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Imaginations of 'fantasy': a better life in Australia

The three participants did not receive financial help from their parents or extended families. In fact, they are among the few who have the capacity to pay for their own expenses studying in Australia. Yet, they have varied perceptions of their imagined future in how their experiences in Australia can impact on their future. For Chong, it does not necessarily involve securing a higher pay bracket upon graduation. To him, a 'better life' signifies deeper contentment and simplicity in living. Chong observes:

I really want to live a more peaceful life. I'm not [pause] ... I'm not like a person that I need to be number one or be on top of everything. I would rather be in the middle. I don't want to think that everything should be the best for me, but I think if everything is just enough for me, and that's fine for me. (06/05/2010)

I said at the very beginning I did have some regrets; I was feeling torn because I faced so many challenges: languages, cultures, living [pause]. ... I sometimes ask myself is it better if I have gone to Sweden or stay in China and sometimes I find Adelaide quite boring. But now I don't have any regrets. I mentioned to my parents in the phone that I want to stay here because life is simple and I love the way that is simple. Everything is simple and I am getting used to the way it is. (11/11/2010)

However, in the eyes of his friends in China, this 'simple' life that Chong is referring to is regarded as living 'a grandpa's life' or a 'boring' life (27/09/2010). Chong also faces opposition from his extended family about wanting to remain in Australia. To them, Chong should go back China after he finishes his studies in Australia 'since [he has his main] education in China and so [he] should come back to contribute to [his] country' (27/09/2010). Chong disagrees with them. In fact, to him, there is no difference between how he is living as an international student in Australia and the lifestyle he had as a working adult in China. Despite the cut in earnings and savings, Chong believes his quality of life is not compromised and believes he will have a 'better life' when he becomes a teacher in Australia.

Like Chong, Mei feels a need to 'slow down a little bit' from her previous lifestyle in search of finding more time to contemplate her present life and achieve a 'better life' in future. That sense of having 'more time' for herself is crucial when life in China feels like 'everything is so competitive and in such a rush' (06/11/2009). To Mei, there seems to be a great fit between her learning experience in the Australian higher education system and her readiness to study as a mature-aged overseas student. In contrast to her tertiary study experience in China, she enjoys what she is learning in Australia and having more time to produce high quality work and doing well in both her assignments and teaching practica. This 'slowing down' experience has not only changed her view about living a 'better life'; it has also given her an accidental opportunity to fulfil potential, which she would not have had back in China: 'But now I find I am quite good at writing English thesis or do (sic) a research or [pause] ... so I figured out: it allowed me to find my potential' (24/09/2009).

Having achieved excellent results in her first semester, Mei realises that if she wants to 'survive' and thrive in Australia, she has to 'take the risks to make the most of the opportunity' in the host country. Like Ping, Mei's increased self-confidence develops when she realises her demonstrated skills are increasingly matching the Australian standards and expectations required in her studies and teaching: 'If you have the quality [in Australia] and you can do that, you can find more opportunities' (13/08/2099). This explains why Mei continues to be proactive in taking initiative to 'build a door' (13/08/2009).

Ultimately Mei hopes that her good performance in the masters degree and teaching practicum would give her more options to expand her horizon and increase her social, cultural and economic capital. This is how she contrasts a 'better life' in Australia and back home:

Life is very hard in China. In Australia, I feel quite comfortable to talk to people without connections to my parents. I can now show people exactly who I am. You should recognise me as who I am. It is not about my parents' wealth or status ... of course, I would like getting a teaching position here [pause] ... as I have to take care of my family and I care for my family a lot [pause] ... especially when my parents have retired. (24/09/2009)

Being accepted as who she is, especially by her Australian friends and her mentor teachers, helps Mei gain a kind of social and cultural capital that she cannot establish if she is in China. She is not only able to share her successful sojourn experiences with her family and friends back home, she has also learned a set of skills to work and live in a diverse and foreign environment.

Ping has a different perception of a 'better life' for her imagined future. Her notion of 'a better life' is to break herself free from being judged against the socially and culturally constructed role criteria of being a modern working Chinese woman. This is even more significant for Ping, because she is married with a young son. Ping explains:

I struggle against Confucian thinking. Over the years, people put their own definitions into the Confucian theories. Nowadays, Confucian thinking talks about women should listen to their husbands when they are alive and when they die, they should listen to themselves. It does not make any sense. I also struggle with this Confucian thinking: if the son is unfilial towards his parents, it is the father's fault. [pause] ... why does it make sense? ... Everything has two sides and there is consequence. (21/01/2011)

To Ping, the pressure of living up to the Confucian idea of being a woman is even more critical when both her husband and mother-in-law are the ones expecting her to live up to the Confucian principles, which thus had an impact on her marriage. So, in order to attain her vision of 'a better life', she needs to gain a sense of self-worth as an individual, and she does this by choosing to leave China and live in a culture that validates her values and identity of a woman. If she did not leave China, she explains that she would be 'dying ... physically and mentally ... I told my husband maybe when I get Australian permanent residency, we can give it [their marriage] a try, but if it still doesn't work, we can still take care of our son and be together but maybe not in marriage' (15/12/2009).

In conclusion, as discussed above, there are perceived differences in the pursuit of a 'better life' for each of the participants. Each responds to his or her own perceptions rather than objective truths. It is almost immaterial whether the pursuit of an imagined life in Australia is gener- alisable for all other Chinese student-migrants. Life in China is negatively regarded as more restricted and overly competitive. Still, because their primary purpose to study is to live a different and better life in Australia, the knowledge and experience they have gained from engagement in masters in teaching seems to provide them with greater transnational capital. Hence, in portraying and interpreting the individual encounters and experiences of these Chinese pre-service teachers (Mei, Ping and Chong), the notion of being caught between their imaginations of nostalgia and fantasy are seen as the crux of their lived experiences of migration.

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