider them as fun toys.
They integrate media into almost every task. Practicalists view media as tools. They tend to
have a positive view of media. However, they decide to try a new device mainly because it is
‘useful’ rather than just ‘fun’. Socializers view media as connectors that enable them to
nurture, sustain and make new contacts, and help them maintain those contacts. For socializers,
relationships over social media are absolutely crucial. Traditionalists view old media as being
better than new ones. They are extremely heavy users and tend to consume forms of media
that were common when they were children, including landline phones, televisions and radios.
Guardians view media in a negative light. They believe that media allow individuals to
indulge in unhealthy traits and behaviours.
Domestication theory proposes that once media are incorporated into individuals’
lives, they are used in different ways and develop significance that is highly personalized
(Birkland 2013; Silverstone and Haddon 1996). Domestication researchers suggest that media
is embedded into the larger culture in the form of the perceptions, environment and discourse
of that culture (Bolin 2010; Vestby 1996). In this respect, this study views social media and its
use as embedded within an individual’s situational and personal contexts. That is, this study
focuses on the everyday lives of migrants, including cultural contexts of the host country.
Hence, we explored the use of social media by Vietnamese female migrant students and
compared the experiences of those living in South Korea with those living in Singapore to
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/tjtm/2018/00000002/00000002/art00002
10
answer three research questions:
RQ1: How do female Vietnamese migrant students in South Korea and Singapore use
social media to connect with their social networks back home and in the host country? What
advantages do social media have over other forms of media as perceived by the students?
RQ2: Given South Korea and Singapore’s different sociocultural settings and
approaches to multiculturalism, what are the different experiences (if any) that female
Vietnamese migrant students in the two countries encounter when they use social media to
seek social support? When undertaking a social media deprivation exercise, how do the two
groups of students react and what are their differences (if any)?
RQ3: What social media user types are female Vietnamese migrant students in South
Korea and Singapore and what are their differences (if any)?
Methods
Sampling and sample
Purposive and snowball sampling were used to recruit female Vietnamese students living in
South Korea and Singapore. A total of twenty students from different universities located in
Seoul, South Korea and 25 students at a large state university in Singapore were included in
this study.
In South Korea, students were recruited via social media and online community sites
popular among Vietnamese migrants and the research was conducted in Korean with the help
of a Vietnamese research assistant. In Singapore, as Author D is Vietnamese, students were
recruited from Author D’s networks via social media and e-mails and the research was
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/tjtm/2018/00000002/00000002/art00002
11
conducted in Vietnamese and at times in English depending on the students’ language
preferences.
The data in Singapore were collected first from February to June 2014, and were
more exploratory in nature. The recruited students in Singapore were required to actively use
ICTs (including social media) to have communicated with their families and/or friends in their
home countries for at least one month before the study. Based on the initial findings, our study
design and research questions were then refined for the data collection in South Korea that
spanned November 2014 to January 2015 and focused more on social media use. The recruited
students in South Korea had to be actively using social media to communicate with their
families and/or friends, and must have lived in South Korea for at least one year before the
study. The required minimum length of stay in the host country was increased from one month
to one year because we believed that at least one year of stay in the host country would allow
international students to have richer migration experiences. We will elaborate on our research
design and procedures in the next section.
Study design and procedures
Semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions and media diaries were used in this study
to probe the characteristics and practices surrounding social media use in the two groups.
Social media usage patterns of each participant over a two-week period were also tracked
through daily media diaries. In this study, ‘social media’ includes both social networking sites
and instant messages as proposed by Correa et al. (2010). Thus instant messengers such as
KakaoTalk, Skype, WhatsApp and social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter were
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/tjtm/2018/00000002/00000002/art00002
12
all considered to constitute social media.
Our data were first collected in Singapore in two phases. In the first phase, twelve
female Vietnamese students were asked to undergo one week of media monitoring exercise
and one week of media deprivation exercise. In the first week of the media monitoring
exercise, the subjects’ communications were monitored for seven days via media use diaries to
understand how they used ICTs (including social media) to connect with their families and/or
friends in Vietnam, how their friends or family contacted them and what roles ICTs (including
social media) played in their lives. The diary took the form of an e-mail questionnaire that was
sent to them at the end of each day. These questionnaires comprised both structured and open-
ended questions. The subjects were individually interviewed for twenty to 60 minutes within a
week following the media monitoring exercise. In the second week, the subjects underwent a
media deprivation exercise, where they were instructed to cease using all ICTs (including
social media) platforms that they typically used to communicate with their families/friends
and to stop accessing news and information about Vietnam. If the subjects accidentally found
themselves coming across any piece of news or discussion related to Vietnam or their families
and/or friends, they had to immediately stop reading the news and/or actively refrain from
participating in the discussion. No deactivation of social media accounts or phone lines was
required of them. The media deprivation exercise sought to simulate situations in which
migrants could not access any information about their home country. The students were
advised to inform their families of this exercise. Under extenuating circumstances such as
emergencies, communication with their families through social media was permitted.
However, the students had to first notify the researchers so that a decision could be made on
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/tjtm/2018/00000002/00000002/art00002
13
whether to include data collected from the questionnaire for that day. Again, the subjects were
monitored for seven days via media use diaries to record their feelings and experiences arising
from the media deprivation condition, and were individually interviewed for twenty to 60
minutes within a week after the media deprivation exercise. In light of the relatively long
duration of the study and the inconvenience that the subjects had to endure, each subject was
given an SGD100 book voucher as a token of appreciation. In the second phase, thirteen
female Vietnamese students were recruited for face-to-face focus group discussions lasting 60
to 90 minutes so that we could probe further into their networks of co-nationals and local
friends, their communication practices with these networks and any existing peer group norms.
Each participant of the focus group discussions was reimbursed with an SGD20 book voucher.
Based on the initial findings from the Singapore side, our study design and research
questions were then refined for subsequent data collection in South Korea. Given the
significant roles that social media were found to play in daily communication among female
Vietnamese students in Singapore, our data collection in South Korea focused more heavily on
this aspect. The research procedures for the female Vietnamese students in South Korea
remained largely similar, but the two phases from the Singapore side (the first phase of the
media exercises and the second phase of the focus group discussions) were merged into one
with clearer research goals. In other words, twenty students in South Korea were also recruited
to undergo the two weeks of media exercises (one week of media monitoring exercise, one
week of media deprivation exercise) with daily media diaries. But instead of being
individually interviewed at the end of each week, the students in South Korea were
interviewed in face-to-face focus group discussions after they completed their two weeks of
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/tjtm/2018/00000002/00000002/art00002
14
media exercises. Each subject in South Korea was given USD100 in cash as a token of
appreciation.
Findings
Social media use as a daily routine
The Vietnamese students who participated in this study all reported that they used at least one
social network service on a regular basis. In fact, social media was closely integrated into their
everyday lives. The students in both South Korea and Singapore stated that they maintained
frequent communication with their friends and families in Vietnam via social networking
services. Notably, the social media networks that they used to communicate with their families
and friends in Vietnam are different from the ones that they used to communicate with friends
and co-nationals in their host countries. The students in South Korea utilized platforms with
Korean origins such as KakaoTalk and LINE. However, the students in Singapore mostly used
WhatsApp because it was popular among their Singaporean peers. For communication with
family and friends back home, students in both countries utilized social media platforms such
as Facebook, Skype and Viber that were more popular in Vietnam.
Students in South Korea
Students in Singapore
‘I use KakaoTalk a lot when I talk with
Korean people’.
‘I usually use LINE or KakaoTalk with my
friends and family to ask how they are and
‘Through Facebook messaging with my
sister, the frequency is daily’.
‘For my closest friends, we usually talk
through WhatsApp or Viber, several
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/tjtm/2018/00000002/00000002/art00002
15
talk about personal and intimate things’.
times a week’.
Caught between two networks in their host versus home countries, the students had to
make efforts towards navigating different social media services to maintain transnational ties
and would find themselves in challenging situations. Some students adopted a more
straightforward strategy by adhering to communication channels used by those in host and
home countries accordingly (KakaoTalk or LINE for Korean or Vietnamese friends in South
Korea, WhatsApp for Singaporean or Vietnamese friends in Singapore versus Facebook,
Skype or Viber for family and friends in Vietnam). One Vietnamese student in Singapore
mentioned that her close friend in Vietnam tended to text her on Viber. However, she was
more frequently on WhatsApp to interact with her Singaporean peers, which sometimes
caused her to miss important messages from her close friend. As a result, their friendship
suffered and she had still not found a solution to this problem. On the other hand, aware of the
many challenges associated with having to manage multiple different social media platforms
at the same time, some students persuaded their left-behind friends or taught their left-behind
parents to use KakaoTalk, LINE or WhatsApp, which resulted in more positive, faster and
more convenient communication experiences because less time and effort was spent in
managing multiple applications.
Advantages of social media: Cost and convenience
When asked about the advantage of using social media, both groups pointed out that cost
efficiency and convenience were the main advantages. Students in both South Korea and
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/tjtm/2018/00000002/00000002/art00002
16
Singapore noted the benefit of social media over traditional media such as mobile phone calls
or SMSs, which were beyond a student’s budget. Rather than spending money on a 3G data
plan, some students made use of the free WiFi provided by their universities or dormitories.
Social media, therefore, was considered the principal low-cost and highly convenient
communication channel that allowed students to remain connected with friends and family in
Vietnam. Its usefulness was enhanced by the ready accessibility of Internet-connected portable
devices such as laptops, tablets and mobile phones.
Students in South Korea
Students in Singapore
‘I can save money because of social media
since I do not have to pay a fortune for a
phone line’.
‘Because international phone calls are
expensive, I cannot talk for long, and I
cannot see the faces of my friends and
family’.
‘For Skype, it's because it can transmit
both voices and images and it does not
cost money’.
‘When I need to talk for a long time, I will
use video calling on Skype without
spending money [as compared to talking
for a short time over the phone which cost
money]’.
Social support and social distance
The two groups also revealed slightly different levels of satisfaction in terms of social
relationships managed via social media. The Vietnamese students in South Korea revealed a
tendency to draw a distinction between the social support received from Korean friends versus
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
http://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/intellect/tjtm/2018/00000002/00000002/art00002
17
Vietnamese friends. They relied on Korean friends for informational support but avoided
discussing their daily problems with them. Instead, they leaned on their Vietnamese friends for
emotional support. Emotional support also appeared to be the primary reason why the
Vietnamese students in South Korea contacted other Vietnamese individuals. In terms of the
social support that these students relied on their Korean and Vietnamese friends for, the
findings reveal several contrasts:
Informational support from Korean
friends
Emotional support from Vietnamese
friends
‘Most Korean people I know, I know them
on a professional basis’.
‘Because I am not fluent in Korean,
without the help of Korean students, it
would be impossible to adjust to life in
Korea’.
‘Rather than comforting my soul, Korean
friends give me support for my
assignments and homework’.
‘I have many friends in Korea, but I
realized that there is a barrier between
Koreans and Vietnamese. With my Korean
‘Sharing life difficulties in Korea with my
Vietnamese friends makes me feel better
and more secure’.
‘Talking to my Vietnamese friends makes
me feel more confident’.
‘Staying in touch with my friends in
Vietnam gives stability to my life in
Korea. The people I know in Vietnam
have positive influence on my existence’.
‘Living in Korea, there are many
hardships. Talking about my troubles with
friends in Vietnam helped me feel better
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friends, instead of complaining about my
problem, I need to make efforts to adjust
to them’.
and move forward’.
Intriguingly, while students in Singapore tended to use the general term ‘friends’,
students in South Korea had a tendency to specify ‘Korean friends’ or ‘Vietnamese friends’.
Vietnamese students in South Korea thus linguistically distanced themselves from Koreans.
This indicates that they might also distance themselves socially. Such social distance was not
experienced by Vietnamese students in Singapore who appeared to actively fraternize with
both local and fellow Vietnamese friends:
‘I could expand my networking in Singapore through hanging out with new friends.’
‘My friends here include both Vietnamese in Singapore and Singaporeans in
Singapore.’
‘To me, Singaporean friends are like Vietnamese friends.’
(‘So your close friends […] more Singaporean? More Vietnamese? Or equal?’)
‘Equal.’
‘More Singaporeans are my close friends’.
The social distance that the Vietnamese students in South Korea experienced was
sometimes explicitly described as discrimination. Some responses indicated a perception of
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Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
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xenophobia towards foreigners from South East Asia. In contrast, xenophobia experienced by
students in Singapore seemed milder than that experienced by students in South Korea.
Vietnamese students in Singapore
Vietnamese students in South Korea
‘I am aware that Singapore is (a)
multiracial, multi-religious (society)’.
‘We speak in the same language (English),
our culture and our favourite foods are
quite similar. So I could easily talk to
them (Singaporean friends)’.
‘We shouldn’t say that Singaporeans are
discriminating (against) us because some
Vietnamese discriminate (against)
Singaporeans also’.
‘I see some kind of discrimination, but it’s
not very strong’.
‘Korea is very unfamiliar to me. When my
professor asked my (Korean) peers to help
me, they helped me very passionately.
Vietnamese people are not inherently nice.
I was very thankful for this and was
sincerely nice to my Korean peers as well.
But over time, I learned that their niceness
and politeness were superficial’.
‘I feel that Koreans discriminate (against)
foreigners according to origins. Their
attitude is different towards Western
foreigners and foreigners from Southeast
Asia’.
‘Korean people belittle me as if I am here
to steal opportunities from them. They are
not so nice to me. But they are nice to
other Korean people. I am really getting
sick of this’.
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
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The more multiracial and cosmopolitan nature of Singaporean society compared with
the Korean society might be the reason why discrimination was felt more severely by
Vietnamese students in South Korea compared to that felt by those in Singapore. In Gomes’
study (2017), international students in Singapore responded that they had a satisfying migrant
life. This might be related to the well-established multicultural and welcoming international
student policies in Singapore. Another reason for this phenomenon could be the different
levels of language proficiency. Past studies have shown that a lack of fluency in a host
country’s language presents a major impediment to adaptation for migrants. It may cause
migrants to be perceived as incapable outsiders (Lim and Pham 2016). While Vietnamese
students in Singapore had learned English – Singapore’s official language – since they
attended primary schools in Vietnam as part of the compulsory Vietnamese curriculum,
Vietnamese students in South Korea only began to learn Korean several months or one to two
years before they came to South Korea. Thus, Vietnamese students in South Korea would be
expected to encounter far more linguistic challenges in their interactions with local people,
which might thus have elicited xenophobic reactions from locals.
Experiences during social media deprivation
Although our subjects in both countries complained that they felt discomfited by the absence
of social media under the media deprivation condition, the students in South Korea expressed
more intense feelings such as depression, anxiety and frustration. Such feelings were not as
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salient among those in Singapore, who merely described the absence as inconvenient and
uncomfortable. Some of the responses from the Singapore study were as follows:
‘It was uncomfortable and unpleasant not being able to use it.’
‘Sometimes I felt uncomfortable, because I would have something very happy
or very sad and I wanted to call my mom to talk about it, but I could not
because of the experiment’.
In contrast, subjects in South Korea revealed more intense feelings and
thoughts:
‘I was sad and depressed when I was disconnected.’
‘During the media deprivation exercise, I was anxious and worried.’
‘Without using social media, I felt a bitter sense of severance from my friends and
family’.
This contrast in the intensity of feelings of the subjects in the two countries is likely to
be related to the severity of discrimination that each group was facing. Since the students in
South Korea felt a stronger sense of discrimination, their need for support and comfort from
those in their home country was greater. Hence, the absence of contact with their Vietnamese
family and friends was felt more acutely.
Although the two groups demonstrated similar uses and gratifications vis-à-vis social
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Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
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media before the media deprivation exercise, their communication patterns during the exercise
were noticeably different. Without social media to keep up with their left-behind friends and
family, the students in South Korea reported more frequent interactions with Vietnamese
friends in South Korea as one way to compensate for the lack of connection to Vietnam. In
contrast, the Vietnamese students in Singapore exerted greater effort in their studies and other
offline activities and even seemed happy with such alternatives. That is, while the Vietnamese
students in South Korea substituted their social network communication with increased time
spent with Vietnamese friends in South Korea, their counterparts in Singapore did not feel the
need to compensate similarly:
Students in South Korea
Students in Singapore
‘For those days without social media, I
mainly chitchatted with my Vietnamese
friends in school’.
‘I spent a lot more time talking with
Vietnamese friends in Korea in order to
relieve stress’.
‘I heard news from a Vietnamese
friend whom I take a Korean class
with’.
‘The most positive experience is that I had
more time for my schoolwork, I could save
time (by not contacting my left-behind
family and friends)’.
‘During the time that I did not contact
home, I joined a dance group at the place
where I live (the school hostel), and I felt
very happy’.
‘I can focus on many things, focus more on
my life here only’.
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Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
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Classification of social media use
Following Birkland’s (2013) classification of ICT users into Enthusiast, Practicalist, Socializer,
Traditionalist and Guardian categories, this study sought to group our subjects accordingly
based on their use of social media and the consequent emotional benefits that they gained.
Specifically, we focused on how they used social media as a student living in a foreign
country and how they used social media to communicate with family and friends in their home
country.
The Vietnamese students in Singapore tended to be ‘Enthusiasts’. To them, social
media was a source of entertainment. They enjoyed using social media on a daily basis to
interact with friends and subscribe to news that interested them. Some responses describing
their social media usage are as follows:
‘When I use Viber and WhatsApp, there are a lot of lovely stickers which makes
chatting more fun. Just chat about silly stuff, nothing much. Just chat back and
forth for fun.’
‘Sometimes, discussions (with friends via social media) are just for fun.’
‘So the entertainment news (that I read online) is just for fun with (my) friends’.
However, in terms of communicating with friends and family in their home country,
the same students exhibited ‘Socializer’ and ‘Guardian’ traits. For the Vietnamese students in
Singapore, the goal of communicating through social media with their family and friends back
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Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
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home was to maintain their identity as Vietnamese people (Socializer). At the same time, they
had negative attitudes towards their own excessive social media use (Guardian). Verbatim
responses reflecting Socializer characteristics of students in Singapore are as follows:
‘I adapt to Singapore to have success more easily, to live a comfortable life. I
feel that I belong to Singapore. And I still want to keep my roots, my
Vietnamese culture because I was born and grew up in Vietnam, and my
parents are still living there, so I feel a need to connect with Vietnam.’
‘These ICTs help our lives be more connected. Although we live far away from
home, I still feel very close to home’.
The students in Singapore manifested Guardian characteristics as evinced in the
following quotes:
‘I did not continue that habit (of using too much social media) anymore, it's
hard to give it up (the habit), it’s like I’m addicted and I need to quit.’
‘The most positive experience (when I was asked to give up social media for
one week) was probably that I could completely focus on my studies and do
assignments at night’.
However, the Vietnamese students in South Korea displayed ‘Practicalist’ forms of
social media usage. They tended to use different social media platforms as different tools to
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Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
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solicit emotional support from Vietnamese friends and informational support that they
received from Korean friends. They revealed Practicalist characteristics in the following
opinions:
‘In Korea, I use KakaoTalk and email to talk about work, and I use KakaoTalk to talk
to Vietnamese friends in Korea. I use Skype to talk with family back in Vietnam and
use Facebook and Zalo to talk to my friends.’
‘Most people in Korea use KakaoTalk, and I usually talk about academic matters with
people in my research lab. I usually use Skype, my phone, or KakaoTalk with my
family in Vietnam to ask how they are and talk about personal and intimate things’.
In contrast, when using social media to communicate with those in their home
country, the Vietnamese students in South Korea exhibited ‘Socializer’ traits. They wished to
continue communicating with people back home to maintain their relationships and attain
stability in their everyday lives. Responses showing the Socializer side of these Vietnamese
students in South Korea included the following:
‘I keep in touch with Vietnam every day. It helps my life in Korea.’
‘If I cannot contact my family in Vietnam, life will be unbearable. I have lots
of Vietnamese friends here but they are just part of my life for the moment.
They cannot be compared with my family. Family rules!’
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Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
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Although the Vietnamese students in both South Korea and Singapore were classified
as Socializers, it is important to note that the level of gratification that they received through
social media usage was slightly different. The Vietnamese students in Singapore seemed to
have higher self-confidence and tended to state that the difficulties that they faced studying
abroad were challenges that they had not only expected, but also knew that they would
overcome them. Communication with friends and family in Vietnam provided them with
feelings of being cared for and loved in addition to the independent life that they had to cope
with in Singapore. On the other hand, for the Vietnamese students in South Korea,
communication with friends and family helped relieve them from feeling like they were
victims of discrimination and negative bias. Responses from the Vietnamese students in South
Korea implied that they contacted friends and family in Vietnam for emotional support and for
confirmation of their inherent values and reaffirmation of their identity.
Students in South Korea
Students in Singapore
‘When I communicate with family in
Vietnam I feel more self-worth. In Korea,
I only interact with a few friends that I
take classes with’.
‘If I cannot contact my family in Vietnam,
I will probably leave Korea right away. I
would feel non-existent’.
‘I tend to share difficult stories or negative
‘My parents care for me, so I need to care
for them (via social media) too. As a child,
I cannot show my care for them
physically’.
‘I did not stay close to my family since I
was young, so the connectedness with my
family is very important to me’.
‘To a young person, family is always
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experiences of Korea with my friends in
Vietnam. Just being able to talk about it
helps a lot’.
‘Keeping in touch with my friends and
family in Vietnam is very meaningful to
me. I feel happier and more confident’.
‘Contacting family and friends in Vietnam
encourages me emotionally, which is
something I cannot get from Korean
people’.
important, because I need something to
lean on, I lack life experience’.
‘When something happens, I always want
to share it with my parents or family
members and ask for their advice and
opinions. Last week (during the media
deprivation week), I could practice to think
more independently. I learned to reassure
myself when there were no family
members by my side. It is like a good
training’.
Discussion
South Korea and Singapore are among countries with the highest rates of Internet connectivity
and mobile penetration. Thus, it was not surprising that the Vietnamese students living in the
two countries enjoyed ready access to digital media and incorporated them into their daily
lives and everyday communications. The rich polymedia (Madianou and Miller 2013)
landscape has provided a suite of communication platforms that students could strategically
leverage to communicate with those in different social circles and geographical regions.
Furthermore, the easy accessibility of digital media has also brought cost advantages for
students on strict budgets to communicate with family and friends back home. Such costs
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Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
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savings are significant. Digital media enabled Vietnamese students to have frequent
communications with family and friends in Vietnam and with local and co-national friends.
The former is crucial for providing subjects with a strong sense of social support and
emotional validation. It is especially important for students negotiating an unfamiliar host
country. Communication with the latter is also vital because it affords students informational
support, enabling them to acquaint themselves with the local culture, norms and practices, thus
expediting their adjustment.
Due to the different experiences between the Vietnamese students in South Korea and
those in Singapore, digital media played an important role in sustaining their emotional well-
being, particularly for students in South Korea, who reported feeling more emotionally and
psychologically distant from locals, to the point of perceiving discrimination. Maintaining
contact with family and friends in Vietnam was an indispensable source of comfort and solace
for these students as that they could draw strength to face challenges and restore their sense of
identity. Constant communication with family was a welcome salve for emotional wounds.
During the media deprivation period, the Vietnamese students in Singapore longed for their
family and friends. They became more engaged in local activities or focused their energies on
their studies. However, the Vietnamese students in South Korea seemed to be more adversely
affected by media deprivation, expressing an acute sense of loss and alienation. The profound
sense of loss that these subjects felt from being unable to access social media also
demonstrated the extent to which these technologies were interwoven into their everyday lives
and habits.
The classification of media user types helps us clarify the differences between
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Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
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students in the two countries. While the Vietnamese students in Singapore displayed
characteristics of Enthusiasts, typical among those in younger generations who use social
media for entertainment purposes, most of the Vietnamese students in South Korea revealed
characteristics of Practicalists. They utilized social media to seek comfort and support. Such
differences were manifested in their use of media to connect with those back home. Although
the students in both South Korea and Singapore relied on media to remain connected with
their family and friends in Vietnam, the Vietnamese students in South Korea were seeking
confirmation of their innate self-worth to counter the discrimination that they perceived.
Furthermore, Guardian traits were only found in the Vietnamese students in Singapore as
evidenced by a greater awareness of negative consequences of excessive social media use.
Conclusion and limitation
This study found that social media offers international students potent tools to help overcome
the difficulties of being an immigrant, but social media use is also highly influenced by the
context of the host countries and perceived level of discrimination. Online networks that
transcend borders, both physical and emotional, enable these students to forge new networks
while drawing solace from enduring bonds with loved ones. Through a cross-cultural
comparison, we found that the Vietnamese students in Singapore perceived a milder sense of
discrimination, branched out to their local Singaporean networks more actively and sustained
social media communication with their left-behind family and friends to receive more care and
love. On the other hand, the Vietnamese students in South Korea felt a stronger sense of
discrimination, their need for support and comfort from families and friends back in Vietnam
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
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was greater, the absence of contact with their left-behind friends was felt more acutely and
they still tended to reach out to fellow Vietnamese friends in South Korea rather than local
Korean friends under the media deprivation condition. However, a greater awareness of the
negative consequences of excessive social media use was only found in the Vietnamese
students in Singapore. Thus, international students need to realize that excessive use of social
media can lead to distant online connections taking precedence over physically proximate
networks that can be further strengthened by interpersonal communication. As international
students thrive best when supported by networks that are diverse, extensive and inclusive
(Gomes et al. 2014; Lin et al. 2012), it is imperative that these students optimize their social
media use so that their social networks in both home and host countries are mutually
reinforcing rather than mutually exclusive.
Compared to Singapore, South Korea’s climate is one that is inherently less
multicultural. By investigating media use among minority communities of female Vietnamese
students in two Asian metropolitan societies, this study identified how the sociocultural
environment can influence media use. At first glance, South Korea and Singapore seem to be
parallel in their socio-economic development and technology adoption. However, the two
countries have sharply divergent approaches to multiculturalism that translated into varied
experiences for migrant students, accompanied by different patterns of social media use.
International students not only contribute towards the economic growth of the host
country but also play a role as public diplomats (Nesdale and Todd 2000; Yun and Vibber
2012). It is important to consider not only the quantitative growth of international students but
also the qualitative aspects of their life while studying abroad. Our findings demonstrate that
This is the pre-print version of An, S., Lim, S. S., Lee, H., & Pham, B. (2018). Overcoming Prejudice, Seeking
Support: Transnational Social Media Communication of Female Vietnamese Students in South Korea and
Singapore. Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration, 2(2), 107-126.
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as much as social media and other technological communication platforms have a logic of
their own, their significance to individual users and their modes of utilization are ultimately
shaped by overarching forces such as social and migration policies in the receiving country
and their impact on social inclusion/exclusion of foreigners.
This article’s limitation is a small degree of inconsistency in the data collection
process in South Korea versus Singapore. While the data in Singapore were collected first and
directly by Author D, who is Vietnamese, the data collection process in South Korea took
place later and required the help of a Vietnamese research assistant. To minimize the language
barriers and logistics challenges in South Korea, given that external help was involved, we
sought to refine our study design and research questions with clearer research goals for the
South Korea side and had all the interview transcripts translated into English before
conducting our data analysis. Be that as it may, we believe that our cross-cultural comparison
in this article can still contribute significantly towards the existing literature of migration and
media.
Acknowledgements
This work was supported by National Research Foundation of Korea-Grant funded by the
Korean Government (NRF-2014K2A1A2048493).
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Contributor details
Soontae An is professor at the School of Communication and Media, Ewha Womans
University.
Sun Sun Lim is professor of media and communication at Humanities, Arts and Social
Sciences, Singapore University of Technology and Design.
Hannah Lee is doctoral student at the School of Communication and Media, Ewha Womans
University.
Becky Pham is researcher at Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences, Singapore University of
Technology and Design.
Contact:
Soontae An and Hannah Lee, Ewha Womans University, College of Social Sciences, School
of Communication and Media, 52, Ewhayeodae-gil, Seodaemun-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea,
03760.
E-mail: soontae@ewha.ac.kr
E-mail: hoy1222@naver.com
Sun Sun Lim and Becky Pham, Singapore University of Technology and Design, Humanities,
Arts and Social Sciences, 8 Somapah Road, #04-101, Building 1, Level 4, Singapore, 487372,
Singapore.
E-mail: sunlim@sutd.edu.sg
E-mail: beckypham2108@gmail.com
Article
This study explores the everyday living experiences of five Vietnamese postgraduate students in New Zealand, employing an interpretative phenomenological analysis approach. The analysis revealed one minor theme that captures the students’ preparations before coming to New Zealand and one overarching theme that focuses on living arrangements and circumstances. The students were ill-prepared for their lives in New Zealand, which contributed to the difficulties encountered. They were shocked to find that their studies and lives were affected by accommodation arrangements, which forced them to learn to cope with unfamiliar issues. The overarching essence is that a variety of factors (e.g., familial, cultural and gender factors) influenced the students’ experiences. However, drawing on traditional, cultural values, the students could overcome these difficulties. The study has implications for host universities to assist students in coping with the harsh reality of everyday living issues, including having a roof over one’s head.
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