“We are a ghost in the class.” First Year International Students’ Experiences in the Global Contact Zone


  • Keri Freeman Griffith University
  • Minglin Li Griffith University




academic literacies, deficit view, international students, classroom practices, identity


This article draws on data collected during case studies involving six undergraduate international students. It uses the academic literacies framework to examine how international students (re)negotiate their student identities. Based on the concept that Australian university classrooms are global educational contact zones, the study reinforces the urgent need to shift from existing narratives which focus on international students’ perceived language and literacy deficits. Participants demonstrated positive student identities by successfully mediating disciplinary requirements. However, their transition was hindered due to insufficient opportunities for meaningful classroom interactions and lack of academic instruction and feedback. The findings suggest teachers are in the best position to address this gap through classroom pedagogies which accommodate learners from diverse backgrounds and facilitate inclusive learning environments.

Author Biographies

Keri Freeman, Griffith University

KERI FREEMAN, Ph.D., is a Lecturer in the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science at Griffith University in Australia. Her major research interests are in pedagogy related to academic literacy and academic reading, and international students’ classroom experiences.

Minglin Li, Griffith University

MINGLIN LI, Ph.D., is a Senior Lecturer in TESOL/Educational Linguistics in the School of Humanities, Languages and Social Science at Griffith University in Australia. Her research is in the field of Educational Linguistics with a particular focus on issues relating to English as an Additional Language.


Australian Education International. (2007). Final report. Outcomes from a national symposium: English language competence of international students, August 2007. Retrieved from https://internationaleducation.gov.au/research/Publications/Documents/NS_Outcomes_Syposium.pdf

Australian Education International. (2013). Five years on: English language competence of international students. Outcomes report, June 2013. Retrieved from https://www.ieaa.org.au/documents/item/54

Australian Government Department of Education and Training. (2016). 2016 first half year higher education statistics. Retrieved from https://docs.education.gov.au/system/files/doc/other/2016firsthalfyearinfograpgic.pdf

Australian Universities Quality Agency. (2009). Good practice principles for English language proficiency for international students in Australian universities. Retrieved from http://www.aall.org.au/sites/default/files/Final_Report-Good_Practice_Principles2009.pdf

Baik, C., Naylor, R., & Arkoudis, S. (2015). The first year experience in Australian universities: Findings from two decades, 1994–2014. Retrieved from http://melbourne-cshe.unimelb.edu.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0016/1513123/FYE-2014-FULL-report-FINAL-web.pdf

Chaney, M. (2013). Australia—Educating globally: Advice from the International Education Advisory Council. Canberra: Commonwealth of Australia.

Clifford, J. (1997). Routes: Travel and translation in the late twentieth century. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Creswell, J. W. (2012). Educational research. Planning, conducting and evaluating quantitative and qualitative research (4th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson.

Doherty, C. A., & Singh, P. (2007). Mobile students, flexible identities and liquid modernity: Disrupting teachers’ assumptions of “the Asian learner.” In D. Palfreyman & D. L. McBride (Eds.), Learning and teaching across cultures in higher education (pp. 114–132). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Duff, P. (2014). Case study research on language learning and use. Annual Review of Applied Linguistics, 34, 233–255. doi:10.1017/S0267190514000051

Dunworth, K. (2013). In-course student language development: A discussion paper for a National Symposium: Five Years on: English Language Competence of International Students. Paper presented at the 2013 National Symposium on English Language Competence of International Students, Melbourne, Australia.

Elliot, D. L., Reid, K., & Baumfield, V. (2016). Beyond the amusement, puzzlement and challenges: an enquiry into International students' academic acculturation. Studies in Higher Education, 41(12), 2198–2217. doi:10.1080/03075079.2015.1029903

Fenton-Smith, B., Humphreys, P., Walkinshaw, I., Michael, R., & Lobo, A. (2015). Implementing a university-wide credit-bearing English language enhancement program: Issues emerging from practice. Studies in Higher Education, 42(3), 463–479. doi:10.1080/03075079.2015.1052736

Gale, T., Mills, C., & Cross, R. (2017). Socially inclusive teaching: Belief, design, action as pedagogic work. Journal of Teacher Education, 68(3), 345–356. doi:10.1177/0022487116685754

Gargano, T. (2012). Grounded identities, transient lives: The emergence of international student voices in an era of cosmopolitan learning. Journal of International Students. 2, 144–156.

Gee, J. P. (2004). Situated language and learning. New York, NY: Routledge.

Glass, C. R., Kociolek, E., Wongtrirat, R., Lynch, R. J., & Cong, S. (2015). Uneven experiences: The impact of student-faculty interactions on International students' sense of belonging. Journal of International Students, 5(4), 353–367.

Gorski, P. C. (2010). Unlearning deficit ideology and the scornful gaze: Thoughts on authenticating the class discourse in education. Retrieved from http://www.edchange.org/publications/deficit-ideology-scornful-gaze.pdf

Gu, M., Patkin, J., & Kirkpatrick, A. (2014). The dynamic identity construction in English as Lingua Franca intercultural communication: A positioning perspective. System, 46, 131–142.

Harper, R., Prentice, S., & Wilson, K. (2011). English language perplexity: Articulating the tensions in the DEEWR “Good Practice Principles.” The International Journal of the First Year in Higher Education, 2(1), 36–48.

Hocking, D., & Fieldhouse, W. (2011). Implementing academic literacies in practice. New Zealand Journal of Educational Studies, 46(1), 35–47.

Hyland, K. (2013). Writing in university: Education knowledge and reputation. Language Teaching 46(1), 53–70. doi:10.1017/S0261444811000036

Lea, M. R., & Street, B. V. (1998). Student writing in higher education: An academic literacies approach. Studies in Higher Education, 23(2), 157–172.

Leask, B. (2013). Internationalising the curriculum in the disciplines—Imagining new possibilities. Journal of Studies in International Education, 17(2), 103–118. doi:10.1177/1028315312475090

Leask, B., & Bridge, C. (2013). Comparing internationalisation of the curriculum in action across disciplines: Theoretical and practical perspectives. Compare: A Journal of Comparative and International Education, 43(1), 79–101. doi:10.1080/03057925.2013.746566

Leask, B., & Carroll, J. (2011). Moving beyond “wishing and hoping”: Internationalisation and student experiences of inclusion and engagement. Higher Education Research & Development, 30(5), 647–659. doi:10.1080/07294360.2011.598454

Lizzio, A. (2011). The student lifecycle: An integrative framework for guiding practice. Retrieved from https://www.griffith.edu.au/learning-teaching/student-success/first-year-experience/student-lifecycle-transition-orientation

Marginson, S. (2013). Student self-formation in international education. Journal of Studies in International Education, 18(1), 6–22. doi:10.1177/1028315313513036

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. (2013). Education indicators in focus—2013/05 (July). Retrieved from https://www.oecd.org/education/skills-beyond school/EDIF%202013--N%C2%B014%20(eng)-Final.pdf

Pham, L., & Saltmarsh, D. (2013). International students’ identities in a globalised world: Narratives from Vietnam. Journal of Research in International Education, 12(2), 129–141. doi:10.1177/1475240913481171

Productivity Commission. (2015). International education services. Retrieved from http://www.pc.gov.au/research/completed/international-education/international-education.pdf

Safipour, J., Wenneberg, S., & Hadziabdic, E. (2017). Experience of education in the international classroom—A systematic literature review. Journal of International Students, 7(3), 806–824. doi:10.5281/zenodo.570035

Scotland, J. (2014). Operating in global educational contact zones: How pedagogical adaption to local contexts may result in the renegotiation of the professional identities of English language teachers. Teaching and Teacher Education, 33, 33–43. doi:10.1016/j.tate.213.09.002

Slaten, C. D., Elison, Z. M., Lee, J. Y., Yough, M., & Scalise, D. (2016). Belonging on campus. A qualitative inquiry of Asian international students. The Counseling Psychologist, 44(3), 383–410. doi:10.1177/0011000016633506

Street, B. V. (2013). Literacy in theory and practice: Challenges and debate over 50 years. Theory into Practice, 52(1), 52–62. doi:10.1080/00405841.2013.795442

Tobell, J., & Burton, R. L. (2015). Identity and participation in UK universities: An exploration of student experiences and university practices. International Journal of Diversity in Education, 15(4), 21–32. doi:10.18848/2327-0020/CGP/V15105/40134

Wilson, K. L., Murphy, K.A., Pearson, A. G., Wallace, B. M., Reher, V. G. S., & Buys, N. (2016). Understanding the early transition needs of diverse commencing university students in a health faculty: Informing effective intervention practices. Studies in Higher Education, 41(6), 1023–1040. doi:10.1080/03075079.2014.966070

Wingate, U. (2015). Academic literacy and student diversity. Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.

Yan, Z., & Sendall, P. (2016). First year experience: How we can better assist first-year International students in higher education. Journal of International Students, 6(1), 35–51.

Yefanova, D. N., Montgomery, M. L., Woodruff, G. A., Johnstone, C. J., & Kappler, B. (2017). Instructional practices facilitating cross-national interactions in the undergraduate classroom. Journal of International Students, 7(3), 786–805. doi: 10.5281/zenodo.570034

Yin, R. K. (2009). Case study research: Design and methods (4th ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Yin, R. K. (2011). Qualitative research from start to finish. New York, NY: Guilford.

Yin, R. K. (2012). Applications of case study research (3rd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.




How to Cite

Freeman, K., & Li, M. (2019). “We are a ghost in the class.” First Year International Students’ Experiences in the Global Contact Zone. Journal of International Students, 9(1), 19–38. https://doi.org/10.32674/jis.v9i1.270