My PhD study explored the experiences of a cohort of Iranian doctoral candidates in New Zealand. This paper presents my response to the unexpected challenge I faced as I collected data and formed my theoretical framework. I found that Western interpretations of non-Western international students largely ignored social-cultural specificities. I navigated this challenge by drawing from the postcolonial concepts of ambivalence, uncertainty and cultural hybridity to make sense of the way Iranian doctoral candidates’ experiences in a Western university were analysed and understood. First, I conceptualised the knowledge journey of the research participants as a Hijrat ‒ an Islamic and Persian cultural metaphor that refers to the experience of departure from one’s homeland. Second, I drew from postcolonial theory to manage the West/non-West binary. This paper offers non-Western doctoral candidates and their Western supervisors an example of how cultural congruence can be understood when completing a PhD study in the West. In a general sense, it is important to acknowledge and critically explore the impacts of past socio-political experiences and practices (e.g., colonisation) and historical knowledge traditions (e.g., Islamic) on present thinking and practices.
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