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“All the experiences, conversations and crashes or challenges I have experienced have made me who I am today” – the role of international mobility in forming non-local identity

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Title: “All the experiences, conversations and crashes or challenges I have experienced have made me who I am today” – the role of international mobility in forming non-local identity
Author(s): Lehtinen, Milja
Contributor: University of Helsinki, Faculty of Arts
Degree program: Master's Programme in Intercultural Encounters
Specialisation: Humanities Track
Language: English
Acceptance year: 2023
Internationalisation and international mobility have particularly during the past decades become staple topics of discussion in professional and educational contexts as well as in popular discourse. This ideological shift has also brought along a popular narrative of international mobility and non-local identities being majorly beneficial assets that encourage and enable new skills and outlooks on life, both personal and professional. While recent studies have started to show evidence on the impact and relation of international mobility and non-local identity development, the actual process and experience-level of this identity building is still relatively less studied. This study aims to fill this gap in research by giving a glimpse into the current thoughts and ideas of young adults regarding international mobility and their identity. By looking into the thoughts and experiences of those internationally-minded and mobile, we can get valuable insight into the potential future trends of internationality more broadly. Using an umbrella-term of non-locality to examine the full array of internationally aligned social identity terms, this study asked 50 students with previous mobility experiences and identification with a sense of internationality and non-local identity, how they personally experience the relationship between mobility and non-local identity building and maintaining. The data was gathered using a qualitative open answer survey, with questions and their analysis following principles of phenomenological analysis. Alongside phenomenology as a broader philosophy of science, Social Identity Theory and Self-categorisation Theory were used as theoretical frameworks to understanding social identity formation. Phenomenological analysis done on the data identified the core form of ‘being’, Dasein, in the relationship between international mobility and non-local identity development of young adults as the freedom of social non-belonging and the freedom to choose one’s social belonging. The four entities of meaning situated around Dasein were the experience of physical and social rootless, the feeling of uniqueness and unrelatability of one’s identity experience and mobility experiences related to it, mobility as an inherent personal need and an expected want, and the experience of change and growth acquired through identity development and in relation to one’s mobility experiences. Results showed a strong connection between mobility experiences and non-local identity building, but also strong variations in the way mobility was approached and made a reality depending on personal circumstances and potential social, economic, or other limitations. Factors such as how personally motivated and interested participants were in internationality more broadly, the timing when one had their first mobility experiences, how many and how long mobility experiences one had and what kind of contact to locally experiences multiculturality and internationality one had before and after becoming internationally mobile, all played into how stable and strong an identity participants portrayed. While this study opens up an understudied part on internationality, future studies on internationalisation and non-local identity formation, particularly in relation to mobility, could benefit from a study of an even broader sample, in order to ascertain how universally applicable these findings are. Furthermore, the relationship of non-local identity and privilege, particularly socio-economical, should be looked into more thoroughly in order to understand how accessible identity categories like non-local identity truly are.
Keyword(s): international mobility international identity non-local identity multiculturality identity building

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