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Exploring 'international' student transition through transcultural interaction: perspectives in and from the UK

Lookup NU author(s): Dr Peter Sercombe, Professor Tony Young


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Panel abstract Processes of globalisation continue to generate new networks, connectivities and interactions that cut across spatial boundaries (Fairclough, 2006). This panel aims to further understanding of new roles and identities as they surface in the experience of student interaction in contexts of internationalising higher education. We explore concepts and themes of transition, as well as conceptualisations of the self and the other as reflected in the student voice and through patterns of language use, with a particular focus on international contexts. The papers show how transitionary experience can enable students to engage with the complexities inherent in cultural and linguistic identities and how students envision the trajectory of transition during their studies. Multiple interpretations of transition are presented, based on recent research into student perspectives and narratives, also demonstrating how perceptions of others are mediated through English as a Lingua Franca and intersubjective experience among emergent communities. The panel considers the impact of both the formal and the informal curriculum on transition and identity. The papers show a range of sightings of students grappling with new and multiple cultural realities and developing deeper understandings of interacting cultural worlds as a result of their journeys. This session links specifically to the conference themes of lingua francas in higher education, interactional competence in the international university and cultural reflexivity and intercultural dynamics. Individual abstracts Transition in mobility: the informal curriculum David Killick presents outbound mobility as an important part of the internationalisation agenda, and argues specifically that the lived-experience of mobile students can offer rich insights into the potential which an international/multicultural campus can offer for global identities. This paper explores the factors revealed by students as significant in their journeys towards ‘global citizenship’, and indicates how these relate to aspects of learning theories such as trigger points, thresholds and ‘virtuous circles’. The paper is based on outcomes from a qualitative research study of UK undergraduate students on international mobility experiences around the world, presenting narratives from pre-, during, and post-experience interviews with undergraduate students engaged in study abroad, work placements and volunteering activities. In these student narratives their transitory homes bring them into new communities and in that process, the self and ‘other’ identification become (re)formulated in the lifeworld. While the research illustrates the power of experiential learning through the informal curriculum offered by international mobility, the presenter will also propose how the light shed upon the role of community in learning offers powerful insights for the formulation of inclusive internationalised campuses at home. Transition in the classroom: the formal curriculum Catherine Montgomery and Adrian Holliday focus on the influence of the formal curriculum on students’ engagement with the complexity of cultural identity. This paper presents student trajectories amongst complex concepts such as representation, otherisation and identity as being affected by ‘teaching’, the discipline (of Design) and the medium of English as a Lingua Franca. As students struggle with the movable, fluid and negotiable concepts of culture and intercultural communication, the medium of English proves to be a factor which both inhibits and enables students to move towards a complex understanding. The paper draws on a three year cycle of data from a module on intercultural communication, part of a Masters degree in Design. Students’ online reflections and their own visual representations of the process of working in intercultural groups using comic strips show how the experience of ‘being taught’ intercultural communication can act as a catalyst which enables students to reflect on their past histories and narratives and then move beyond a concept of culture as defined by their own national boundaries. Individual transitions: diversity and uniformity of experience Peter Sercombe and Tony Young are specifically interested in students’ own views of the extent to which they undergo a ‘transition’ and they focus here on how students describe and evaluate their experiences. The paper underlines the diversity in students’ engagement with culture, language and educational context despite them undertaking, etically at least, similar postgraduate taught degrees, at a UK University. The students come from 23 different countries, thus comprising a diverse international mix and the paper examines the complex diversity and uniformity in experience of transition across and within small cultural groups. A variety of instruments was used to interrogate students’ construction of their transition (including psychometric surveys, observation, diaries and semi-structured interviews) to explore interrelationships between a number of processes inherent in their transition. These processes included grade point average, psychological wellbeing, and perceived satisfaction with life in a new environment. Our sample of international students from a diverse set of national backgrounds were studying at the same institution in the same department. The students arrived with the same overall TOEFL or IELTS level overall on entry and had the same overall general levels of prior academic achievement (at least an upper second class degree from an internationally-recognised institution of higher education). All the students were undertaking either Applied Linguistics or Cross-cultural Communication studies for their degrees and were studying within a generally similar programme structure in terms of amount of contact with tutors, levels of administrative support and assessment standards applied to their academic work. Despite this uniformity the students experienced transition in distinct and nuanced ways demonstrating the complexity of the interrelationships of social, cultural and educational factors. References Fairclough, N. (2006). Language and Globalization. Oxford: Routledge.

Publication metadata

Author(s): Holliday A, Killick D, Montgomery C, Sercombe PG, Young TJ

Publication type: Conference Proceedings (inc. Abstract)

Publication status: Published

Conference Name: Higher Education Across Borders: Transcultural Interaction and Linguistic Diversity

Year of Conference: 2012