Constructing Student Mobility

How Universities Recruit Students and Shape Pathways Between Berkeley and Seoul


Winner of the Association for the Study of Higher Education Council on International Higher Education Best Book Award, 2023

How universities in the US and South Korea compete for global student markets—and how university financials shape students’ lives.

The popular image of the international student in the American imagination is one of affluence, access, and privilege, but is that image accurate? In this provocative book, higher education scholar Stephanie Kim challenges this view, arguing that universities—not the students—allow students their international mobility. Focusing on universities in the US and South Korea that aggressively grew their student pools in the aftermath of the Great Recession, Kim shows the lengths universities will go to expand enrollments as they draw from the same pool of top South Korean students.

Kim closely follows several students attending a university in Berkeley and a university in Seoul. They have chosen different paths to study abroad or learn at home, but all are seeking a transformative educational experience. In order to show how student mobility depends on institutional structures, Kim demonstrates how the universities themselves compel students’ choices to pursue higher learning at one institution or another. She also profiles the people who help ensure the global student supply chain runs smoothly, from education agents in South Korea to community college recruiters in California. Using ethnographic research gathered over a ten-year period in which international admissions were impacted by the Great Recession, changes in US presidential administrations, and the COVID-19 pandemic, Constructing Student Mobility provides crucial insights into the purpose, effects, and future of student recruitment across the Pacific.

About the Author

Stephanie K. Kim’s research on international student mobility emerged from her work at the University of California, Berkeley and as a Fulbright scholar at Yonsei University in South Korea. She is Associate Professor of the Practice in the School of Continuing Studies at Georgetown University, where she also directs the master’s program in Higher Education Administration.

Book Reviews

Media Coverage

Praise for the Book

“Combining broad institutional analysis with granular details and vivid voices, Constructing Student Mobility provides a compelling—and changing—portrait of the linchpin of global education. Kim’s book is requisite reading for anyone interested in higher education today.”

John Lie, C.K. Cho Professor of Sociology, University of California, Berkeley

“Innovative and beautifully-written, this book focuses on both institutional configurations to shape global student mobility and individual level student motivations and actions to achieve their own education mobility. A must read for global student mobility.”

Yingyi Ma, Professor of Sociology and Director of Graduate Studies, Syracuse University; author of Ambitious and Anxious: How Chinese College Students Succeed and Struggle in American Higher Education

“Kim artfully transports readers across the globe in this important, expertly-crafted text. Its relevance and implications reach far beyond Seoul and Berkeley. Definitely the very best thing I’ve ever read on international student mobility.”

Shaun Harper, Provost Professor, University of Southern California

“As a fellow Korean American, I am proud that such a book about students from my homeland exists. As a scholar in the field, I gained a deeper appreciation of the new future of international student mobility.”

Jenny J. Lee, Professor, Educational Policy Studies and Practice, University of Arizona; editor of U.S. Power in International Higher Education

Constructing Student Mobility takes a novel approach in the study of international students… Its analytical lens is institutional and cultural.”

New York Journal of Books

“I appreciated Kim’s human touch, bringing to life the students, professors, and administrators she spoke with—and even putting a bit of herself on the pages.”

Karin Fischer, Latitudes, The Chronicle of Higher Education

“A timely and relevant analysis of the challenges and changes in today’s higher education landscape.”

Transitions: Journal of Transient Migration

“The scholarly contributions of this book carry significant value in filling a noticeable gap between higher education scholars and practitioners whose audiences are connected to international students.”

Journal of Comparative and International Higher Education

“A timely and compelling work that delves into the intricate dynamics of international student mobility, with a specific focus on South Korean students’ experiences between the US and South Korea.”

Pacific Affairs