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What are the experiences of international students in Australian univeristies who have been separated from their spouse and children due to the travel ban during Covid-19 in 2020?
The researched population: international students who have been separated from their spouse and children due to travel ban during Covid-19 in 2020.
Aims and objectives of the research
– To gain better understanding of the experiences of international students in Australian universities who have been separated from their spouse and children due to travel ban during Covid-19 in 2020
– To better understand the impacts of having been separated from spouse and children due to travel ban during Covid-19 on international students in Australian universities
– To explore how the researched population cope with the situation of having been separated from their spouse and children due to travel ban during Covid-19
– To propose appropriate and relevant supports for the researched population
To begin with, epistemology “relates to the way in which we approach knowledge” (Dunk-West, 2018, p. 142). In other expression, epistemology “refers to what we believe about how we come to know and understand the world” (Hammond & Wellington, 2013, p. 57). Additionally, Maynard (1994) elaborates that epistemology provides philosophical grounding for determining the possibilities of the knowledge and the way in which knowledge is ensured to be both adequate and legitimate. Crotty (1998) also affirms that epistemology influences the theoretical perspective, the methodology and methods of the research since it is defined as “the theory of knowledge embedded in the theoretical perspective and thereby in the methodology” (p. 3). More interestingly, there exists a range of epistemologies, usually known as objectivism and constructivism (Crotty, 1998). Objectivism and positivistic research focuses on generalisation and abstraction while constructionism/subjectivism and interpretivistic research emphasises the understanding through the perceived knowledge (Edirisingha, 2012).
The current research aims to gain better understanding of lived experiences of the specific researched population. Additionally, this research does not intend to make any general and objective assumptions about other groups or populations. More importantly, there is a strong belief that different individuals of the researched population will interpret their experiences in subjective and unique ways, even in relation to the same phenomenon of family separation due to travel ban during Covid-19 since “meaning is not discovered, but constructed” (Crotty, 1998, p. 9). Hammond and Wellington (2013) also state that shared understandings of social activity should be explored and constructed as a phenomenon can never be understood objectively. With these regards, the current research prefers constructionism or subjectivism.
According to Crotty (1998, p.3), theoretical perspective is defined as “the philosophical stance informing the methodology and thus providing a context for the process and grounding its logic and criteria”. Theoretical approaches which are associated with research methodologies can be categorised into four areas including positivist approach, critical approach, interpretive approach, and postmodern approach (Crotty, 1998). The four approaches reflect different assumptions about the knowledge and knowledge claims.
Among various theoretical approaches embedded in research methodologies, interpretive approaches seem to be suitable for the current study which aims to explore the lived experiences of the researched population on a particular phenomenon of family separation due to travel ban during the unprecedented pandemic of Covid-19. The research is interpretive since it aims to understand the world in which human beings are the ones who make senses of the world rather than a world with fixed meanings (Hammond & Wellington, 2013). These meanings are varied and manifold, which require researchers investigate the complexity of the participants’ viewpoints toward the studied situation rather than looking at the meanings in narrowed categories or ideas (Creswell, 2009). Consequently, interpretive approaches are relevant to this research in terms of attempting to gain better understandings of the reasons and meanings behind the researched population’s experiences and to interpret the social life-world based on cultural and historical elements (Crotty, 1998).
Phenomenology is believed to be perfectly suitable for the current research since phenomenology is concerned with the meaning of a social phenomenon perceived or constructed by particular people (Smith & Osborn, 2007). Furthermore, phenomenology also “contributes to deeper understanding of lived experiences by exposing taken-for-granted assumptions about these ways of knowing” (Starks, & Trinidad, 2007, p. 1373). More importantly, the meanings or essences of phenomena are connected to the concrete life-world of human beings in which they perceive the phenomenology reality in their own experiences and perceptions (Van Manen, 2014).
Especially, Husserl’s descriptive phenomenology (Reiners, 2012) is chosen in this study since it aims to describe the meaning of the lived and embodied experiences of a studied phenomenon, and the research question usually starts with ‘What is the experience/ What are the experiences of the phenomenon of interest?’ as suggested by Starks and Trinidad (2007). Descriptive phenomenology is known as a popular research methodology in the social sciences, which aims to describe the lived experiences of individuals (Christensen, Welch, & Barr, 2017). The notion of “lived experience” remains at the centre of phenomenological inquiry and is the experience that human beings live through before a reflective view of it is considered (Van Manen, 2016). Interestingly, Merleau-Ponty (1962, p. xvi – xvii as cited in Van Manen, 2016) states that “the world is not what I think, but what I live through”. As a result, if there is a need to study the world or life as people live it, it is suggested to take the very first step to describe the people’s experience as it is.
More importantly, it is noted that the distinguished feature of descriptive phenomenology is bracketing which is defined as the process of setting aside personal experience, biases, preconceived notions about the research topic (Rieners, 2012; Gelling, 2015). Therefore, the researcher needs to focus on the views of the participants rather than manipulating their viewpoints and making their views fit into the researcher’s own opinions. Additionally, a lived experience of a phenomenon in Husserl’s conception has features which are commonly perceived by the people experiencing the phenomenon and these common perceived features could be identified to establish a generalisable description. Thus, the universal essences of a phenomenon can be considered as the reality of that phenomenon (Neubauer, Witkop, & Varpio, 2019).
Research methodology is concerned with the broader perspective which provides the general approach in the research and shapes the choice of methods used in the research while research methods are described as strategies, processes or techniques used in data collections and analysis in order to fulfill the aims of the research questions (Dunk-West, 2018). Consequently, it is necessary and essential to select appropriate methods which helps to answer the research question rather than choosing the ones due to personal preferences of the researcher. Research methods used in this research will be discussed in-depth.
Firstly, the current research question aims to gain better understanding of the experiences of the researched population of an interested phenomenon. Therefore, a qualitative research is proposed for this study since it provides “detailed description and analysis of the quality or the substance, of the human experience” (Marvasti, 2004, p. 7). Additionally, a qualitative research is able to study phenomena, and this ability seems impossibly available elsewhere (Silveman, 2011).
More interestingly, Skovdal and Cornish (2015) assert that the great benefit of a qualitative research not only helps to approach and explore voices and opinions or perceptions of those who are ordinarily silent or neglected, but also makes sense of a particular phenomenon. This advantage of a qualitative research seemingly helps to fulfill the objectives of the current research as it offers an opportunities to listen to the researched population’s stories and to explore any messages behind their real stories and experiences so that appropriate and relevant supports for the researched population are subsequently proposed.
Secondly, to have a detailed description of the researched population’s experiences of the studied phenomenon, in-depth interviews with open-ended questions will be utilised in the process to collect qualitative data. The in-depth interviews, as one of the most widely-used research methods in social sciences, is developed from interpretivism that promotes the need to address the complexity of human beings’ experiences and understanding of their own lives (Travers, 2010). Unlike structured interviews used in surveys, in-depth interviews are believed to be effective in this research since its flexible structure can help to explore more issues raised by the interviewees within the general themes of the studied topics. The following list of questions is an example of open-ended questions that could be used in the in-depth interviews:
Can you describe your own experience of having been separated from your spouse and children due to travel ban during Covid-19?
How does the situation of having been separated from your spouse and children due to travel ban during Covid-19 affect your daily life?
How does the situation of having been separated from your spouse and children due to travel ban during Covid-19 affect your studying?
How the situation of having been separated from your spouse and children due to travel ban during Covid-19 affect your overall wellbeing? Or affect your mental health?
How do you cope with the situation of having been separated from your spouse and children due to travel ban during Covid-19?
What are your thoughts about your own situation of having been separated from your spouse and children due to travel ban during Covid-19?
Those above questions are some central questions which aim to explore various aspects of the participants’ experiences and to have an in-depth description of their experiences. Undoubtedly, more questions can be added during the research process to obtain more clarity on the meaning of the studied phenomenon perceived by the researched participants.
Interviews will be conducted by the author of the research, who is a full-time student of Master of social work in Flinders University. The interviews are supposed to be conversational in nature and each interview lasts approximately one hour. The interview data can be tape-recorded, video-recorded and taken notes, which will be transcribed for later data analysis (Punch, 2005). Prior to commencement of the interview process, written informed consent will be obtained. Face to face interviews will be arranged at participant’s convenient time and organised at the researcher’s place where confidentiality and privacy will be assured. Importantly, in order to collect rich and thick data, it is necessary and essential for the researcher to build collaborative relationship as well as to have active listening skills which offer the participants a safe and free environment to disclose and describe their experiences or life events (Silverman, 2011). Furthermore, the issue of social distancing and restrictions related to Coide-19 are also taken into great consideration during the interview process.
Population and sampling methods
After the research ethics approval is promptly obtained, an open invitation will be released to all potential participants through International students centres of three universities in Adelaide including Flinders University, University of South Australia, and University of Adelaide. The invitation includes adequate information about the research including the aims and objectives of the study, requirements of participants, and other rights of participants as well as assurances of confidentiality and anonymity. Potential participants have to meet the following inclusion criteria such as being international students, being enrolled in an undergraduate or post-graduate degree in any disciplines, and having been separated from their spouse and children due to travel ban during Covid-19 in 2020.
The sampling method which is proposed for the research is non-probability sampling with a specific technique of purposive sampling in association with qualitative research (Tranter, 2010). The target participants and the purpose of the current research are quite clear; therefore, the purposive sampling is appropriate to use in recruiting the potential participants. Moreover, in qualitative research, it is not necessary to deal with the whole population of interest since the purpose of the study is to gain better understandings and in-depth description of participants’ experiences, not the numeric statistics (Tranter, 2010). Consequently, based on the research question, time limits, budget, and through reference from other similar studies, fifteen to twenty (15 to 20) participants from different countries, backgrounds and cultures will be reasonable to have the diversity in the researched population. However, it should be noted that the number of participants could change due to the quality of collected data which assist the researcher to seek relevant and adequate information (Taylor, Bogdan, & DeVault, 2016). Furthermore, the number of interviews is also flexible due to their willingness to share about their experiences and the quality of data extracted from their interviews; therefore, the decision of a one-time interview or multiple interviews will be made after the initial interviews (Taylor, Bogdan, & DeVault, 2016).
It is vital that the main goal of qualitative data analysis is “mean-making” (Willis, 2010, p. 409). To analyse the transcripts from in-depth interviews, Colaizzi’s (1978) framework of seven steps for qualitative data analysis is chosen since it provides a highly- structured guideline for a rigorous analysis (Morrow, Rodriguez, & King, 2015). The process requires the researcher to read and re-read the transcripts to familiarise with the data and obtain the overall view of the whole content. Significant statements are carefully extracted to formulate valuable meanings of the phenomenon. It is necessary and essential to sort these formulated meanings into categories or theme clusters before the full description of the phenomenon is written down followed by a condensed fundamental structure of the phenomenon. The final step of Colaizzi’s (1978) process aims to seek the verification of the findings from the participants by returning the findings to the participant and discussing with them. Additionally, computer-assisted data management NVivo is probably used in this stage of the research to assist the data management and organisation (Willis, 2010). Also, NVivo is believed to show the relationship between coded categories, which is helpful to have an appropriate explanation or interpretation of the data (Willis, 2010).
It cannot be denied that dissemination of the research plays an important part in social science since it helps to publicise the study and receive assessments of its validity related to various aspects from other researchers so that the mission of promoting social change could be fulfilled (Gabriel, 2010). Regarding the aims and objectives of the current research, the potential audience of the research vary including professionals who are in charge of international students services in Australian universities or in several governmental sectors including education or health; those who are members of international students associations; other researchers who are interested in the similar research population and phenomena; and international students. Consequently, the research findings are planned to submit to either the Journal of International Students or the International Journal of Higher Education Research. These two journals are the leading journals on international education and higher education studies, which can guarantee the most critical reviews for the research. Furthermore, it could be hopefully presented at the Australian International education conference which maximise the opportunity to reach a wide range of audience such as practitioners, teaching staff, researchers, policy makers and other stakeholders. Additionally, the findings of the research are shown to international students through several channels available at the universities in Australia such as students associations, or international students services centres.
Research ethics is inevitably important in social research since there exists power asymmetry between researchers and researched participants (Habibis, 2010). The ethical consideration of social research can be categorised as autonomy, non-maleficence, beneficence, and justice (Hardwick, & Worsley, 2011 as cited in Alston, & Bowles, 2012). The participants will be always treated in a respectful manner and their rights of self-determination whether to take part in the research are fully protected. For instance, the informed consent form should be compulsorily obtained before the interview; adequate and clear information of the research is informed to the participants; confidentiality and anonymity are assured during the whole process of the research; the right of withdraw from the research at any time without any consequences is guaranteed. Due to the focus of the current research, the participants will be fully informed that they may encounter emotional discomfort during the interviews; therefore, the interview could be halted at any time for the best interest of the respondents and relevant supports from professional counsellors are also prepared if needed. Furthermore, they will be also reminded that in case they wish to discontinue their participation in the study, their decision will be respected and all the information shared by them can only be used if they voluntarily give a written agreement.
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