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Perceptions of Chinese top-up students transitioning through a regional UK university : a longitudinal study using portrait methodology

O'Dea, Xianghan


Xianghan O'Dea


Mike Bottery


This thesis seeks to gain a good understanding of the academic and social experiences of a group of Chinese top-up students when they are studying their top-up programme in a UK institution. It adopts the U curve model and Bottery’s variation of portrait methodology as the theoretical foundations. Data were collected through semi-structured interviews, which took place three times at the key transition stages of these students during their one-year study period, namely the moving in stage (pre-departure and post arrival), the moving through stage (the start of their top-up programme to the end of the first semester) and the moving out stage (the start of the second semester to the end of their top-up programme). After each interview, written portraits were produced for the participants based on their interview transcripts.

The findings of this thesis suggest that firstly this group of Chinese top-up students seemed to have had a really difficult time during their journey in this UK institution. It appears that their perceptions and some aspects of their behaviour (academic) changed while they went through this one-year study abroad journey, however, other aspects of their behaviour (social) appeared to remain largely the same. Additionally, the transition experiences of most Chinese top-up students in this group seemed to have only partially followed the U curve model. In other words, they experienced the honeymoon, the crisis and the recovery stages, but not the readjustment stage.

This study makes a contribution to both the U curve and the portrait methodology literature by showing that when studying the transitional experiences of international students, attention needs to be paid to the factors at the institutional and national levels, apart from those at the personal level. In addition, the findings demonstrate that portrait methodology may produce very different insights when it is applied to different groups of people.


O'Dea, X. (2020). Perceptions of Chinese top-up students transitioning through a regional UK university : a longitudinal study using portrait methodology. (Thesis). University of Hull. Retrieved from

Thesis Type Thesis
Deposit Date Aug 28, 2020
Publicly Available Date Feb 23, 2023
Keywords Education
Public URL
Additional Information School of Education, The University of Hull
Award Date Jan 1, 2020


Thesis (2.8 Mb)

Copyright Statement
© 2020 O'Dea, Xianghan. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without the written permission of the copyright holder.

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