Australian higher education institutions are vying for business in the lucrative market of educating international students. Meeting the demands of this student cohort is a priority for those universities wishing to position themselves as market leaders in international education. In recent years, there has been a substantial increase in the numbers of students from Asian regions choosing to study in Australia. In order to better service this unique cohort, it is important to understand the initial transition experiences of these students as they move into a new learning domain and navigate the multi-faceted social, cultural and academic aspects of their new host environment in Australia. Using visual narrative inquiry as a methodology and Photovoice to collect data, this qualitative study investigates students from Asia Major and Minor, mapping the terrain of their transitioning experiences in their first semester at a regional university in Australia. Participants submitted photographic evidence of their transitioning experiences and provided text-based commentaries which contextualised the photographs. These were thematically analysed using NVivo 10 relational database management software. The results revealed that overall, the participants experienced smooth transitions, due in principle to the close support networks established between same nationality students and other international students which provided emotional and academic support. The main stressor in the transition phase was identified as managing the work, life and study balance, though this cannot be attributed as an acculturative factor as it is not linked to any cultural adjustment, but rather an adjustment to studying within the domain of higher education. A unique finding of this study was the positive impact of the nature and beauty of the local environment on the transition experiences of the participants. In line with other research on transition and acculturation of international students, results of this study revealed that there was minimal integration with the domestic student cohort. Recommendations are provided to facilitate enhanced international student transitions and to support the use of Photovoice as an effective qualitative data collection method of the student experience.
Submitted in the fulfilment of the requirements of the degree of Master of Education, University of the Sunshine Coast, 2016.