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International students in Kazakhstan: A narrative inquiry of human agency in the process of adaptation

Dinara Mukhamejanova (Graduate School of Education, Nazarbayev University, Astana, Kazakhstan)

International Journal of Comparative Education and Development

ISSN: 2396-7404

Article publication date: 18 January 2019

Issue publication date: 31 July 2019




Kazakhstan has taken considerable steps to improve the incoming mobility of international students; however, despite these measures, the number of international students studying in Kazakhstan is still very low. Research indicates that in order to attract and retain international students it is necessary to build a thorough understanding of their experiences in the host country. The purpose of this paper is to gain a better understanding of international students’ experiences in Kazakhstan by exploring how they exercise their human agency while adapting to the academic and socio-cultural life in Kazakhstan.


The author used a purposeful criterion sampling to select six international students from Afghanistan, Great Britain, Russia, South Korea, Ukraine and the USA studying at Kazakhstani universities to participate in this research. The primary data collection was semi-structured in-depth interviews. Supportive methods included a demographic questionnaire and a researcher journal.


The study revealed that the international students actively employed their human agency to negotiate their studying and to adapt to their life in Kazakhstan. They did not simply adjust to the host environment, but also learned from it and attempted to transform it according to their circumstances and goals.

Research limitations/implications

The implication is that Kazakhstani universities and any other higher education institutions that seek to increase the number of their international students should consider not only how to attract these students, but also how to adapt their institution’s practices and regulations to create an inclusive learning environment for their diverse student population. It is also very important for higher education institutions to provide international students with the necessary conditions to exercise their human agency because as it was revealed by this study, international students’ human agency is a very powerful mechanism helping them live and learn comfortably in their host country.


Taking into consideration the reviewed previous research, this was the first attempt to use Albert Bandura’s social cognitive theory for the purpose of building an understanding about how international students exercise their agency while adapting to the academic and socio-cultural life in the host country. The social cognitive theory allows investigating international students as active and self-sufficient agents of their own adaptation process who can and do change themselves, and have the potential to navigate and alter their host environment to achieve their own goals. This study encourages researchers and practitioners to think about international students outside the dimension of internationalization as a means of improving country’s economic capital.



Mukhamejanova, D. (2019), "International students in Kazakhstan: A narrative inquiry of human agency in the process of adaptation", International Journal of Comparative Education and Development, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 146-163.



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