Date of Award

December 2016

Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Cultural Foundations of Education


Barbara Applebaum

Second Advisor

Sari Biklen


Chinese academic migrants in the U.S., Cultural politics of place and identities, Gender and migration studies, Suburban diaspora, The myth of "model minority", Weekend Chinese schools

Subject Categories



Current literature is scarce on the diverse experiences of hundreds of thousands of mainland Chinese who, since 1979, have come to the U.S. primarily for graduate study and mostly settled here afterwards in dispersed university or corporate jobs and suburban residences. After the Immigration Act of 1990, many of them have become visible experts in science and engineering. Yet their struggles as Chinese academic migrants simultaneously privileged by their educational backgrounds and disadvantaged by their outsider status in the U.S. often remain invisible. Possibly due to the myth of “model minority,” mainstream America has seen them as doing-well and well-behaving, and scholarship in gender studies, Asian-American studies, science and technology studies, and (sub)urban studies has barely acknowledged this group. This dissertation documents how a group of Chinese academic migrants engage with everyday struggles around their paradoxical (im)migrant statuses through participation in a weekend Chinese language school. The title of this dissertation speaks to how this group, while appearing peaceful and at ease on the surface, is actually paddling non-stop underneath. Through individual and communal bootstrapping, they manage to survive harsh disciplining mechanisms such as an often-excruciating immigration policy and the tricky discourses of multiculturalism. My data analysis draws upon diverse fields including education, sociology, philosophy, cultural geography, Asian-American studies, gender studies, migration and globalization studies. What is also interesting about this research is that it focuses on Chinese schools (instead of Chinatowns) as significant institutions that mediate this group’s migration experience.


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