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Constructing global citizenship identity through accumulating cultural capital: Chinese female international students’ experiences at a British university

Siqi Zhang (Moray House School of Education and Sport, The University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, UK)

Social Transformations in Chinese Societies

ISSN: 1871-2673

Article publication date: 19 May 2023

Issue publication date: 20 November 2023




This paper aims to explore Chinese female international students’ construction of global citizenship identity by examining their accumulation of cultural capital in different forms from transnational higher education in the UK.


Participant observations and in-depth semi-structured interviews were conducted with Chinese female international students at a British university to explore their experiences with transnational higher education, cultural identities, the construction of global citizenship and perceived future job opportunities.


In this research, participants revealed that accessing a global elite university helps them accumulate institutionalised cultural capital. Embodied cultural cultivation acquired from transnational higher education is justified by students’ experiences in the context of transnational higher education. Rising confidence is shown by the participants’ narration and global-oriented awareness, which is their ability to understand and respect people from diverse cultural backgrounds, which was developed during their studies in the UK. However, they still realise the potentially difficult conversion of cultural capital to real job competitiveness. Recognition of global citizenship identity may be complicated if students plan to return home after studying.

Research limitations/implications

This study provides further insight into the single-child generation of globally mobile Chinese female international students. Participants were aware of the positive accumulation of cultural capital in its embodied and institutionalised forms obtained from the UK higher education system and its contribution to the construction of global citizenship identity. However, the newly constructed global citizenship identity remains complex. Participants question the extent to which the new identity fits into the Chinese social context if they decide to return home.


To the best of the author’s knowledge, the originality of the paper lies in expanding the global citizenship framework with the specific application of Bourdieu’s theory of cultural capital to show Chinese female international students’ study experiences in UK transnational higher education, rather than addressing the Chinese international student experience in general.



The author is deeply indebted to Ross Bond, Sophia Woodman, Cora Lingling Xu and Mary Holmes for their guidance and inspiration for this research. The author is grateful to all participants who enthusiastically took part in the study.


Zhang, S. (2023), "Constructing global citizenship identity through accumulating cultural capital: Chinese female international students’ experiences at a British university", Social Transformations in Chinese Societies, Vol. 19 No. 2, pp. 115-131.



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