Moorings and Disembeddedness: The Search for Modern Subjectivity and the Need for Belonging among Chinese International Students in Norway
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This is an ethnographic study of Chinese international students in Norway. It focuses on their motives, experiences, difficulties and how these are managed. The main way this is done is through social groups, the Lutheran Evangelical Church (LEC) being a locus for this. The students are bālínghòu, or post 80s generation, who have grown up in a modernizing China. This creates in them an emphasis on modernity where images from outside play a key role. They see China as tradition-bound, and the developed world as conducive to greater freedom. Their conversion was a surprise, as it is disadvantageous in mainstream Chinese and Norwegian society. For some this was an expression of a personal faith, but for many it was an attempt to find belonging in a co-national group. The LEC provides a space for such social interaction, but simultaneously allows them to connect with western civilisation generally. In this way, the Chinese community at the church acts as a valve, allowing the young members to regulate their exposure to Norwegian society. Some such exposure is important, as the sojourns are a part of an identity project for creating a modern and global identity. The students attempted to appropriate these qualities for themselves by embodying what they associate with the developed world. Most importantly, their futures should be created by their own choices, and not by tradition, so that they might have elective lifestyles rather than prescribed life-courses. In this way, they have both spatial and social mobility. Ironically, this requires a disembeddedness, which contributes to the emotional distress of not belonging. In the early stages, their existence was dominated by the difficulties of international student life. Having to adapt to a new place and being without a social network was taxing for them. A number developed psychological and emotional problems, such as depression, anxiety, disturbed sleep, etc. Such problems are common to international students, and tend to pass. Although there are many alternatives open to them, the students here discussed resolved these issues through religious involvement. Many Chinese students became involved in the congregation to various degrees, some going so far as to be baptised, while others remain more peripheral. The LEC served several functions, besides those mentioned above. It also gave them a moral code to follow, which further alleviated distress. Above all, the LEC provided a feeling of belonging, which resolved some of the uncertainty that the students felt.