Context and Outcomes of Intercultural Education Amongst International Students in Australia

By Zuleyka Zevallos

Here’s the abstract of my latest journal article, titled “Context and outcomes of intercultural education amongst international students in Australia.” It’s published by Intercultural Education:

International students represent a large economic and international relations investment for Australia. Australian universities are increasingly relying upon overseas students for their revenue, but these institutions are not adequately addressing the special learning, linguistic, cultural and religious needs of these students. Despite their Australian education, international students experience various difficulties in finding work in their field of study after they graduate. Poor English-language, communication and problem-solving skills are the biggest obstacles to securing ongoing and satisfying jobs. Employer biases regarding international students are equally a problem. This paper provides a demographic context of the international student population in Australia and it also addresses the gaps impeding their full social participation in Australian educational institutions. This paper argues that a stronger focus on the socialisation of international students is likely to increase their educational and career satisfaction. Educational providers would better serve international students by focusing on practical learning, career-planning and reinforcing the social and cultural skills valued by Australian employers.


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Career Q&A: Experiences as a Sociologist

Question from one of my Tumblr followers:

What have your experiences in the field of sociology been like? Where did you go to school, and what are you doing now? I appreciate any feedback you might give me; I’ve already found your blog to be super inspiring. Thank you 🙂

In answer to your questions:

What have your experiences in the field of sociology been like?

Sociology is my passion and my work experiences have been varied and wonderful! I worked as a research assistant and teacher at an Australian university while I was completing my PhD. I worked on lots of different projects and I would recommend you do the same (either as a volunteer or in a paid position) so you can work out what you are interested in. With respect to my work as a researcher, I started off working as a Computer Assisted Telephone Interviewer (CATI). This is the type of work you would start off doing if you wanted to go into marketing/social marketing, but I actually worked for a research centre on a survey of ‘public good’ (what the public thought about the Australian government privatising all of our public utilities). I also worked on other projects for a Sociology Professor (on big businesses and biotechnology issues). At the same time, I taught various undergraduate subjects that helped me to strengthen how I communicated my own ideas and research. It was also a good way to become comfortable with being in front of audiences.

The year after I completed my PhD I worked as a sociology lecturer and as a research assistant for a Social Marketing Professor (on a project on public information campaigns for welfare recipients). I love teaching and I would encourage students to give it a go at least once, but ultimately I decided academia was not for me. It’s very tough on early career sociologists. It’s very competitive because most sociologists want to be academics and there aren’t many positions. Despite the fact that I’d already been teaching for four years, I was a new PhD graduate, and as such, I was competing with people with far longer postdoctoral experience. If you want to have an academic career, you can generally expect to work for at least a couple of years on temporary contracts and this wasn’t something that suited me.

I ended up deciding to do something completely different and so I applied for a tonne of jobs in many different fields where sociologists don’t usually work. I was pleasantly surprised that many industries are hungry for sociologists, so I had lots of places from which to choose.

In the end, I went into the Australian public service. I have worked as a researcher and analyst in government for the past six years. I found this work really fantastic and challenging. I worked in an interdisciplinary team, mostly with mathematicians, computer scientists, and natural scientists. It was tough but intellectually very rewarding. You get to have a direct impact on how social policies are generated which is fantastic, but it’s not always easy because I constantly had to ‘translate’ sociological ideas for policy workers and specialists from other areas who think about the world really differently. That was the hardest thing, but this is also the best part of the job, because it kept me on my toes. Continue reading Career Q&A: Experiences as a Sociologist

Sociology of Jay-Z: Implications of Studying Celebrities

Mike Barry via Flickr.

I feel ambivalent about this: an American sociology course on rap maverick Jay-Z is being offered at Georgetown University. This story has received a lot of press over the past few weeks. I believe this story was first reported on MTV in the USA. Michael Eric Dyson, the course creator, reports that the course has attracted four times the size of an average Georgetown course (with 140 students). I first saw this story on Ology, but it’s also been picked up by The Daily Beast, The Washington Post, The L.A. Times and on many other sites. In this post, I consider the applied sociological implications of studying courses on celebrities. I place this in broader context of the ongoing problem that sociology has in preparing graduates for workplaces outside academia.

As a sociologist who is interested in promoting the study and break-down of otherness, I can only applaud Dyson’s premise that rap, hip hop and African American culture deserve greater legitimacy by mainstream culture. He tells MTV:

Continue reading Sociology of Jay-Z: Implications of Studying Celebrities

Sociology of Altrusim

The Bad Chemicals, Sharing is Caring

In a vexing new twist on the established theories of altruism, a neurologist, an engineer and a veterinarian argue that ‘selflessness’ can be ‘pathological’. They’re talking about human behaviour, even though they are not social scientists who are trained to study the social consequences of human behaviour. Natalie Angier’s New York Times article interviews the researchers about their upcoming book, ‘Pathological Altruism’, which will explore the hazardous and self-destructive extremes of ‘helpful behaviour’. The research used to exemplify ‘pathological altruism’ includes:

  • highly empathetic nurses who ‘burn out’ because they care too much for their patients
  • anorexic patients in hospitals,
  • victims of abuse,
  • so-called ‘animal hoarders’ (people who take care of too many animals they cannot afford to keep).

There are several individual and institutional causes for stress, mental illness and abuse that are not easily explained by altruism-gone-wrong. It seems especially problematic to suggest that a victim of abuse is being altruistic through their experiences of violence. Provocative, yes. Helpful? Probably not. The sociological study of altruism reveals why this is the case.

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Making Sociology Relevant When Common Sense Isn’t Enough

Source: Duncan Watts: Everything is Obvious Once You Know the Answer

Duncan Watts recently wrote a wonderful piece on the myth of common sense for What resonated most for me was the challenge that sociology faces in making our public contribution valued. Watts points out that sociologists deal with everyday social experiences that are familiar to many people – such as family, gender, social networks, fame and success, popular culture and so on. Due to the familiarity of these topics, most people think they can explain sociological phenomena using their common sense. Watts argues that common sense is problematic because the people we have around us have similar worldviews and this does not necessarily make informal observations valid. The problem with sociology is that unlike other sciences, such as physics or mathematics, sociologists do not offer up concrete answers or predictions. Duncan writes:

Continue reading Making Sociology Relevant When Common Sense Isn’t Enough

Nobody reads the footnotes…

Source: College Humor

Having read hundreds of textbooks in my day… I absolutely love this footnote from a textbook, which I saw on College Humour today:

This chapter might have been called “Introduction,” but nobody reads the introduction, and we wanted you to read this. We feel safe admitting this here, in the footnote, because nobody reads footnotes either in this book.

The footnote is from a book called Stats: Modeling the World, 2nd edition (2007) by David E. Bock, Paul F. Velleman, and Richard D. De Veaux. Sounds like the type of book I wish I’d read when I was suffering through statistics in first year psych and third year sociology!

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Strange in the Familiar

The quote I use to describe my Tumblr, ‘exploring the general in the peculiar and the sublime in the familiar,’ is a nod to two phrases often used in introductory sociology texts and classes, ‘seeing the general in the particular’ and ‘the strange in the familiar’. These phrases are often attributed to the magnificent Peter Berger (1963). Berger did not use these phrases specifically, but he did inspire John Macionis, who actually coined the phrases drawing on Berger’s work.

Strange in the Familiar

Berger argues that sociology allows people to recognise that ‘The familiar now seems not quite so familiar any more’ (1963: 22). In other words, Berger believes that sociology provides methods and theories to measure broad social patterns and to identify and address the common factors affecting social behaviour across time, within different sections of a specific society, or across various cultures.

Berger explains:

Any intellectual activity derives excitement from the moment it becomes a trail of discovery. In some fields of learning this is the discovery of worlds previously unthought and unthinkable… there is a deceptive simplicity and obviousness about some sociological investigations. One reads them, nods at the familiar scene, remarks that one has heard all this before and don’t people have better things to do than to waste their time on truisms – until one is suddenly brought up against an insight that radically questions everything one had previously assumed about this familiar scene. This is the point at which one begins to sense the excitement of sociology’ Berger gives the example of recognising that the racial system in the southern parts of the USA has similarities with the Hindu caste system in India (1963: 21-22).

Sociology excitement in finding the familiar

General in the Particular

Berger argues that ‘the first wisdom of sociology is this – things are not what they seem… Social reality turns out to have many layers of meaning. The discovery of each new layer changes the perception of the whole’ (1963: 23). This means that sociologists critically re-evaluate taken-for-granted assumptions about the world that people usually presume are ‘natural’, ‘normal’ or ‘the way things should be’.

Check out Peter Berger’s book ’Invitation to Sociology: A Humanistic Perspective’. It is a fun and easy read. Check out Berger’s Blog, Religion and Other Curiosities.

Kevin J. Christiano (1990) reviewed the enduring significance of Berger’s book in the Teaching Sociology (Vol. 18, No. 4). For more discussion on the phrases  ‘general in the particular’/’strange in the familiar’ and their sociological meaning, check out the introductory textbook Public Sociology: An Introduction to Australian Society (2nd ed.) by John Germov and Marilyn Poole (2011: 6). Read some of Berger’s work on SocioSite.

There is no psychological truth unless it is particular, but on the other hand, there is no art unless it be general. The whole problem is that – how to express the general by the particular, how to make the particular express the general.

Charles Blackman speaks like a sociologist and paints like a wistful dream.

Image: Charles Blackman (1961) The Gift.

Quote via The Painter’s Keys.

My Social Science Pain and Sadness is More Sad and Painful Than Yours

Source: xkcd ‘Purity’

I’ve been thinking about the pain that applied social scientists carry around with them.[i]  I’ve recently reviewed a colleague’s paper where they[ii] reflected on what it is like to be an applied sociologist. I don’t think I am stealing their thunder to say that I feel like I’ve read this paper various times over the years. Don’t get me wrong – there are parts of this paper that are truly outstanding. This researcher has had an interesting and varied career. They have worked on diverse social issues with lots of different community and government groups. They have achieved very useful things that have had a real impact on social policy in Australia. But when their article deviated away from their experience as an applied researcher and floated into a critique about the failings of academic sociology and the evils of the natural sciences… They lost me.

I’ve read many personal stories and analyses from applied sociologists who feel they are marginalised by academic sociologists and professionals from other fields. I feel this pain – I’ve been forced to respond to some truly belligerent comments over the past few years. Applied sociologists often have to fight to have our ideas heard when we work alongside other disciplines that have greater authority in ‘the real world’. Some applied sociologists work in fields where economists have a stronger hold over the way in which social policies are created. Others work in the provision of healthcare, which is an area dominated by medical doctors, biologists, psychiatrists and other natural scientists. Wherever they work, applied sociologists may sometimes fantasise about how much better the world would be if more people understood what sociology is all about, and they may even get to a point where they wish that natural scientists had less legitimacy. Again, I feel the pain… (And it’s just like Dinosaur Jr promised it would be.) But I’m not sure that defining ourselves as the antithesis of the natural sciences is a useful standpoint; because then we are simply accepting our Otherness as if we’ve internalised xkcd’s Fields of Purity comic (above), amusing as it is.

Continue reading My Social Science Pain and Sadness is More Sad and Painful Than Yours