Everyday Life and Emotions of Overseas Returned Students in Shanghai, China

Yunting (Tina) Qi

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

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While return migration has become a recurring topic in geographical scholarship, very limited attention has been paid to the everyday material and/or emotional experiences of return migrants. The thesis addresses this gap through unpacking the post-study everyday lives and emotions of overseas returned students in Shanghai, China and further sheds light on the conceptualisation of return migration which has remained largely vague in existing scholarship.

Based on data collected from ethnographic fieldwork conducted in Shanghai from August 2018 to August 2019, this thesis explores overseas returned students’ everyday lives and emotions from the perspectives of everyday experiences of work, everyday life beyond the workplace and intimate relationships. In terms of the constitution of their everyday experiences, this thesis indicates the central role and structuring impact of work, which hints at that work is not only paid labour in office spaces, but exists in everyday life in many ways. Regarding the whole transnational/translocal journeys of participants, this thesis suggests that they continually made their present life through negotiating their previous lived experiences emplaced elsewhere and aspirations for future migration/settlement with everyday circumstances in Shanghai. The lens of everyday emotions reveals how migrants perceived their journey from overseas to China and how they employed their agency to improve daily well-being and create their own places in Shanghai.

In general, return migration is a complicated, ongoing process involving multiple (changing) places at various geographical scales which returnees experienced throughout a series of life stages and under specific macro socio-economic contexts. The thesis suggests a blurring boundary between return migration and various kinds of outward migration, because a complex of identities, multiple motivations, the temporal embeddedness and the various geographical scales, which have been indicated in this researched returnee group, prevail among almost all kinds of transnational migration, rather than being unique to return migration. The most significant difference between return migration and outward migration is the attachment of a sense of home and belonging to the destination place.

The exploration of return migrants’ everyday experiences not only contributes to a more comprehensive knowledge of return migration in an empirical sense; theoretically, the thesis reflects on the existing conceptualisation of return migration through unpacking the complex identities of returnees, the (trans)temporality of return migration and the sending/receiving places of return journeys. The blurring boundaries between return migration and other migrations indicated in this thesis urge researchers to think how the categorisation of transnational migration could help to advance related debates in future.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Royal Holloway, University of London
  • Willis, Katie, Supervisor
Thesis sponsors
Award date1 Mar 2022
Publication statusUnpublished - 2022


  • Everyday geographies
  • emotions
  • overseas returned students
  • return migration

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