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Open Access Publications from the University of California


The L2 Journal is an open access, fully refereed, interdisciplinary journal which aims to promote the research and the practice of language learning and teaching. It publishes articles in English on all aspects of applied linguistics broadly conceived, i.e., second language acquisition, second language pedagogy, bilingualism and multilingualism, language and technology, curriculum development and teacher training, testing and evaluation.

Special Issue: Study Abroad in the Twenty-first Century

Preface and Introduction to the Special Issue

Preface to the Special Issue

It is with great pleasure that I present to you this special issue on Study Abroad in the Twenty-first Century, guest edited by three young scholars with a special personal and professional interest in study abroad.

Wenhao Diao is Assistant Professor in the Department of East Asian Studies and a faculty member in the doctoral program of Second Language Acquisition and Teaching (SLAT) at the University of Arizona. Her dissertation draws on the language socialization framework and focuses on study abroad students’ learning and use of Mandarin in Shanghai, China. Specifically, she looked at how students used a set of Mandarin sentence-final particles to negotiate identity with their Chinese roommates or host family members. Her findings show qualitative differences between the dorm and the homestay settings that are reflective of China’s sociolinguistic context: while during Mao’s China everyone was supposed to look the same and sound the same, social stratifications are rapidly emerging in today’s China—especially among the urban youth. Wenhao’s current research interests continue to lie in the sociolinguistic and discursive aspects of study abroad and language learning.

Janice McGregor is Assistant Professor of German in the Department of Modern Languages at Kansas State University, where she coordinates the basic German language sequence and teaches in the MA program in Second Language Acquisition. In 2012, she received her PhD at The Pennsylvania State University upon completion of her dissertation, On Community Participation and Identity Negotiation in a Study Abroad Context: A Multiple Case Study. Janice’s own experiences as a German language learner and both student and intern abroad have stimulated a deep interest in the complex identity work students navigate when in new cultural and linguistic experiences. Her current research projects focus on L2 use, authenticity, and identity in study abroad. She is also interested in the role of desire and emotion in L2 use and development during study abroad.

Timothy Wolcott is Adjunct Professor of French in the Modern & Classical Languages (MCL) Department at the University of San Francisco (USF), and he also works as the MCL Department Liaison to the Center for Global Education. In his dissertation, Americans in Paris: A Discourse Analysis of Student Accounts of Study Abroad, he draws on post-structuralist theories of subjectivity to account for the deeply personal ways student interviewees make sense of their study abroad experiences in France. In his recent publications, co-authored with a Jesuit colleague at USF, he has begun to examine the degree to which such personal impacts of study abroad can be understood in terms of spirituality. Drawing on his own experience as an instructor and resident advisor in a study abroad program in Paris, he is currently designing a language-intensive, short-term summer study abroad program in France with a focus on service learning and self-reflection.

The three guest editors rightly feel that the very nature of study abroad has changed drastically for foreign language learners, now that the Internet enables students to travel abroad without really leaving home and that English is spoken around the world. Indeed, research on study abroad is asking new questions, exploring new aspects of studying a language in its “authentic” cultural context. The discourse approach adopted by the authors of this special issue provides an appropriate analytical tool for the investigation of social, national, and gender-related identities in the multilingual environments in which study abroad takes place today.

I wish to thank the three guest editors for putting together this exciting issue of the L2Journal and the seven authors for their superb contributions.

Introduction to the Special Issue: Study Abroad in the Twenty-first Century

In the recently released Open Doors report, the Institute of International Education (2015) issued an overview of changes in the study abroad population since the turn of the twenty-first century. At first glance, the numbers are encouraging in many ways: More than twice as many American college students study abroad today compared to fifteen years ago. Those who study abroad come from more diverse academic disciplines and are themselves more diverse, with the number of minority participants having nearly doubled since 2000. Moreover, their destinations are far more heterogeneous, including places previously less traveled by American students, such as China and the Middle East.

Many of these changes seem to indicate the often-sloganized beliefs about the twenty-first century: diversity, a flattening world, and ultimately, globalization. Indeed, the time we live in is characterized by unprecedented mobility—of goods, capital, information, ideas, and here we must add, people—at the global scale. Intensifying globalization processes have facilitated a sustained proliferation of American study abroad programs and have created discourses that legitimize, motivate, and mediate study abroad. These discourses, like globalization itself, are a complex—and potentially contradictory—blend of economic, political, cultural, and philosophical interests and ideologies that the papers in this special issue will address and problematize in detail.


“I Thought That When I was in Germany, I Would Speak Just German”: Language Learning and Desire in Twenty-first Century Study Abroad

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.


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

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.


An Activity Theoretical Approach to Social Interaction During Study Abroad

This case study examines the orientation to social interaction by one study abroad student who spent a semester in Spain. Using an activity theoretical approach, the findings indicate that the student did not only view social interaction with his Spanish host family and a expert-Spanish-speaking age peer as an opportunity for second language (L2) learning, but also had other goals for the interactions such as relationship building and enjoyment. The analysis further highlights changes over time in the focal student’s orientation to L2 learning in social interaction and how his relationships mediated those shifts. Results from the study highlight the dynamic nature of social interaction, the importance of age peers, and the usefulness of activity theory for making links between micro-level interactions and macro-level social structures.

Echoes of Postfeminism in American Students’ Narratives of Study Abroad in France

In qualitative research on Americans in study abroad contexts, female gender often emerges as problematic, with young women portrayed as hapless victims of sexual harassment. The assumption underlying interpretation of these studies appears to maintain that female students are victimized because they find themselves in places where inherently superior American discourses of gender equity do not prevail. Meanwhile, however, scrutiny of participants’ stories reveals deeper mysteries, to do with  gender trouble from home that students bring to their experiences abroad. This paper adopts a narrative approach to interview and journal data from a previous study in which American students, both male and female, recount their experiences in France. Their accounts are linked to the sociocultural history and popular ideology of Franco-American relations and to images of study abroad in the American media. Students’ stories draw upon and contest an amalgam of images related to social class, gender, and national identity, which are embedded in perennial American representations of French language learning as social class transcendence. In the early decades of the twenty-first century, this phenomenon has morphed into a contemporary postfeminist self-help literature for would-be Frenchwomen, which celebrates anachronistic images of women as accomplished homemakers and objects of sexual desire who nevertheless control their destinies through artful styling of self and navigation of the global marketplace. “Frenchness,” with or without corresponding language ability, symbolizes membership in the mobilized, global elite. Thus, while a second language offers potentially new resources for the performance of gendered identity, this study shows how the relationship between such resources and learners’ desires is mediated by previous participation in specific discourses of gender and social class, which may or may not prioritize language learning per se.


Becoming Global Elites Through Transnational Language Learning?: The Case of Korean Early Study Abroad in Singapore

Since the late 1990s, early study abroad (ESA) in English-speaking countries has been a popular educational strategy for pre-university Korean students to acquire important language skills such as global English, which is imagined to help them prepare for the competition in global educational and occupational market. However, as ESA, commonly known as jogi yuhak, became a prominent educational strategy among Korean middle class Korean, the destination for Korean Study Abroad began to diversify, showing significant increase of Korean Study Abroad in non-Western countries. For instance, Singapore has emerged as a new site for ESA, due to its multilingual environment which facilitates the learning of global language of English as well as additional languages such as Mandarin. What, then, are the implications of such diversification of ESA for the goals of and beliefs about study abroad? This paper aims to answer this question by examining the language learning practices and ideologies for three Korean ESA families in Singapore, based on participant observation and interview data drawn from a 2.5-year ethnographic study.

The parents we studied anticipated that the multilingual competence gained in Singapore, including that of English, Mandarin, and Korean, will lead their children to become truly global elites. For them, Singapore's multilingualism facilitates acquisition of linguistic resources valued in the global market, providing the children with global flexibility and enabling them to freely cross linguistic as well as national boundaries for further success. Yet, they also raised questions about the possibilities of achieving such global and flexible identities as they face various material and social constraints in study abroad. We analyze such investments in language learning in terms of the shifting ways and tensions of how language is conceptualized in the global economy (Heller 2007), particularly how linguistic diversity comes to be understood as measurable value, rather than a socially grounded condition of language use (Urciuoli 2015). Based on this discussion, we consider how the diversification of ESA gets incorporated into discourse of symbolic and cultural capital accumulation despite the opportunities such diversification opens up for greater intercultural understanding.