Globalization is a site of struggle (Rizvi & Lingard, 2010). As modern nation-states become less isolated and more intertwined, notions of what it means to be a citizen of one country are melded with and modified by notions of what it means to be human and part of a changing world. Long-held and often well-loved ideas are shifting, as intricate systems of information, economics, commerce, finance, politics and personal relationships stretch around the world. Marginson (2011) describes globalization as the “sum of all tendencies to integrate and converge across national borders” (p. 10), a dimension of change that crosses all nations without absorbing them and that has a “life of its own” (p.11).
The tensions and conflict produced by globalization affect individuals both outwardly and within. According to Steger (2013), dynamic forces of globalization “create, multiply, stretch, and intensify” social exchanges and interdependencies around the world, which generates new opportunities but also destroys old patterns and possibilities (p. 1). Those same globalizing forces develop a “growing awareness of deepening connections between the local and the distant” that changes people internally (p.2). People are more conscious of the interconnectedness of global systems than ever before, and the increasing convergence of cultures, economies, and sociopolitical systems affects many aspects of individual identity (Marginson, 2011).
Cultures and identities sometimes bend with the global current and sometimes struggle to resist its flow. To some, globalization offers welcome promise of new and diverse prospects; to others, it threatens that which is most integral and prized (Kumaravadivelu, 2006). Globalization is a mechanism that both propels social justice and escalates oppression; it heightens awareness of individual and national concerns while also hiding many stories and quieting many voices (Carpentier & Unterhalter, 2011). Some politicians have suggested that the movement towards globalization can and should be reversed (e.g. Arnaud Montebourg in the French 2012 presidential elections). Many scholars, however, agree that globalization is part of a process that began long ago and will inevitably progress, although its pace and effects may vary considerably from one region to another (Maringe & Foskett, 2012; Naidoo, 2011). This study will investigate one aspect of globalization by examining the psychosocial well-being of teachers who work in higher education internationally.
Forces of globalization particularly affect institutions of learning and socialization. Because globalization includes political, economic, ideological, and cultural dimensions (Steger, 2003), and because universities have political, economic, social, and cultural missions (Maringe & Foskett, 2012), institutions of higher education are often strongly influenced by global forces of change. In the United States, local and global forces have substantially impacted higher education since the 1980s, and continue to move higher education away from exclusivity and towards accessibility, to demand closer alignment between higher education and employment, to require greater accountability between higher education and the public, and to reinterpret the role of the professor (Rowland et al. 1998). Whereas U.S. higher education historically groomed the elite for positions of national and political leadership (Thelin, 2011), higher education today is a pathway toward prosperity and social mobility for the middle class (White House, n.d.). Although many challenges to access and equity in higher education remain, the changes made in the last few decades highlight the power and momentum of global forces of change.
Globalization in higher education has been marked by a variety of internationalization initiatives. Globalization is an abstract, composite term that encompasses many lower-order constructs, including cosmopolitanism (the increasing irrelevance of anything that divides nations, societies, and cultures), deterritorialization (the international trade of goods, services, finances, and personnel), glocalization (the networked cooperation of local bodies informed by national and international concerns), and Westernization (the spread of values such as democracy, capitalism, equality, and independence) (Maringe, 2012). In contrast, internationalization is the localized, concrete response of corporations and other social structures, including higher education institutions, to the forces of globalization. Altbach and Knight (2007) describe internationalization as “the policies and practices undertaken by academic systems and institutions—and even individuals—to cope with the global academic environment” (290).
The internationalization initiatives undertaken locally by higher education institutions are manifold and extend variously to the primary missions of the university (i.e. teaching, research, and service) (Haigh, 2014). Internationalization initiatives also vary by country. In many Asian countries, internationalization initiatives in higher education include movements to adopt English as a medium of instruction, restructure departments to reflect more Westernized models, hire more English-speaking faculty, attract more English-speaking students, send national students to English-speaking countries for education, publish in English-medium journals, conduct internationally relevant research, collaborate across nations, and create Asia-based international journals (Yumei, 2012). Internationalization initiatives in the United States include recruiting more international students, creating transnational branch campuses, generating international learning experiences (such as study abroad cooperatives), creating learning and community centers for minority and international student groups, and recruiting and hiring international faculty and staff (Altbach & Knight, 2007; Gopal, 2011). The variation in internationalization initiatives evident across world regions is often qualitative and reflects the inequities and inconsistencies of globalization. For example, although both emerging and established educational centers have increased their recruitment of international students, the type of student recruited and the purposes for which they are recruited vary (Haigh, 2014). The internationalization initiatives undertaken by many emerging educational centers reflect the increasing prominence of English as a desirable international commodity and the import, rather than export, of cultural and educational capital (Kumaravadivelu, 2006). Initiatives in the U.S. and other established educational centers often reflect the increasing prominence of Western values and the export of educational and cultural capital (Kumaravadivelu, 2006).
Globalization and internationalization in higher education are symbiotic processes that serve to advance one another. As forces of globalization generated by commerce, industry, trade, finance, and political and social media compel higher education institutions to recruit and enroll more international students; hire more international faculty and staff; create more learning and community centers for their diverse student bodies; create transnational branch campuses; borrow and lend faculty across nations; and internationalize the research they produce, the education they offer, and the enterprises they support; those internationalization initiatives in turn serve to accelerate processes of globalization (Fosket, 2012).
One of the internationalization initiatives that continues to accelerate symbiotically with globalization is the exchange of personnel, particularly in the role of faculty. In 1997, Altbach estimated that over 100,000 academics were working in higher education outside their countries of origin (Smith, 2000), and although accurate counts are difficult to obtain, scholars agree that the number has been increasing (Gopal, 2011, Smith, 2013).
Many instructors who teach internationally find the experience of living and working in a foreign environment deeply satisfying. Scholars working abroad have designated the experience “wonderful,” “special,” “permanent,” “invaluable,” and “a life experience,” and expressed their belief that the personal and professional benefit they received from teaching internationally exceeded the benefit accrued to their students, colleagues, or supervisors (Farris, Menachof, & Crum, 2010, p. 68-69). The preconceptions, values, and even future plans of many instructors are often deeply and positively affected by the experience or working overseas (Bodycott & Walker, 2000; Farris, Menachof, & Crum, 2010; MacLennan, 2002).
However, many instructors who work abroad also find the experience to be deeply challenging, frustrating, and discouraging. Scholars working internationally have described feeling disillusioned, jolted, blind-sided, overwhelmed, disappointed, uncomfortable, tense, unsure, drained, stressed, and knocked off (their) feet, (Crabtree & Sapp, 2004; MacClennan, 2002, Romanowski & McCarthy, 2009; Snow, 1996). Academics living and working abroad have cited stress, alienation, hardships, struggle, trials, nightmares, burnout, failure, confusion, anxiety, uncertainty, disorientation, and frustration as products of their overseas experience (Bodycott & Walker, 2000; Dunn & Wallace, 2006; Garson, 2005; Gopal, 2011; Leask, 2004). The effort to transplant one’s teaching, research, and service to a very different cultural, linguistic, economic, and political environment often severely taxes the psychosocial resources of scholars working abroad. Garson (2005) observes that faculty members who teach abroad but fail to adjust psychosocially to their new environment may “become homesick or bored; read obsessively; sleep, drink, or eat excessively; or become generally irritable… Psychosomatic illness sometimes results” (p. 326). In contrast, teachers who flourish internationally find the experience “challenging, empowering, and…exciting” (Fowler, 2005, 171).
There is a call for more and better preparation for faculty who teach abroad (Dunn & Wallace, 2006; Getty, 2011; Gopal, 2011). Some scholars suggest that nurturing better cultural adaptation skills is the most important or even only means of preparing instructors to work abroad (Getty, 2011; Gribble & Ziguras, 2003); others argue that pathways to flourishing for teachers working internationally are more complex than multicultural competence alone and include learning to manage demographic characteristics, expectations of institutional characteristics, and particular types of pedagogical concerns (Dunn & Wallace, 2006).
This study will examine the relationships among a variety of factors related to the psychosocial well-being of teachers working abroad. It will present a model for predicting pathways to psychosocial well-being for teachers working in higher education internationally, and offer suggestions for teacher education and development programs that prepare and support teachers who work overseas.