Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Educational Policy Studies and Eval

First Advisor

Dr. Beth Goldstein


Malaysians’ journeys to pursue graduate education in the U.S. generate more than just degree attainment. This dissertation looks at how experiences in the U.S., both in graduate school and in the workplace, influenced highly educated Malaysians, especially in their exploration of push and pull factors that influence their decisions to remain in the U.S. or to return to Malaysia. This study focuses on twenty-two participants comprised of those who have returned to Malaysia, those who are working in the U.S. on non-immigrant visas, those who became Permanent Residents and those who are naturalized U.S. citizens.

The first major finding demonstrates that decisional turning points emerged mainly based upon national policies and employment opportunities prompted by the high demand for talented human capital. Such turning points are crucial telling moments of when individuals make decisions. The second major finding is that push and pull factors -- which include economic conditions and opportunities, quality of life, social justice and freedom perspectives, as well as social network/ social capital -- are assessed through the comparative views acquired between living in Malaysia and in the U.S. The third major finding is that the challenges and experiences participants encountered in the U.S. prompted the formation of transnationalism, wherein their identities, behaviors and values are not limited by the location in which they live. They use a dual frame of reference to evaluate their experiences in the U.S. and the continuous relationships with their family and communities in Malaysia.

Understanding the notion of transnationalism in the process of individuals’ decision making could help states develop policies that promote brain circulation. Policies that support this global mobility of the highly educated and skilled workforce would not just benefit those nations that send and receive students for higher education enrollment. Because 1) the knowledge economy demands the global flow of highly educated workers and 2) people who study transnationally develop a flexible sense of identity and location, policies that enable international mobility for brain circulation are significant for all nations.