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International work placements and the hierarchies of distinction
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Young people are facing uncertain futures. Neoliberal states place an onus on the individual to secure employment in order to provide for their own needs. In navigating their pathways to adulthood in the context of individualisation, an increasing number of young people are embarking on undergraduate degrees in order to secure advantage in the labour market. However, the proliferation of higher education means some students engage with activities which set them apart from others, securing positional advantage. Geographical interest in modes of distinction have explored volunteering and studying overseas as strategies for individuals to acquire capital. This paper provides a novel view of international student mobility to consider the International Work Placement (IWP), an institutionally sanctioned extended period during undergraduate study where students gain overseas work experience. We argue that IWPs are framed by the students who undertake them within a hierarchy of experience which enables the bearer an advantage over others. The IWP is perceived to inscribe upon the CV not only a formalised record of professional level work, but also intercultural skills and personality traits, conveying confidence, adventure and self-reliance. As outward mobility is linked to employability in a global labour market, international experience is framed as an ‘aspiration’ for all (UUK, 2017). Yet this paper draws attention to the inequalities which can be perpetuated by such initiatives, as some individuals are able to secure advantage through IWPs which others are unable to access.
- Social Sciences
- Geography and Environment