We live in a time of unmatched global mobility and correspondingly, the number of U.S.-American students studying abroad continues to increase. For years now, applied linguists have displayed an increased interest in study abroad students’ perspectives and desires about second language (L2) learning and use while abroad. Yet few studies have analyzed how these students’ beliefs and desires are shaped by the broader discourses regarding monolingualism and diversity that surround them. This paper thus investigates the experiences of two U.S.-American students during their year abroad in Marburg Germany, considering the macro-level discourses regarding monolingualism and diversity that are perpetuated in the ways that they construct and negotiate desires about language and language learning at the micro level.
The findings reveal that for his part, Brad’s personal history catalyzed a micro-level process of reimagining himself in order to avoid being associated with an imagined community of monolingual and monocultural Americans. When he tried to re-negotiate these desires, however, he was only able to rely on macro-level discourses regarding monolingualism that were common in the twentieth century and are clearly still prevalent in the United States today (Pavlenko, 2002b). The results also show that David, who articulated a desire for total German immersion and German friends only, struggled when he relied on twentieth century discourses regarding monolingualism to construct beliefs about language and language learning. In both cases, these struggles caused Brad and David to begin negotiate their desires and re-orient to language and multilingualism. Taken together, both cases demonstrate that study abroad students find it difficult to construct a self that is in sync with its own subjectivities, language, and local surroundings at the micro level given societal and institutional discourses at the macro level that continuously challenge their identity work, including their beliefs, desires, and goals.