U.S. Transnational Higher Education in Cambodia: Soft Power and Orientalism in Context
AdvisorLee, Jenny J.
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PublisherThe University of Arizona.
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AbstractIn the expanding landscape of transnational higher education (TNHE), cases have begun to emerge that serve as possible bellwethers for future challenges. These challenges include geopolitical conflicts and concerns over foreign influence that threaten the viability of continued TNHE delivery. To explore this issue in depth, this study focused on a particular case, that of a U.S. TNHE program in Cambodia, at a time of increased tensions between home and host country.This study explored the perceptions, values, and attitudes of local students enrolled in a U.S. TNHE program in Cambodia and how their experiences and perceptions connected with the complex political relationship between the United States and Cambodia. 32 students, 4 staff members, and 5 faculty members involved in the program were interviewed to learn about their perceptions of the program and what values and attitudes they held related to both the program, its context, and their participation in it. Findings indicate that the soft power of the United States, in particular that of its higher education system, remains strong in spite of negative perceptions of U.S. politics and foreign policy, and despite the contentious nature of U.S./Cambodian relations. Additionally, the study found the presence of Orientalist tropes that were internalized by students when expressing their preference for U.S. higher education over Cambodian higher education, which have been reinforced by marketing and media, as well as by the opinions of family, friends, faculty, staff members, and acquaintances. By integrating these findings, this study illuminates how the soft power attraction of the United States helps TNHE programs exhibit resilience even in times of political crisis between sending and receiving countries. However, the long-term viability of such programs, and their reliance on U.S. soft power attraction, is questionable and subject to the changing nature of the political context. Additionally, with the increase in the number of TNHE providers and programs, practitioners should be cognizant of the messaging used to promote programs to students and their families. In this way, they can avoid reinforcement of negative perceptions of the host country to ensure that long term involvement in the local higher education landscape is rooted in respectful partnership and not by banking on the enduring attraction of U.S. soft power.
Degree ProgramGraduate College