Making Sense of One's Feelings

The Emotional Labour of Chinese International Students in Canadian Universities

  • Jean-Michel Montsion


Canadian universities’ sharpened focus on international students starting in the early 2000s coincided with the growing interest by students from China to study abroad. Various actors, including states, have shaped and benefited from this increase in student migration. I examine how student migrants deal with the feeling rules transmitted to them, as an under-explored site where the migration experience is shaped and justified. In light of the work of Sara Ahmed and Arlie Russell Hochschild, I explore how students feel and are asked to feel about their studies abroad, and how emotions work in framing and maintaining the migration narrative. Through Ahmed’s concept of skin of the collective, I argue that Chinese student migrants are affected by and contribute to an affective atmosphere regarding their years of study in Canada as specific feeling rules help them make sense of similar experiences of confusion, frustration, self-reliance, and responsibility. Based on interviews with students and university staffers, I discuss the links between this type of migration, the actors involved, and the emotional landscapes students navigate in order to highlight how they interpret their own experiences and how these interpretations contribute to maintaining a general narrative about being Chinese international students in Canada.


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Author Biography

Jean-Michel Montsion

Jean Michel Montsion is an Associate Professor in the Canadian Studies Program at Glendon College, York University. His research interests are found at the intersection of ethnicity, mobility and urban research. Montsion investigates state-driven gateway strategies in cities like Singapore, Toronto and Vancouver, and their impact on the activities of civil society actors, as well as on the everyday lives of selected migrant groups. He has notably published in the Canadian Journal of Higher Education, Citizenship Studies, Ethnic and Racial Studies, Environment and Planning D: Society & Space, and Geoforum.