“How’s your study in Canada?”
“It’s good. And the people here are very nice to me.”
“So you must be very good at English because you are studying in Canada.”
“Emm … Not exactly. Academic writing is a great challenge for me. And I feel that I cannot involve in Montreal because it’s kind of like a French monolingual city.”
“Oh! I see, so you must be very good at French!”
Ever since I came to Canada, many of my friends have had such conversations with me. From their perspective, studying abroad(SA) gives me the ability to speak another language or other languages. However, they ignored the fact, as I said, that I feel I cannot involved in Montreal. And here is what I experienced this summer vacation when I was working at a Chinese restaurant. With the level of beginner’s French, I could have very basic conversations with my customers, like taking the orders and checkout. However, I had many customers who refused to talk to me while murmuring “Tu ne parle pas Français.” They shook their heads and despised my French with Chinese accents, after which they asked me to call another waitress to serve them. I am a FOREIGNER. And this “foreigner identity” (Iino, 2006) strengthens from time to time whenever I want to speak to the local people. On one end, SA is a two-way enrichment ideal, where I see studying in Canada as a learning opportunity and at school, the teacher-student and peer interactions over learning became settings for intercultural exchange. On the other, I am helpless sometimes and in need of massive assistance for managing my studies and life. I was and am positioned as “foreigners” by some people and by myself. When I recalled that the other day, I was charged some dollars in my account out of no reason and told this to one of my friends. She asked me why I didn’t ask the company for reasons or send an email to negotiate. I was shocked when I recalled my answer because it was that “I am a foreigner.”
When I review my identity over the past one year, it has changed a lot. At the beginning, when I was in China, I was so confident to speak English to English speakers because I see myself as an interpreter. It was my job and I enjoyed speaking English. I was so proud of myself when I was doing presentations and telling the people how to speaking English without fear. However, at the beginning of my SA, I was so nervous to do presentations because most of my listeners are native speakers and I was so embarrassed to share my stories. Who am I? I am a foreigner! The identity issue keeps annoying me and I gradually had language anxiety. Why must I be good at English only because I am studying abroad?
Much empirical research has been done to investigate how studying abroad affects learners’ second language (L2) acquisition. It seems that the SA context favors the development of L2 oral skills, since some studies report that students’ oral performance seems to benefit from study abroad experiences, allowing them to outperform those students who remain at home attending regular classes (Kinginger, 2008; Liu, 2013; Song, 2011; Wang, 2010). However, we should not turn a blind eye to the challenges in using the second language of students who study abroad, like the speaking block (Song, 2013; Liu, 2013) and writing difficulties (Gang, Wei, and Duanmu, 2010; Liu, 2013). Therefore, SA is not equivalent to speaking the fluent language of that country.
“Am I good at English because I am in Canada?”
“No, but I am trying really hard to speaking English and French even if I am only a foreigner.”
Gang, L., Wei, C., & Duanmu, J.-L. (2010). Determinants of International Students’ Academic Performance. Journal of Studies in International Education, 14, 4, 389-405.
Iino, M. (2006). Norms of interaction in a Japanese homestay setting—Toward two‐way flow of linguistic and cultural resources. In M. A. DuFon & E. Churchill (Eds.), Language learners in study abroad contexts (pp. 151– 173). Clevedon, UK: Multilingual Matters.
Kinginger, C. (2008). Language learning in study abroad: Case studies of Americans in France. Modern Language Journal, 92, 1-123.
Liu, C. (2013). From language learners to language users: A Study of Chinese Students in the UK. International Journal of Applied Linguistics, 23, 2, 123-143.
Song, J. (2011). Globalization, Children’s Study Abroad, and Transnationalism as an Emerging Context for Language Learning: A New Task for Language Teacher Education. Tesol Quarterly, 45, 4, 749-758.
Wang, C. (2010). Toward a Second Language Socialization Perspective: Issues in Study Abroad Research. Foreign Language Annals, 43, 1, 50-63.