Exploring Re-adjustment Experiences of Kazakhstani Returning Scholars

Project: Research project

Call title (Call ID)

Faculty Development Competitive Research Grant Program 2018-2020

Project Description

The purpose of the proposed study is to explore re-adjustment experiences of Kazakhstani scholars. We are particularly interested to explore the experiences of (1) recent Ph.D. program graduates educated abroad and employed as faculty/researchers and (2) faculty/researchers, who had participated in research enhancing international mobility programs, and returned to their positions as faculty/researchers. Re-adjustment is understood as the process of adapting to the life and situation in Kazakhstan after an international stay. In particular, this study is concerned with the analysis of the re-adjustment experiences, which are related to research capacity of the scholars, defined as their ability to conduct meaningful, satisfying, productive, and impactful research. The study will shed light on the challenges/barriers, opportunities, and enablers faced by scholars during or after their stay abroad, which determine the extent to which they are able to remain or become a successful researcher upon their return to Kazakhstan. In addition to that, the study will explore the role of key actors, who shape the international and re-adjustment experiences – research supervisors, collaborators, and other formal and informal professional mentors.

Research problem
The study will fill a gap in existing understanding of factors and actors that determine successful re-adjustment of scholars returning from higher education institutions abroad to Kazakhstan. This problem is important to address for two reasons. First, there is a policy rationale for doing this. Despite the fact the government of Kazakhstan spends a substantial amount of funds to support doctoral-level education and professional development research visits abroad for local scholars with the expectation of a positive effect on research capacity, little is known about the extent to which returning scholars are able to re-adjust and re-integrate into the local research environment and maintain ties with the international research community, keep internationally-recognized research profile, and conduct research relevant to the needs of Kazakhstani society. Second, there is a research rationale for addressing the problem. The study will enhance existing knowledge in the field of international higher education and research in higher education. Within the body of research on internationalization, most attention is given to the analysis of re-adjustment experiences of students, mostly undergraduates, who studied abroad (Szkudlarek, 2009). To a lesser extent the literature is concerned about re-adjustment experiences of faculty (Szkudlarek, 2009). Studies of both types of population tend to be restricted to the context of Western countries (Szkudlarek, 2009). They explore re-adjustment as a part of the larger interest in the short-term and long-term impact of study abroad. Much less attention has been paid in the literature to re-adjustment of students and faculty returning from international study or training to home countries in the non-Western settings, post-Soviet settings in particular. Furthermore, very little is known in the global scholarly inquiry about how re-adjustment is related to research capacity of returning scholars.

Scientific novelty and significance of the proposed study
Contribution to international research. The study will contribute to the global inquiry on re-adjustment of scholars returning from study or professional experiences abroad. By providing evidence from Kazakhstan, the study will help to understand the peculiar challenges, opportunities, enablers, factors, and actors in re-adjustment in non-Western contexts, post-Soviet contexts in particular.
Policy relevance. The study will enhance policy understanding of the key barriers and enablers for successful re-adjustment of local scholars after educational and professional experiences abroad. This understanding will be useful for policy makers in re-designing scholarship schemes to improve the effectiveness of the international experiences, as well as in developing support programs, which may assist scholars in the process of re-adjustment.
Practical relevance. The key lessons from the study will be useful for practitioners in higher education, such as study abroad offices at universities who provide advising and support for the returning scholars, as well as research supervisors of returning scholars, who mentor them during or in the process of re-adjustment.

The impact of the results on the development of science and technology and the expected social and economic impacts
The results of the study will have an indirect effect on the development of science and technology in Kazakhstan. The study will produce a more comprehensive picture of re-adjustment experiences of the returning scholars, as well as a set of recommendations for policy makers and practitioners on the support than can be provided to scholars in the process of re-adjustment. These recommendations may lead to the development of policies and practices, which will improve the research environment for the returning scholars. This will positively affect the development of science and technology. In addition to that, the improvements in the research environment may lead to the increased productivity of the returning scholars, thus increasing the long term socio-economic effects of mobility programs used in Kazakhstan. Some of the recommendations may provide suggestions for the improvement of the mobility programs themselves, therefore also increasing their overall effectiveness and socio-economic value.

Overview of the prior literature
Driven by the desire to stimulate economic growth via industrial diversification and innovation the government of Kazakhstan has been putting much effort in increasing the country’s research capacity. Key government initiatives in this respect focus on (1) the creation of the modern research and innovation infrastructure (modernization of equipment in national-level and university-based research labs, establishment of technoparks, creation of shared use laboratory facilities, improving research funding schemes including competitive grant programs, establishment of coordinating bodies, such as the National Science Fund, the National Center for Science and Technology Evaluation, the Center for Technology Commercialization, and etc.), as well as (2) training and development of the national research cadre (State Program for the Development of Education and Science 2016-2020; State Program for Industrial and Innovation Development of Kazakhstan 2015-2019). With respect to the second area of focus, the main mechanisms entail the reform of postgraduate education (introduction of PhD programs in universities and the creation of a world-class status aspiring research-oriented Nazarbayev University) and promoting international mobility schemes supporting post-graduate training, research visits, and professional development of researchers abroad (Presidential “Bolashak” scholarship funding degree-leading education abroad and similar schemes).

Designed and administered under the influence of the Bologna Declaration signed by Kazakhstan in 2010 (IQAA, 2017), international mobility schemes are expected to have a positive effect on the development of research capacity of Kazakhstani scholars, while the scholars themselves are expected to be able to become highly productive and internationally competitive researchers upon their return to Kazakhstan. Meanwhile, extensive literature on international mobility suggests that the effect of international mobility might be moderated by the re-adjustment experiences of a returnee. Several bodies of literature are particularly relevant in this respect.

First, within international human resource management (HRM) literature, research in repatriation (return from international corporate assignment) and re-adjustment has been conducted since 1970s (Black et al., 1991). The main finding from HRM literature is that repatriation can present more difficulties than initial adjustment in international settings (Adler, 1981), that repatriation is often associated with unmet expectations (about career effects, professional experiences, salary, and personal and professional relations within and outside the employing organization), feeling of being undervalued, concerns about future career, and the resultant high turnover (Kraimer et al., 2012; Lazarova and Caligiuri, 2002; Suutari and Brewster, 2003). At the same time many studies also provide evidence that repatriates often found international experience rewarding in that it provided opportunities for personal development and future advancement in another company (Harvey 1982; Tung 1998).

Within the HRM literature Black and colleagues (Black et al., 1991) developed a theoretical framework to understand adjustment associated with international mobility, including adjustment after repatriation. This model can be very useful in the analysis of re-adjustment of returning researchers in particular. The model draws on an earlier study, which hypothesized that the extent of re-adjustment depends on the returnee’s expectations and their realization that their homeplace has not remained unchanged (Gullahorn and Gullahorn, 1963). Black et al.’s (1991) model identified a set of individual, job, organizational, and non-work variables that affect anticipatory repatriation adjustment (expectations) and in-country adjustment, as well as showed how the former can affect the latter and how adjustment and organization commitment can determine satisfaction and turnover (Figure 1). In addition, later studies, showed the link between the extent of re-adjustment and the availability of organizational support (Lazarova and Caligiuri, 2002) and job mentorship (Carraher et al., 2008).

Figure 1. Model of International Adjustment Black et al.’(1991).

Second, literature within international higher education research explores academic sojourners – students and faculty returning from international stays in higher educational institutions. Much of the literature in the sphere is based on the ideas of “culture shock” (anxiety experienced after exposure to a new culture), “reverse culture shock” (anxiety experienced after return to one’s home culture after a stay abroad) (Hall, 1959); and “cultural adjustment”, i.e. getting used to a new set of cultural beliefs, values and norms or overcoming the culture shock (Biddle, 1979).
A distinction found in this literature and useful for our study is between different outcomes of cultural adjustment (Berry, 1994; Ward, 2001), including remaining mono-cultural (sticking exclusively to one’s original or the newly learnt culture), becoming bi/multicultural (i.e. able to successfully operate in either of the cultures), and getting marginalized (i.e. remaining unassociated with either of the cultures). Another useful theory explaining the identity outcomes of adjustment was developed by Cox (2004). In this Cultural Identity Model four types of identity may emerge: home-favored, host-favored, integrated and disintegrated. These outcomes of re-adjustment are hypothesized to take place among returning scholars in Kazakhstan. In particular, as a result of relocation a researcher could potentially remain largely integrated in the research community of the host country, of which they became a part during their international stay. They could also become or remain more integrated in the relatively isolated post-Soviet or Kazakhstani research community and fail to develop or maintain their ties with the research community of the host country. In addition to that, they may be able to maintain ties with both research “cultures” or develop the ability to interact with researchers globally – in the host country, at home, and beyond.

Another notable observation from the academic sojourner literature is that sojourners with more firmly established perceptions of themselves (as determined by age, experience or gender) underwent a milder cultural shock upon return (Gullahorn and Gullahorn, 1963). In one empirical study, faculty returnees reported less adjustment problems than student returnees because students experienced greater identity change before, during and after an overseas experience while faculty had more firmly set identities (Ward, 2001). This observation might be useful in identifying and explaining a possible difference between the two groups of population explored in the proposed study, where one group constitutes recent graduates and the other – established researchers.

Research on highly skilled migrants (HSM), which in the past focused exclusively on “brain-drain”/”brain circulation” effects and reasons, but now explores academic migration issues in a more general sense, presents another body of literature that offers useful insights for the proposed study. Migration of a scholar can be viewed as an extreme outcome of non-adjustment, which involves both departure from the employing organization and from the country. Exploring the reasons for move from one country to another by scientists may offer insights about factors associated with poor re-adjustment. A useful framework for analyzing migration decision of highly-skilled migrants (scientists) was suggested by Ackers (2005), who argued that one must combine the resource framework and the agency framework in the study of HSM. While the first framework allows one to analyze resources- and structure-related constraints, which a researcher may perceive as interfering with their research capacity, the agency framework allows to take into consideration individualistic and relational factors (relationships and networks).

Whilst the resource framework posits that prospects for economic improvement in terms of earnings is the most important factor for relocation of researchers in developing countries, the agency framework insists that researchers are mostly “knowledge migrants” vs. “economic” migrants” (DTI, 2002, p.12) and are motivated not so much by better living conditions, as by better research conditions. Researchers expect a high quality of research facilities, access to research funding, recognition and a high status as a researcher in the society, independence and autonomy, as well as opportunities to work in research teams (Martin-Rovet, 2003, p. 1). Ackers (2001) added to this list of organizational factors meritocratic promotion and excellence promoting practices, and Hellemans (2001) emphasized the discouraging effect of cumbersome bureaucracy. In addition to that, Ackers (2001) noted that the priority attached to individual factors may vary across the life span of an individual, thus making individuals at different stages of their career less likely or more likely to migrate from or to return to their home country. These factors related to satisfaction with research environment suggest some possible factors, which may determine the extent of re-adjustment of researchers upon return to Kazakhstani higher educational institutions.

Another relevant body of literature comes from Organizational Management literature, where one of the topics of study is Organizational Socialization of newly-hired employees. While returning scholars are not always newly hired (as in the case of those researchers who participated in non-degree programs and may be coming to their previous places of employment), assuming that organizations change and a returnee never comes back to exactly the same organization, one may view re-adjustment as a form of organizational (re)socialization. Organizational socialization is understood as the process of learning aimed at reduction of uncertainty (Chao, O’Leary-Kelly, Wolf, Klein, & Gardner, 1994) through which newcomers move from being outsiders to becoming effective insiders (Wanberg, 2012) by learning the roles and routines related to one’s job, work group, and organization. There are two types of organizational approaches to newcomer socialization: individualized socialization approaches, in which individuals are responsible for their own socialization, but may get some informal support, and institutionalized socialization, in which the organization uses formal and structured procedures for socializing newcomers (Jones, 1986). The latter has been shown as more effective (Saks, Uggerslev, & Fassina, 2007), but more discouraging of innovative initiatives of newcomers (Saks et al., 2007).

Another aspect of organizational socialization is addressed by belongingness theory, introduced by Baumeister and Leary (1995), which posits that good relationships and being incorporated with social networks are critically important during organizational socialization (Morrison, 2002). Newcomers not only learn new task and policies, but also start working with their colleagues more frequently and try to become integrated into the social fabric of their new organization (Bauer & Erdogan, 2011). Re-adjustment, therefore, as a form of organizational socialization, is largely dependent on the relationships with colleagues.

This overview of the literature highlighted the main bodies of the existing literature in higher education and related disciplines, which suggest ideas that can be used in further conceptualization of the study, in the process of data analysis, and in interpretation of the study results. Space and time limitations do not allow us to provide a more detailed account of all the themes in the literature. However, the provided summary should be sufficient to demonstrate the directions of a more detailed analysis of the existing body of research that we will take in writing the literature review for the study in case it is approved for funding. Overall, most useful theories that could be used to frame the study seem to be (1) Black et al.’s (1991) Expectancy Theory, which tries to explain HOW readjustment happens and what are the classes of factors that affect it; (2) Cox’s (2004) Cultural Identity model, which suggests outcomes of cultural re-adjustment; (3) Acker’s (2005) Highly Skills Workers Migration Model, which helps to explain how re-adjustment of scholars might be different from re-adjustment of other types of workers; (4) a variety of organizational socialization models, which may help to identify organizational factors of re-adjustment, and (5) Baumeister and Leary’s (1995) Belongingness Theory, which explains the role of relations with other scholars (at home and abroad) in re-adjustment.
Effective start/end date3/20/1812/31/20


culture shock
development of science
professional experience
human resource management
studies abroad
research facility
cultural identity