Experiences of Chinese international students living in Australia: Wellbeing from "we" to "me"





Whilst there is evidence of subjective wellbeing being related to academic success, good performance within and beyond university, degree attainment, and positive subsequent physical, mental, economic, and social outcomes in the university student population, less is known on how different student populations perceive, experience, and cultivate wellbeing. The current study explored the perspectives and experiences of one such population: Chinese international students at several universities across Australia. Semi-structured interviews with 30 students indicated that participants mainly experienced wellbeing through experiences of competence, feeling supported by family and friends, low levels of pressure, and giving to others. Almost half of the participants believed that people around them had low wellbeing. Students indicated drawing upon intrapersonal activities as the primary pathway to support their own wellbeing, whereas they pointed to interpersonal activities to support other’s wellbeing. The findings show the mismatch between students’ wellbeing experiences and pathways, shed light on understanding students’ wellbeing in the higher education context, and identify some of the contextual and cultural factors that contribute to wellbeing experiences and pathways. Implications for interculturally nuanced approaches to understanding and supporting wellbeing are considered.

Key words: subjective wellbeing, intercultural experiences, studying abroad, Chinese international students, content analysis, higher education


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Author Biographies

Lanxi Huang, The University of Melbourne

Ms Lanxi Huang is a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne. She has working experience in psychological counselling and teaching. Lanxi’s current research focuses on wellbeing, wellbeing literacy and language, international education, and tertiary education; with specific emphasis on how Chinese international students conceptualize and language used about wellbeing.

Margaret L. Kern, The University of Melbourne

Dr Peggy Kern is an associate professor at the Centre for Wellbeing Science within the University of Melbourne's Graduate School of Education. Originally trained in social, personality, and developmental psychology, Peggy received her undergraduate degree in psychology from Arizona State University, a Masters and Ph.D. in social/personality psychology from the University of California and postdoctoral training in positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania. Her research focuses on understanding, measuring, and supporting wellbeing across the lifespan. She works with schools and workplaces to examine strategies for supporting wellbeing, and bridging gaps between research and practice. She has published 3 books, over 100 peer-reviewed articles and chapters, and the new, freely available Palgrave Handbook of Positive Education. You can find out more about Peggy’s work at www.peggykern.org

Lindsay G. Oades, The University of Melbourne

Dr Lindsay G. Oades PhD is an internationally acclaimed wellbeing public policy strategist, researcher and author. As Director and Professor at the Centre for Wellbeing Science, at The University of Melbourne, he leads a growing and dynamic team of researchers and educators who promote and investigate how people learn to improve wellbeing, in education, health, organisations and communities.

In 2013 he was awarded an Australian Government citation for outstanding contribution to student learning. As a sought after speaker, known to provoke thought, he has given keynote or invited presentations in Australia, Canada, China, Hong Kong, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Taiwan, United Arab Emirates, UK and the USA. With over 100 refereed journal articles and book chapters related to wellbeing, recovery and coaching and four books with esteemed publishers including Cambridge University Press, Wiley-Blackwell and SAGE, he is a scientific reviewer for the Australian Research Council. Lindsay has consulted to multiple organisations including the NSW Department of Education, NSW Mental Health Commission, Beyond Blue and the Australian Mental Health Commission. He is currently a non-executive Director of Action of Happiness Australia, and the Positive Education Schools Association and a long term managing Director of Life Sculpture Pty Ltd (trading as Campania of Meeniyan). Lindsay's multidisciplinary background spanning philosophy of science and ethics, clinical, coaching and positive psychology, business and public policy provide insights into the multidisciplinary area of wellbeing. He was previously a co-editor for the International Journal of Wellbeing, a scientific panel member at the Institute of Coaching (Harvard University) and a visiting researcher at Kings College London. Lindsay's current work involves understanding, measuring and improving wellbeing literacy- (how we communicate about and for wellbeing) part of his new theory Thriveability Theory. Lindsay aims for every school child in Australia to have a personalised wellbeing plan via coaching and currently works with a process called "My Wellbeing Planner". Lindsay believes wellbeing is everyone's business and he promotes this using a systems and community based approach- wellbeing focussed- different from traditional approaches to mental health which focus on the individual and alleviating negative states. Lindsay asserts that we should "teach rather than treat", an approach of learning wellbeing capabilities - being able to improve your own and others wellbeing.