Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Students' Immersion Experiences in Study Abroad

Academic journal article Foreign Language Annals

Students' Immersion Experiences in Study Abroad

Article excerpt

Abstract: Data show that a larger number of students than ever are participating in learning experiences abroad. However, such programs are not always as immersive and intensive as participants, faculty, program directors, and administrators would wish. This study examines the ways in which students created sustained opportunities to interact with members of the host community as well as episodes of cultural clash, miscommunication, and misunderstanding experienced at the intersection of two cultures that led to diminishing willingness to interact with members of the host community. The article concludes with recommendations for pre-departure experiences that are designed to help students become more aware of their sociocultural identities, cultural values, learning goals, and program expectations as well as to invest in their own learning and prepare to engage in sustained and meaningful ways with members of the host culture.

Key words: cultural clash, ethnography, foreign languages, immersion, study abroad

Study abroad is considered one of the major vehicles for helping language learners to become translingually and transculturally competent, open?minded, and tolerant individuals (MLA, 2007). It is essential to a nation's security (Commission on the Abraham Lincoln Study Abroad Fellowship Program, 2005), can play a critical role in developing students' language proficiency and cultural competence, and offers learning opportunities that are simply unavailable or unmatched at home (Gore, 2005). The number of students studying abroad is growing (Institute for International Education, 2012), and both large and small institutions of higher education across the United States are allocating increasing resources to promoting study abroad and international education.

In spite of the increasing interest in, and many benefits of, study abroad, the study abroad experience may not always be as immersive and intensive as many participants, faculty, program directors, and administrators would wish, in part because students are most frequently sent abroad in groups, often to attractive, vacation locations. In addition, students' approaches to the study abroad experience, their level of engagement with members of the new culture, and their sociocultural identity and cultural values have an impact on their preparation for the experience, the quality of the sojourn, their perceptions of the sojourn, and the way in which they are perceived in the host society.

Review of Literature

The latest statistics published by the Institute for International Education's 2012 Open Doors Report indicate that in 2010--2011, 273,996 American students (64% women) received academic credit for study abroad experiences-a modest increase (1.3%) over the previous year but a significant one over the past 20 years (Institute for International Education, 2012, n.p.). However, data suggest that sojourns have become significantly shorter and that developing linguistic proficiency and cultural competence may no longer be the main goals of an international experience (Coleman, 1997; Ogden, 2007). The Institute of International Education (2012) reported that short?term programs (4--8 weeks) serve the largest number of Americans studying abroad. Furthermore, Kinginger stated that American students' active involvement in local host societies during study abroad is at risk (2009, 2010a), as is students' understanding of the importance of foreign language study. These changes may reflect what Gore called "dominant beliefs" (2005, p. 23) about study abroad held by the U.S. higher education community, including the concern that study abroad:

*is not viewed as a serious opportunity for committed academic learning because courses and programs offered abroad may be academically less rigorous than those offered at the home university;

*is viewed as a vacation in the " Grand Tour" tradition during which students spend extensive time traveling with compatriots with whom the dominant language spoken is English. …

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