"Rules You Have to Know"

International and Domestic Student Encounters with Institutional Habitus Through Group Work





internationalization, institutional habitus, group work, cross-national interactions, U.S. higher education, international students


As more universities internationalize, interest in engagement between international and domestic students has increased. University initiatives to bring students together often adopt a deficit approach dependent on international students’ adjustment to the host culture, overlooking the need for engagement to be a two-way exchange and the role of the institution in this process. Focusing on academic group work as a salient site of cross-national interaction, this study draws on analysis of focus group data to explore how “institutional habitus” (Cornbleth, 2010; Reay et al., 2001), or unwritten rules, are enacted at a large U.S. university. Findings indicated that domestic students were better socialized to understand the habitus of the institution and tended to take charge in group work. In contrast, international students were seen as linguistically and academically deficient and were relegated to passive roles in a group. Important implications for practitioners and scholars of U.S. higher education are discussed.

Author Biographies

Laura Seithers, University of Minnesota

Laura Seithers, PhD, recently earned her PhD in Comparative and International Development Education program at the University of Minnesota. Her research interests include the internationalization of higher education, women’s transnational mobility, and narrative inquiry research methodologies. Email: seith004@umn.edu

Zhuldyz Amankulova, University of Minnesota

Zhuldyz Amankulova is a PhD candidate in Comparative and International Development Education at the University of Minnesota. Her research concerns student development and success, higher education internationalization, and social reproduction theory. E-mail: amank005@umn.edu

Christopher Johnstone, University of Minnesota

Christopher Johnstone is an assistant professor of Comparative and International Development Education at the University of Minnesota. His research focuses on inclusive outcomes in education, internationalization of higher education, and international development. He currently serves as the faculty coordinator for the university’s Leadership in International and Intercultural Education low-residency PhD program for international educators. E-mail: john4810@umn.edu


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How to Cite

Seithers, L., Amankulova, Z., & Johnstone, C. . (2021). "Rules You Have to Know": International and Domestic Student Encounters with Institutional Habitus Through Group Work. Journal of International Students, 12(2). https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v12i2.1651



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