Connecting with family, friends and others

Informal caregiving among international postgraduate researchers in a British University


  • I Lin Sin Independent Scholar
  • Alina Schartner Newcastle University



care, postgraduate research, pandemic, United Kingdom, mental health, social networks, wellbeing


This article casts light on informal caregiving, an essential aspect of the international postgraduate researcher (PGR) experience, but which is often invisible in literature and discourses on international education. Drawing from qualitative semi-structured interviews with international PGRs in a British university, it highlights their dual role as care recipients and lesser known caregivers across transnational and local spaces. It gives insights into the forms and dynamics of care that they give to and receive from family, friends and others, uncovering the emotional and affective aspects of undertaking a postgraduate research degree overseas which impact on their mental wellbeing. The findings have implications for the improvement of university support for international PGRs which has relevance for the wider international student community.

Author Biographies

I Lin Sin, Independent Scholar

I LIN SIN, PhD, is a sociologist based in Glasgow, United Kingdom. She has conducted numerous research on in/equality, dis/advantage, ex/inclusion and wellbeing primarily in the areas of transnational mobility and international education. Her research is centred on the needs, perspectives and lived experiences of diverse and under-represented groups in the UK, Malaysia and transnational settings. Email:

Alina Schartner, Newcastle University

ALINA SCHARTNER, PhD, is Senior Lecturer in Applied Linguistics at the School of Education, Communication and Language Sciences (ECLS), Newcastle University, where she teaches and researches intercultural communication. Her research interests include the experiences of internationally mobile groups, in particular adjustment and adaptation of international students. E-mail:


Alinejad, D. (2021). Techno-emotional mediations of transnational intimacy: social media and care relations in long-distance Romanian families. Media, Culture & Society, 43(3), 444–459. DOI:

Alinejad, D. (2019). Careful co-presence: the transnational mediation of emotional intimacy. Social Media + Society, 5(2), 1-11. DOI:

Baldassar, L. (2008). Missing kin and longing to be together: emotions and the construction of co-presence in transnational relationships. Journal of Intercultural Studies, 29(3), 247-266. DOI:

Baldassar, L., & Merla, L. (2014). Introduction: Transnational family caregiving through the lens of circulation. In L. Baldassar, & L. Merla (Eds.), Transnational families, migration and the circulation of care: understanding mobility and absence in family life. (1st ed., pp. 3-24). Routledge. DOI:

Baldassar, L., Vellekoop Baldock, C., & Wilding, R. (2007). Families caring across borders: migration, ageing and transnational caregiving. Palgrave Macmillan. DOI:

Bilecen, B. (2014). International student mobility and transnational friendships. Palgrave Macmillan. DOI:

Bilecen, B. (2012). How social support works among the best and the brightest: evidence from international PhD students in Germany. Transnational Social Review, 2(2), 139-155. DOI:

Bilecen, B., & Faist, T. (2015). International doctoral students as knowledge brokers: reciprocity, trust and solidarity in transnational networks. Global Networks, 15(2), 217-235. DOI:

Braun, V., & Clarke, V. (2006). Using thematic analysis in psychology. Qualitative Research in Psychology, 3(2), 77-101. DOI:

Brooks, R. (2015). International students with dependent children: the reproduction of gender norms. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 36(2), 195-214. DOI:

Cabalquinto, E. C. B. (2018). ‘We’re not only here but we’re there in spirit’: asymmetrical mobile intimacy and the transnational Filipino family. Mobile Media & Communication, 6(1), 37–52. DOI:

Chen, S., & Le, T.T. (2021). The TESOL research training journey: voices from international PhD students (1st ed.). Routledge. DOI:

Deuchar, A., & Gorur, R. (2023). A caring transformation of international education: possibilities, challenges and change. Higher Education Research & Development, 42(5), 1197-1211. DOI:

Due, C., Zambrano, S.C., Chur-Hansen, A., Turnbull, D., & Niess, C. (2015). Higher degree by research in a foreign country: a thematic analysis of the experiences of international students and academic supervisors. Quality in Higher Education, 21(1), 52-65. DOI:

Edwards, V., & Ye, L. (2018). A sociological exploration of the impact of study abroad on international PhD students’ self-identity. Journal of Intercultural Communication, 47(1), 1. DOI:

Elliot, D. L., Baumfield, V., & Reid, K. (2016). Searching for ‘a third space’: a creative pathway towards international PhD students’ academic acculturation. Higher Education Research & Development, 35(6), 1180-1195. DOI:

Frampton, N., Smith, J., & Smithies, D. (2022). Understanding student mental health inequalities: international students. Student Minds.

Gao, Y. (2021). Understanding of international doctoral students' challenges: a literature review study. Journal of International Students, 11(2), 505–513. DOI:

Glen, J. (2023, July 13). Public sector pay. UK Parliament. (2023, May 23). Changes to student visa route will reduce net migration.

Gomes, C. 2022. Shock temporality: international students coping with disrupted lives and suspended futures. Asia Pacific Educational Review, 23(3), 527–538. DOI:

Gomes, C., Hendry, N. A., De Souza, R., Hjorth, L., Richardson, I., Harris, D., & Coombs, G. (2021). Higher degree students (HDR) during COVID-19: disrupted routines, uncertain futures, and active strategies of resilience and belonging. Journal of International Students, 11(S2), 19–37. DOI: (2023, May 23). Changes to student visa route will reduce net migration.

Herman, C., & Meki Kombe, C.L. (2019). The role of social networks in the transitional experiences of international African doctoral students at one university in South Africa. Higher Education Research and Development, 38(3), 508–521. DOI:

HESA (Higher Education Statistics Agency). (2023, February 15). Higher education student data.

Hopkins, P., & Mearns, G. (2019). Experiences of Muslim students at Newcastle University. Newcastle University.

Hu, Y., Xu, C. L., & Tu, M. (2022). Family-mediated migration infrastructure: Chinese international students and parents navigating (im)mobilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chinese Sociological Review, 54(1), 62-87. DOI:

Humphrey, A., & Forbes-Mewett, H. (2021). Social value systems and the mental health of international students during the COVID-19 pandemic. Journal of International Students, 11(S2), 58-76. DOI:

Karpenko-Seccombe, T. (2016). Supporting international PhD writers – are pastoral duties part of the package? International Student Experience Journal, 4 (1), 10-16.

Koo, K., Kim, Y. W., Lee, J., & Nyunt, G. (2021). “It’s My Fault”: Exploring Experiences and Mental Wellness Among Korean International Graduate Students. Journal of International Students, 11(4), 790–811. DOI:

Lipura, S.J., & Collins, F.L. (2020). Towards an integrative understanding of contemporary educational mobilities: a critical agenda for international student mobilities research. Globalisation, Societies and Education, 18(3), 343-359. DOI:

Loveridge, J., Doyle, S., & Faamanatu-Eteuati, N. (2018). Journeys across educational and cultural borders: international postgraduate students with young children. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 39(3), 333-347. DOI:

Marijanovic, Lee, J., Teague, T., & Means, S. (2021). Advising experiences of first year international doctoral students. Journal of International Students. 11(2), 417–435. DOI:

Metcalfe, J., Day, E. de Pury, J., & Dicks, A. (2020). Catalyst fund: supporting mental health and wellbeing for postgraduate research students. Vitae.

Montgomery, C., & McDowell, L. (2009). Social networks and the international student experience: an international community of practice? Journal of Studies in International Education, 13(4), 455–466. DOI:

Mulvey, B., Morris, A., & Ashton, L. (2023). Differentiated experiences of financial precarity and lived precariousness among international students in Australia. Higher Education. DOI:

Mwale, S., Alhawsawi, S., Sayed, Y., & Rind, I.A. (2018). Being a mobile international postgraduate research student with family in the United Kingdom: conflict, contestation and contradictions. Journal of Further and Higher Education, 42(3), 301-312. DOI:

Nguyen, M.N., & Robertson, M. J. (2020). International students enacting agency in their PhD journey. Teaching in Higher Education, 27(6), 814-830. DOI:

Office for Students. (2023). Studying during rises in the cost of living.

Phelps, J. M. (2016). International doctoral students’ navigations of identity and belonging in a globalizing university. International Journal of Doctoral Studies, 11, 1-14. DOI:

Pho, H., & Schartner, A. (2021). Social contact patterns of international students and their impact on academic adaptation, Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 42(6), 489-502. DOI:

Roy, R., Uekusa, S., & Karki, J. (2021). Multidimensional, complex and contingent: exploring international PhD students’ social mobility. Ethnicities, 21(5), 827–851. DOI:

Schartner, A., & Wang, Y. (2022). International student experiences during the COVID-19 pandemic. Newcastle University.

Shen, W., & Jiang, J. (2023). Institutional prestige, academic supervision and research productivity of international PhD students: Evidence from Chinese returnees. Journal of Sociology, 59(2), 552-579. DOI:

Sinanan, J., & Gomes, C. (2020). ‘Everybody needs friends’: emotions, social networks and digital media in the friendships of international students. International Journal of Cultural Studies, 23(5), 674–691. DOI:

Tran, L. T., & Vu, T.T.P. (2018). ‘Agency in mobility’: towards a conceptualisation of international student agency in transnational mobility. Educational Review, 70(2), 167-187. DOI:

Tsouroufli, M. (2015). Hybrid identities, emotions and experiences of inclusion/exclusion of international PhD students in England. Interdisciplinary Perspectives in Equality and Diversity, 1(1). DOI:

Tu, M.W. (2018). Education, migration and family relations between China and the UK: the transnational one-child generation. Emerald Publishing. DOI:

UNMC (University Mental Health Charter). About the University Mental Health Charter Framework.

UUK (Universities UK). (2022). Stepchange: mentally healthy universities.

Waters, J., & Brooks, R. (2010). Accidental achievers? International higher education, class reproduction and privilege in the experiences of UK students overseas. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 31(2), 217-228. DOI:

Xu, C.L. (2022). Portraying the ‘Chinese international students’: a review of English-language and Chinese-language literature on Chinese international students (2015–2020). Asia Pacific Education Review, 23, 151–167. DOI:

Young, T.J., & Schartner, A. (2014). The effects of cross-cultural communication education on international students' adjustment and adaptation. Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development, 35(6), 547-562. DOI:

Young, T. J., Sercombe, P.G., Sachdev, I., Naeb, R., & Schartner, A. (2013). Success factors for international postgraduate students’ adjustment: exploring the roles of intercultural competence, language proficiency, social contact and social support. European Journal of Higher Education, 3(2), 151-71. DOI:

Yu, Y. (2020). From universities to Christian churches: agency in the intercultural engagement of non-Christian Chinese students in the UK. Higher Education, 80(2), 197–213. DOI:




How to Cite

Sin, I. L., & Schartner, A. (2023). Connecting with family, friends and others: Informal caregiving among international postgraduate researchers in a British University . Journal of International Students, 14(1), 289–308.



Research Articles (English)