Negotiating identity between career and family roles: A study of international graduate students' wives in the US

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Women's development needs to be constantly paid attention to by adult educators and practitioners. In particular, the experiences of international students' wives have been ignored and are worthy to be included in the exploration of women's developmental theories. Because of their visa status, these women are prohibited from working in the US. In this study I explored how educated non-American career women negotiated their identities while making the decision to accompany their student husbands to the US and then became full-time housewives. A qualitative research design was adopted to listen to the voices of nine international graduate students' wives (IGSWs). By using the constant comparative method, three themes emerged and provided understanding of how these women negotiated the sense of self when they faced the dilemmas between their own career developments and needs of families. The themes were: (1) the relationship self dominated in the IGSWs' decision to accompany their husbands; (2) repressing/enduring and transferring focus were the most common identity negotiation strategies; (3) while native culture played a part, other factors, such as personality and life stage, were equally important or even transcended the cultural norm in the process of these women's identity negotiation. This study provides researchers with a chance to re-think current theories of women's development. It also presents gaps and issues that practitioners need to deliberate for this special adult women's group, in higher and continuous education settings.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)211-226
Number of pages16
JournalInternational Journal of Lifelong Education
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009 Mar 1

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Education
  • Life-span and Life-course Studies


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