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    Diaspora in International Students: Identity Markers for Diaspora

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    In order to understand the experiences of diaspora with international students at Sacred Heart University (SHU), it is important to be able to identify the factors that affect, influence and distinguish the cultural identity (country of origin) and the diasporic identity (country of residence). Theories and findings on identity and diaspora in research studies conducted in transmigrant communities are effective to understanding what enables and disables the integration of both identities amongst students in diaspora in Universities like SHU. It is pivotal for the field of social work and academia to study, unify, and apply the theories and findings in order to understand behaviors, attitudes, emotions, and systems that support students and communities that have been given the chance to integrate into our culture under the university’s mission and values.

    The diaspora population across cultural borders overlaps identities of immigrants, migrants, and natives that struggle with the process of diaspora due to cultural, social, and media influences (Baldassar et al., 2017; Binkerhoff, 2015; Cherry, 2015; Hansen, 2013; Li & Stodolska, 2006; Tsolidis, 2011). The populations share a commonality of relocating from country of origin as first generations, second generations or through genealogy, which provides narratives of displacement and dual identities in a shared space of diaspora (Binkerhoff, 2015; Tsolidis, 2011). The communities may share a sense of displacement from country of origin, but key factors of resistance to assimilation and homeland connections create a distinction between their shared experience (Baldassar et al., 2017).

    Although the term diaspora was traditionally derived from the “exile of Jews from their holy land and their forced dispersal throughout the world” (Baldassar et al., 2017, p. 938), it is still experienced with the idea of the dispersion of people from their original homeland. Today, it is adapted to a global definition that is associated to different ethnicities, groups, communities, and identities. Diaspora is represented in the following terms: imagined community, dual identity, hybridity, globalization, professionals, refugee, transnationalism, acculturation, journeying, and sandwich generation (Baldassar et al., 2017; Binkerhoff, 2015; Cherry, 2015; Hansen, 2013; Li & Stodolska, 2006; Tsolidis, 2011).

    Diaspora is a “time of exposure and transformation” (Hansen, 147), meaning it relocates people to a space that is foreign in social, cultural, and academic experience to homeland, which creates a sense of alteration or resistance in identity in order to create inclusivity or maintain heritage identity (Binkerhoff 2015; Li & Stodolska, 2006; Tsolidis 2011). Diaspora is “understood as an entity that is working towards international recognition of cultural identity (Hansen, 2013, p. 144).” It has many dimensions that create a space of blended cultures that spread change amongst diverse people (Cherry, 2015).

    Today, it is recognized as more than the dispersal of people or movement because it includes cultural processes, complexities in identity, effects on global social conditions, and can be a long-lasting experience (Cherry, 2015, p. 30). It is suggested by researchers that diaspora challenges and creates a sense of fear and worry of losing homeland memory, language, and cultural identity (Brinkerhoff, 2015; Li & Stodolska, 2006; Tsolidis 2011).

    Empirical research on different transmigrant communities identify markers of identities in diaspora (diasporic identity) through the narratives of different ethnic diasporas (Greek, Chinese, Egyptian, Vietnamese, African, Latina) and focuses on identity formation in the process of diaspora. It is crucial to understand both homeland and host land culture in order to understand the factors that contribute to diaspora experience between cultures. According to researcher, Arvenita Washington Cherry, diaspora can create positive effects in identity and relationship construction amongst diverse populations if it is used as a tool for learning. It is effective to understanding the barriers in cultural identity and diasporic identity in order to support and assimilate identities in diaspora (Cherry, 2015). Diaspora situates importance on identity and identification as a process of constant transformation that utilizes resources and brith right (Tsolidis, 2011).

    Diaspora Identification and Theories

    Identification of the diasporic identity is “linked with diversity and hybridity” that is in constant transformation and created in a blended cultural space for the new identities that are created in the process of diaspora (Tsolidis, 2011, p. 413). These new identities, also known as dual or hybrid identities (or hybrids), are represented as communal and hyphenated (Brinkerhoff, 2015; Cherry, 2015; Li & Stodolska, 2006). For example, someone who migrates or is native born from Africa and resides in Australia identifies to the hyphenated identity, African-Australian. Such identities are also identified through theories that act as macro identity markers for diaspora (Brinkerhoff, 2015; Li & Stodolska, 2006). The following theories used in different empirical research are indicators of identities experiencing diaspora: social theory, transitional theory, hegemonic theory, feminist theory, and theory of transnationalism (Baldassar et al., 2017; Cherry, 2015; Tsolidis, 2011) and it’s beneficial to explore how diaspora and identity correlate with one another.

    Looking at the social theory, diaspora challenges the notion that identity is collective and can be structured to a place, ethnicity, language, and culture (Tsolidis, 2011, p. 413). The transitional theory focuses on the relationships, connections and ties maintained by the diasporic identity with their country of origin (Li, 2006; ). The feminist theory gives importance to the identity of the maternal role and women’s experiences of family, which aides in cultivating diasporic identities (Tsolidis, 2011). Finally, the hegemony theory and ideology, along with racialization centers on characteristics being a primary marker of racial, ethnic, and national identity in the space of diaspora (Cherry, 2015; Tsolidis, 2011).

    There are other forms of identification that is in an enduring pace of transformation, which is the community and media identification because is responds to diversity. Community and media are reflective to one another because media creates a sense of displacement in identity when diaspora separates the individual from the homeland. Media portrays the hyphenated identity that is a bit unsteady, recreated by temporary technologies, and fabricated to apply to a specific diasporic identity (Baldassar et al., 2017). Also, self-identity and language are strong indicators of diasporic identity because it shows a level of cultural competence in the country of residence or strong connection to the country of origin (Baldassar et al., 2017; Hansen 2013; Li & Stodolska, 2006).

    A strength shared collectively amongst the empirical research is that the studies span across several ethnic groups and continent like Asia, Africa, Europe, and North America which reflects as an evidence to the notion of diaspora being a shared experience and can be applied to more than one culture, community, and country. A weakness to the studies would be the insufficient representation of male participants as the studies are dominated mostly by female narratives of diaspora in most of the articles. Diaspora “identification is negotiated by individuals in response to other individuals, communities and social institutions” (Tsolidis, 2011, p. 414). The recognition of diversity and duality is identified in the following types of diasporas: victim diaspora, imagined diaspora, homeland diaspora, and cultural diaspora are present when exploring homeland identity.

    Influences of Homeland and Diaspora Returnees

    Diaspora returnees come back for “various economic, political, and socio-cultural reasons referring to life at home and in the diaspora” (Hansen, 2001, p. 143). When the identity of the ‘professionals,’ a well-educated group returns to their homelands, they experience a different form of diaspora compared to the host land (Hansen, 2013). In the homeland space of diaspora, there is a impact from gender, family, roles, and customs that adhere to the progress or deflation of the diasporic identity. In the host land, we take that homeland frame work and apply it as a boundary maintenance as a method to adjust, sustain, and integrate into a community outside the cultural instinct (Baldassar et al., 2017; Cherry, 2015; Hansen, 2011; Tsolidis, 2011).

    Another collective strength presented in the all of the studies is that it represents a pool of participants that are diverse in age, class, culture, generation, gender and family roles, which frames a universal perspective to understanding diaspora in diverse environments. When studies looked at family influences from the homeland, Tsolidis and Cherry found that women in the domestic sphere or those that are harboring roles towards the family contribute towards the diasporic identification because this identifies the diaspora that is centered around cultural displacement.

    It also signifies that culture is a influence to the desire of unconscious diaspora, where the individual wants to escape culture and grow in a different environment, while often not being aware of experiencing diaspora (Cherry, 2015). Diaspora is not acknowledged by the one experiencing it but when the questions and awareness of isolation, differences, race, culture, language, and other factors of identity comes into view than the diasporic identity becomes internally visible.

    Immigrants and migrants share the commonality of relocating from country of origin, but they are distinguished by their resistance to assimilation in a host society and homeland connections, unlike the native born, who may or may not seek to identify to their cultural identity. (Baldassar et al, 2017, p. 939; Tsolidis 2011). Both a strength and weakness in the research is that it does not clarify the status and process of relocation of all the participants, which leaves a state of uncertainty in which factors apply more to one ethnicity to another or one individual to another. It is beneficial to explore both the diaspora experience and the steps taken toward the diaspora space because it helps to strength and validate the narrative.

    Diaspora media creates views that influence the understanding of the diasporic identity because it creates negative representations on identities that stand between continents and cultures. Diaspora media prolongs a sense of belonging that is weakened by those representations that are reflected and emphasized abroad, which can create both homeland and host land diaspora. It also disrupts the process of integration because of the those views that create guilt, doubt, and hesitation. Many diasporic identities of foreign spaces are comfortable with a ‘hyphenated’ identity because it creates a awareness of belonging and resistance in both spaces of homeland and host land diaspora. Culture displays gender as a marker for diaspora identification, which essentially a component to the way diaspora is internalized, shared, and experienced in the host land.

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