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The Intercultural Communication Experiences of Arab Muslims Studying in New Zealand: Academic and Social Perspectives

The number of Arab Muslim students in New Zealand has increased significantly in recent years, yet there is a lack of New Zealand studies that investigate this phenomenon. Studies that have examined the experiences of these students in Western academic contexts suggest, however, that there is a need for further investigation to understand the extent to which these students (re)construct and (re)ne¬go¬tiate their identities as a result of their intercultural communication experiences. The purpose of this study is to examine how universities’ communication practices influence the negotiation process of these students’ cultural and religious identities. In addition, the study investigates which communication practices adopted by students facilitate, or inhibit, good communication with New Zealanders. Cultural identity theory and structuration theory were used as the theoretical framework to understand the reconstruction and renegotiation of students’ cultural and religious identities. In-depth phenomenological interviews were conducted with 45 male and female participants to elicit their personal stories. Eight university administrators were also interviewed, and university documents were analysed to explore the organisational perspectives in dealing with the presence of these students. Thematic, content, and structuration analyses were conducted with the assistance of NVivo software. Given that the researcher is also an Arab Muslim student, methodological and ethical challenges (e.g., recruiting and engaging with participants, and conducting semistructured face-to-face interviews) were explored reflexively. Analysis of the data for this study suggested three main findings. First, both Islamic and cultural values guided the direction of Arab Muslim students’ daily lives. Participants noted a number of issues that reflected their emphatic, forthright identification with their own cultural and religious heritage. These issues involved insisting on the role of social networks to protect feminine identity and the integrity of people’s social reputation; the importance of consuming halal food and securing a space to perform daily prayers; the avoidance of working with the opposite sex, and avoid any university and community activities that include practices contrary to their own values. Second, the negotiation of power between universities and participants was observed. As New Zealand universities used human and nonhuman resources, they were able to wield power over participants and influence them to negotiate and reflect on their own values and norms. Participants appealed to the concept of the purification of Islam to rationalise their motivation for reflecting on and questioning their own values and norms. This reflection resulted in the adoption by students of guidelines and strategies for interaction, avoidance, and normalisation. Third, the students’ length of residence appeared to be an indicator of disiden¬ti¬fi¬cation with their own values and identification with the dominant values in matters relating to the segregation of the sexes and modesty. A redefining of concepts of gender roles, being alone, freedom, and others was observed over time. The experience of negotiating cultural and religious identities affirmed that cultural identity is constructed in the intercultural communication context as participants worked out a sort of two identities which combines elements from the old and the new. The study contributes significantly to existing research on intercultural communication by hearing Arab Muslim students’ voices on issues that arise as they encounter new cultural values, seek to maintain their cultural and religious identities, and navigate between home and host values. Among significant contributions to theoretical knowledge, we can include conceptualising the gender roles, being alone in a Western country, gender relations, segregation of the sexes, modesty, freedom, hijab, and personal freedom. In particular, the study enriches the extant literature examining the negotiation process of individual identity from the structuration and cultural identity point of view. In addition to these contributions, implications were drawn for educational institutions, government policies, and future Arab Muslim students to help them obtain constructive intercultural communication experiences in a dominant culture. The suggestion for future studies was made to further explore the role of female gender and length of residency in the reconstruction and renegotiation of cultural identity.
Type of thesis
Alkharusi, M. J. (2013). The Intercultural Communication Experiences of Arab Muslims Studying in New Zealand: Academic and Social Perspectives (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/8309
University of Waikato
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