Date of Award

Spring 5-12-2022

Degree Type


Degree Name

PhD Higher Education Leadership, Management, Policy


Education Leadership, Management and Policy


Katie Smith, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Alexandra Freidus, Ph.D.

Committee Member

Haiwei Zhang, Ph.D.


Internationalization, higher education, China, ASEAN, International students, career outcomes, Human Capital Theory, Neo-Racism Theory


As the third largest destination country for international postsecondary students, China has received nearly 500,000 international students, and more than 20% of them are from ASEAN member states (Department of International Cooperation and Exchanges, 2019). Compared to students from Western society, most ASEAN students are from developing countries and may have stronger needs to generate career benefits via studying abroad. ASEAN students in China and their career outcomes, however, have been always overlooked in existing research.

In this qualitative study, I applied Human Capital Theory (HCT) and Neo Racism Theory (NRT) to investigate the career outcomes of graduated ASEAN students who obtain a master’s degree of Chinese Language from mainland China. I conducted in-depth, semi-structured interview with 16 participants who were born in Malaysia, Myanmar, and Thailand, investigating their perceptions on the benefits and costs of studying in China, factors impacting their career outcomes, and suggestions on Chinese government and universities. I also explored how participants’ experience and perceptions vary across sending countries.

Participants recognized that studying in China can improve their employability by enhancing their technical skills, language skills, and soft skills. Establishing professional networks, holding a master’s degree granted by Chinese universities, and learning from the workplace culture in China can also contribute to their professional development in both China and their home countries.

Based on participants’ perceptions, the influential factors for career outcomes can be categorized into international/national, social/institutional, and personal/family factors. China-ASEAN economic cooperation has created opportunities from these participants who have

studied in China and know China well. China’s unclear policies on international students, however, have confused participants and caused barriers when they seek jobs in China. At the social level, some participants have experienced discrimination against non-White races, which discouraged them from remaining, but most participants were impressed by China’s development and wanted to work in China. Participants improved their employability via courses offered in their programs, and those who graduated from high reputation universities or universities that have cooperation with ASEAN states tended to obtain better career opportunities. Most Chinese universities, however, adopt a segregation policy, dividing Chinese and international students into different classes and dorms. Participants, therefore, lack opportunities to interact with local students and build local network. Moreover, many advisors in China were limited by their knowledge on ASEAN states and cannot offer necessary help on participants’ career development. At the personal and family level, personal experience is vital in jo-seeking, and family responsibility and parents’ expectations have pulled many participants back to their sending countries. Most participants had no suggestions for Chinese government and institutions, although some expected more fair scholarship policies and more clear immigration regulations.

The results partly echo HRT and NRT but challenged some arguments as well. This research remains scholars to be more cautious when applying West-originated theories in Asia, and factors like politics, culture, and economic development in the studied areas should be considered. This study also generated a model to show how influential factors interact with each other and impact participants’ career outcomes.