The phenomenon of spiritual homelessness in transnational spaces among international students in the United States

Arati Maleku, Rebecca Phillips, Mee Young Um, Njeri Kagotho, Guijin Lee, Kathryn Coxe

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

5 Scopus citations


Although student mobility and educational border crossings, particularly from non-Western economies to English-speaking countries, such as the United States, are not new, theoretical concepts that help illuminate global student mobilities rarely examine lived realities of university students in transnational spaces. We aim to explore the phenomenon of ‘spiritual homelessness’ experienced by international students in the United States and how their perceived sense of belonging and not belonging in their home or host places contribute to their reconstruction of identity in transnational spaces. Based on a 3-hour focus group discussion with international students from eight different countries (N = 11) studying at a large southern university in the United States, this study highlights the nexus between multiple, contradictory and simultaneous processes of belonging and identity through student-defined transnational higher education spaces. Findings demonstrate that international students are part of multiple and contradictory discourses, where there is a synergetic construction of transnational spaces as open and diverse, but also discriminatory and exclusionary as they negotiate where they belong or not belong. This study provides a critical scoping of student-defined spaces and foregrounds the typological theoretical construct of spiritual homelessness to provide new insights into global student mobilities and identity reconstruction in transnational spaces.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2470
JournalPopulation, Space and Place
Issue number2
StatePublished - Mar 2022


  • belonging
  • identity
  • international students
  • spiritual homelessness
  • transnational space
  • transnationalism

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Demography
  • Geography, Planning and Development


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