Academic journal article Comparative and International Education

Maintaining the Japan Connection: The Impact of Study Abroad on Japanese Language Learners' Life Trajectories and Ongoing Interaction with Japanese speakers/Maintenir la Connexion Avec le Japon : L'impact Des éTudes À L'étranger Sur Les Trajectoires De Vie Des Apprenants De Japonais et L'interaction Continue Avec Des Locuteurs Japonais

Academic journal article Comparative and International Education

Maintaining the Japan Connection: The Impact of Study Abroad on Japanese Language Learners' Life Trajectories and Ongoing Interaction with Japanese speakers/Maintenir la Connexion Avec le Japon : L'impact Des éTudes À L'étranger Sur Les Trajectoires De Vie Des Apprenants De Japonais et L'interaction Continue Avec Des Locuteurs Japonais

Article excerpt

Introduction

For many students, study abroad represents a momentous, often life-changing event: an exciting and novel experience of a lifetime. For language learners in particular, it presents an important opportunity to be immersed in the target language (TL) and culture, and establish relationships with TL speakers. Although great strides have been made in recent years in researching second language (L2) study abroad participants' language use and acquisition, social interaction, and relationships during the sojourn (see Kinginger, 2009; Mitchell, Tracy-Ventura, & McManus, 2015), there remains fertile ground for investigating how learners continue to engage with the TL and its speakers once they return home. Examination of post-study abroad experiences sheds light not only on the significance of study abroad in learners' ongoing life trajectories, but also on the understanding of L2 development/maintenance as an ongoing process.

Literature review

Over the last 25 years, an increasing body of research on study abroad outcomes assessment has emerged. The majority of these studies have examined the immediate and short-term impact of study abroad on various aspects of L2 acquisition, intercultural awareness, cultural, linguistic and metalinguistic knowledge gained, and personal growth (Franklin, 2010, p. 169). With regard to the latter, a number of qualitative studies have revealed changes in learner identity as a result of study abroad (e.g., Allen, Dristas, & Mills, 2007; Alred & Byram, 2002; Benson, Barkhuizen, Bodycott, & Brown, 2013; Jackson, 2008, 2010, 2013; Kinginger, 2008; Pellegrino Aveni, 2005).

Pellegrino Aveni (2005) examined the identities of American students who studied abroad in Russia for one or two semesters in terms of their ideal and actual self-concepts. Based upon her participants' experiences, she concluded that study abroad "result[s] in a new sense of personality and purpose" that lasts long after students return home (p. 150). Focusing on Hong Kong students who studied abroad in England or Canada, studies conducted by Jackson (2008, 2010, 2013) have also highlighted how programs ranging from five weeks to one year in duration can result in important identity shifts. In particular, she found that her participants "incorporate^] new elements into their evolving sense of self and enter[ed] the creative world of 'third space'": an identity that was not exclusively anchored in one language/culture or the other (2008, p. 2). Furthermore, she revealed that study abroad could raise students' awareness of their place in the world, increase their appreciation of their cultural and ethnic identities, and strengthen their affinity with the L2 and their willingness to use it. For example, Jackson's (2013) case study indicated that a year-long program could result in internationally oriented career goals that had not been considered before the study abroad experience.

While the research reported above reveals a multitude of potential benefits of study abroad, Coleman (2013, p. 27) has pointed out that there are "far too few studies [that] have sought to explore the long-term impact of the always challenging and often life-changing experience." Although limited in number, the studies that do exist provide crucial insight to the ongoing influence of study abroad in the years, if not decades, after program completion. For instance, longitudinal studies have found that study abroad can lead to a heightened interest in or attainment of further educational qualifications (McMillan & Opem, 2004; Nunan, 2006; Paige, Fry, Stallman, Josic, & Jon, 2009), impact career directions (DeGraaf, Slagter, Larsen, & Ditta, 2013; Dwyer, 2002; Forsey, Broomhall, & Davis, 2012; Norris & Gillespie, 2009; Paige et al., 2009), enhance participants' international perspective (Dwyer, 2002; Forsey et al., 2012), and increase likelihood of working with other cultures professionally (Akande & Slawson, 2000; Hansel, 2008; Orahood, Kruze, & Pearson, 2004). …

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