Academic journal article Comparative and International Education

Cultural Discovery as a Post-Year Abroad Agent of Change for UK Modern Language students/Découverte Culturelle En Tant Qu'agent De Changement Pour Les éTudiants Britanniques De Langues Modernes, Une Année Après Leurs éTudes À L'étranger

Academic journal article Comparative and International Education

Cultural Discovery as a Post-Year Abroad Agent of Change for UK Modern Language students/Découverte Culturelle En Tant Qu'agent De Changement Pour Les éTudiants Britanniques De Langues Modernes, Une Année Après Leurs éTudes À L'étranger

Article excerpt

Introduction

Higher Education (HE) in the twenty-first century is adapting itself rapidly to "a radically transformed cultural and global landscape": one "where borders are constantly shifting" (Giroux, interviewed in Guilherme, 2006, p. 169). A landscape that, in Barnett's (2000, 2012) words, requires a "liquid" pedagogy that develops in students the lifelong dispositions to manage their labile futures. Once the particular province of modern language degrees, study abroad increasingly sits at the centre of UK and European education programs striving to teach global citizenship (Coleman, 2015). And yet, in the UK, modern foreign language (MFL) study is under threat at school and university levels, perceived as being either unnecessary in an Anglocentric world or too hard to guarantee success in a results-driven culture (Board & Tinsley, 2015). This article will argue that by negotiating these tensions with their students, MFL teachers in schools and universities can engage in a pioneering and situated way with crucial questions of agency and power in this context. Giroux observes that "there is a certain civic virtue and ethical value in extending our exposure to difference and otherness" (qtd in Guilherme, 2006, p. 172). It is this sense of collective responsibility that this article explores.

This article takes an individuated approach to its examination of the year abroad experience (Campbell & Zegwaard, 2015; Coleman, 2015; Dörnyei & Ryan, 2015), focusing on a case study involving 15 British undergraduate students of French (in a cohort of approximately 100 students) spending their third year of university abroad as either language assistants, as international students on the Erasmus program, or on work placements. These students (recruited as volunteers) were invited to identify and collect realia, culturally significant artefacts, in their host countries that could be used to enhance language teaching and learning through culture in the secondary school classroom. On their return, the students would discuss their acquisitions and develop them into learning resources. To explore what culture might mean for this group of year abroad students, I will draw on current research that recognizes both their situated, embodied, individual experiences (Bengtsen, 2014) and their socio-cultural and economic roles within bigger systems. I will also probe the nature of their agency and its means of expression in a project that combined autoethnographic self-construction with communal interaction galvanised through social action (Archer, 2013; Batchelor, 2014; Bengsten, 2014; IEREST, 2015; Miyahara, 2015; Ryan, 2014).

A detailed analysis of the project and its outcomes will follow shortly. First, it is important both to establish the theoretical and epistemic questions that are raised in inviting this kind of cultural engagement among students at this stage in their university careers and to acknowledge the importance of infusing theory with lived experience and individual voices (Bengsten, 2015; Coleman, 2015; Miyahara, 2015).

Current higher education discourses and year abroad counter culture

Getting a higher education degree is increasingly considered to be a private investment rather than a public good. [...] The neo-liberal logic of markets has entered the realm of (higher) education. (Kehm, 2014, p. 91)

Learning a foreign language is a largely humanistic endeavor rather than an elite or strictly methodological task and the force of its importance has to be tied to its relevance as an empowering, emancipatory, and democratic function. (Guilherme, 2006, p. 174)

The neo-liberal logic, which Kehm views as predominant in today's HE landscape, has engendered an employability rhetoric (Marginson, 2014) that values economic productivity enabled through higher education's teaching of so-called transferable skills alongside intrinsic subject knowledge. The Confederation of British Industry's Director for Education and Skills, Susan Anderson, explains that "these skills can be gained not just by coursework, but by a whole host of other methods, such as participating in societies, volunteering and doing work experience" (CBI, 2011, para. …

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