Tasting Australia: Vietnamese student parents’ experience of living in limbo - A Janus head analysis

Author: Kieu Nga Nguyen

Nguyen, Kieu Nga, 2020 Tasting Australia: Vietnamese student parents’ experience of living in limbo - A Janus head analysis, Flinders University, College of Education, Psychology and Social Work

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For centuries people have migrated from one place to another due to famine or poverty, fleeing war or oppressive political regimes, employment or educational opportunities in want of a better life. Migration can be forced, chosen, permanent or transitionary. This thesis reports specifically on the experiences of Vietnamese parents as transitory migrants (international post-graduate students), in particular the uncertainties associated with living across two cultures.

In-depth interviews were conducted with twenty women and six men on how they experienced and negotiated transitions in their lives. Interpretive phenomenology gave insights into the participants’ lived experiences, changes in their relationships and parenting in Australia. Applying an additional analytical overlay, the Janus Head concept, provided a lens for deeper interpretation of the data, including insights into pasts, present contexts and imagined futures. This included both hopes and uncertainties expressed in their spoken words and also silences.

The Janus Head lens offered phenomenological understanding of participants’ uncertainties related to returning to Vietnam’s patriarchal Confucian-influenced families and society. By engaging in the Janus head action of looking back alongside with looking forward, many participants were found to be living in a state of limbo. Findings showcased women who were determined to achieve greater gender balance in life, while simultaneously navigating the patriarchy they brought with them to Australia. These women used spoken words to indicate feelings of success in Australia related to gender performance of in relationships, parenting more equitably in the family space. Likewise, the men perceived shifts in themselves and they

felt proud of the changes to their own mindsets related to gender performativity and gender equity in parenting, relationships and family life generally.

Woven through this thesis are the Vietnamese student parents’ stories of changes in their adult relationships, parenting practices and care for their children associated with transitory life in Australia. Temporary living in Australia enabled parents who participated in this study to enjoy family life at levels they had not experienced before. In doing so, they had the opportunity to taste Australia and to decide whether they liked it or not. Whether they perceived a negative or positive reception, whether they intended to stay or return, the parents interviewed expressed how they learned, grew and had something special to take away from the transitory experience.

Both the women and men interviewed carried worries about their own and children’s futures. This included uncertainty on whether some of the liberties from life in Australia could be maintained, whether their children could cope with the structured Vietnamese family and educational systems, and the pressures of society to perform gender. Due to the mix of uncertainties in going back to Vietnam, for nearly all, participants expressed commitment to blend what they liked from the Australian lifestyles with Vietnamese traditions and norms dear to them. Nevertheless, this remained heavily fuelled with hope, doubt and uncertainty, and was experienced as limbo - always.

Keywords: inbetweenness, interpretive phenomenology, Janus Head philosophy, limbo, transnational students, Vietnamese student parents, Australia, temporary migrants, return and stay binary

Subject: Social Work thesis, Social Work thesis

Thesis type: Doctor of Philosophy
Completed: 2020
School: College of Education, Psychology and Social Work
Supervisor: Dr Helen McLaren