Politicizing Study Abroad: Learning Arabic in Egypt and Mandarin in China
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Politicizing Study Abroad: Learning Arabic in Egypt and Mandarin in China

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This paper examines ideologies of American study abroad in politically and culturally “non-Western” countries. Drawing from the theory of orientalism (Said, 1978), we analyze how American public discourse on study abroad for learners of Mandarin and Arabic manifests an orientalist thinking, and how such macro discourse both produces multilingual subjects (Kramsch, 2010) and considerable tensions with the micro discourses of these subjects. Our findings show that despite linguistic and cultural differences between China and the Arab world, the two contexts are imagined together as the political “East” in American public rhetoric. The two languages are also assumed to be crucial to the somewhat contradictory goals of “bridge-building” and “national defense.” These imaginings provide students a mode of identity construction, but they are also contested in students’ everyday experience. Using these findings, we argue that the discursive links between the two study abroad destinations result from a geopolitically situated American gaze, a view that obscures differences between the two destinations, the goals of individual language learners, and the locals they interact with when abroad.


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