A Prolific YouTuber on ELT in Japan

Victor was a participant I recruited for my dissertation on sojourning ELTs, but I did not include his data for a number of reasons, one of them being that the amount of data I collected from his blogs and YouTube videos alone outnumbered the total number of data from the five participants included in my dissertation. Victor, the self-described “King of Morons” runs several YouTube channels, Gimmeabreakman and Gimmeaflakeman, the latter of which I investigated because he talked about his adjustment process of teaching English and living in Japan.

I’m writing about Victor now to demonstrate how much data or how many YouTube videos one English language teacher can produce. I collected data in the summer of 2013, so my data included most of his videos from April 6, 2009 to August 7, 2013. Within this timeframe, Victor published over 1,037 YouTube videos on Gimmeaflakeman. Around July 2012, I realized he was publishing a lot of sumo-related videos and so I stopped cataloging those videos at that point.

So let’s look at some basic descriptive quantitative data, shall we? In four years and four months (1585 days), Victor published at least 1,037 videos to one of his YouTube channels. These videos range from around five minutes to over an hour. If the average video is ten minutes long, which is a conservative estimate (possibly double that), then the total number of minutes would be about 10,370 minutes. That’s over seven days of continuously watching his videos. That’s a lot of transcribing!

Another approach is to analyze the list of 1,037 titles. I cataloged all these titles on a spreadsheet and quickly learned that most of them were about Japanese culture, mainly pop culture, or his reactions to other YouTubers, mostly in Japan, making disagreeable videos or statements about Japan. This is long before Logan Paul made international news for his disrespect.

I specifically looked for video titles addressing issues of adjusting to living and teaching English in Japan. After a thorough and duplicated search process, I found 40 videos that met my specifications. I then watched all 40 videos to determine how relevant each video was to my research questions about cultural adaptation. This process resulted in a three categories: very relevant videos (of which there were 17), somewhat relevant videos (18), and marginally relevant videos (5).

The 17 Most Relevant Videos

When I revisited his YouTube channel for the purpose of this blog post, I found that Victor had changed a few of his original video titles. For example, the first of the very relevant videos (from May 22, 2009) was titled “Racism in Japan (My Experience)” but it is now titled “Japan Racist? No!”  The new title clarifies his position on the subject of racism, but it’s also less attractive as click bait. My first (and possibly incorrect) impression of Victor’s video titles several years ago was that they were baiting for clicks.

The shortest of these seventeen videos is “What do you need to become an English teacher in Japan” at 4 minutes and 57 seconds, found below.

It’s from August 28, 2012, and he speaks with some authority because he has been an English teacher in Japan for a couple of decades and he runs his own English school, where he has hired English teachers from abroad. If you choose not to watch the video, he shares his impressions of the institutional cultures that English language teachers find themselves in. What I mean by institutional cultures is the expectations they have for sojourning ELTs as well as the respect the institutions and the teachers give or do not give each other. This example is less typical than most of his videos in that he stays on topic. In many videos, he often goes off topic, especially with guest vloggers. It’s also less typical because it’s under 5 minutes long.

To contrast this, here is his longest of the 17 most relevant videos from February 6, 2013:

This video is likely the most relevant video as the title addresses my research interest directly. I believe this may have been the video that I found when selecting participants for my dissertation via social media. The video features several guests, including Hikosaemon, who is another prolific YouTuber in Japan. Hikosaemon and Victor often produce videos together and publish some of Victor’s YouTube channel and others on Hiko’s channel. These multiple perspectives are both enriching for the subject matter but they are also distracting as you will see that they often digress.

After watching several of these videos, I found Victor and Hikosaemon to be culturally informative co-hosts because of their contrasting viewpoints and working environments. However, I do not believe they represent all or most sojourning ELTs in Japan. They may better represent what they sometimes refer to as J-vloggers, people in Japan who create videos about Japan. Victor helped me learn about this very loosely organized group of people, both Japanese and non-Japanese.

Besides these three videos, the other fourteen videos cover topics such as Victor’s rationale for moving to Japan, expat loneliness, a tour of his school in Nagoya, tips for newcomers, discussions about living in Japan, bad teaching scenarios, compare/contrast to teaching English in Korea, and non-native English speaking teachers. These seventeen most relevant videos add up to about 7 hours and 35 minutes of total viewing time. That’s still a lot of videos, but 7 hours is much more manageable than 7 days. This blog post is just a small sample of my analysis.

Victor, A Case Study?

After completing my dissertation, I thought about writing a case study about him. From an anthropological viewpoint, I think there is a lot to draw from Victor’s YouTube videos and how they relates to several theories on globalization and online media theories. As a PhD student, I took a few courses in cultural anthropology and communications, but I need to dive deeper in these areas to conduct a well grounded anthropological case study.

But what can English language teachers and researchers and applied linguists learn from a case study on Victor? His channel provides longitudinal data mostly on his identity as it relates to living in Japan and being a prolific YouTuber. However, the data on teaching English and teacher identity is sparse compared to videos about his comments and reactions to Japanese and American popular culture. A case study like this may be helpful for English language teachers who want to teach abroad for an extended period of time, making them less of a sojourner and more of an immigrant. But it probably won’t be helpful for teachers wanting to learn more about pedagogy and professional development.

Victor is just one of many YouTubers who teach English in Japan. I wrote this blog post about him because I am most familiar with him, but there are likely others on YouTube that have had a greater influence over people’s perspectives on teaching English in Japan. As I pointed out, making videos about teaching English in Japan is not his primary goal. Compared to other sojourning ELTs I have found through social media, he does not publish much on pedagogy or professional development. For the lay person, those topics are not interesting. I believe Victor wants to engage a wider audience, people who are curious about what it’s like to live in Japan for many years.

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Culture Representations on YouTube

There are many sojourning English language teachers (ELTs) on YouTube. Or put in another way, there are many YouTubers who teach English abroad. I am both excited and apprehensive about this because 1) YouTube can help ELTs learn more about other teaching and living contexts, perhaps as new ELTs are deciding to teach abroad, and 2) YouTube can inform the rest of the world, including employers and students, about English language teachers, and perhaps ELTs from certain countries, regions, and cities. I hope that the public, in general, understands that the ELTs on YouTube do not represent all ELTs or the ELT profession.

With that said, I’d like to share some pilot data on a new study I’m launching. The purpose of my pilot study is to develop my YouTube data collection technique and to find the theoretical framework that best fits the purpose of my study. I’m sharing this publicly because the data, YouTube videos, is public, at least for now.

Over a year ago, I analyzed comments on YouTube videos made by ELTs, and three of the four have been removed or made private. So another purpose of this blog post is to demonstrate the longevity of YouTube videos made by ELTs. How long will the two I share today stay online for the public?

Video Selection

I set up one of my YouTube channels for the purpose of a longitudinal study on ELTs on YouTube that I started during my doctoral dissertation process, almost 6 years ago now. For selecting videos for this post, I wasn’t creative or random in my approach to choosing these two videos. They were from the first two channels in alphabetical order: Abby P and Abi Abroad, both channels were made by similarly named women who teach (Abby) or used to teach (Abi) in South Korea.

I purposefully chose a video from both channels that was explicitly about teaching English. Like most YouTubers, many of their videos are about other topics, such as learning Korean or traveling around the country. I am somewhat familiar with their contexts as I taught English at a Korean university over a decade ago. Most of my students were public and private school English teachers.

Framework for Analysis

My dissertation used Adrian Holliday’s Host Culture Complex (1995), but I’d like to move away from that model for my study. But some concepts in Holliday’s model overlaps with other ones I thinking about using so I will use these concepts broadly:

  • Institutional Culture – the private and public schools described in both videos
  • Societal Context – Korean culture outside the schools
  • The Individual – Abby, Abi, and Kyle

The purpose of these videos is to explain certain aspects of the institutional culture to the audience. The target audience for Abby’s video seems to be new ELTs in Korea, specifically in the public school system. The target audience for Abi’s video was not as clear, but it seems to be for people who want to know the differences between the public and private schools in Korea. I’m assuming that’s mainly new ELTs who have just arrived in Korea or who are thinking about going to Korea because they take on the sojourning ELT’s point of view for most of the video.

Analysis

I did not transcribe the videos word for word. I wrote a summary of the topic for every ten-second segment on average and time stamped it. Sometimes it was a direct quote or transcription. If I need a direct quote that I didn’t transcribe, I can easily go back and find the quote within the ten-second duration. Therefore the process is more like half transcription and half open coding. I used the framework above to help me identify preliminary themes that I could explore further with support from scholarly literature.

Preliminary Findings

The institutional culture was represented the most. Abby P described the organization of a typical elementary school lesson plan, which helps teachers understand the technical process of classroom teaching. I use the word “technical” because she doesn’t include the classroom management portion of the lesson. Abi’s description of the benefits of teaching in public schools compliments Abby’s video by going beyond the lesson plan by describing what it’s like working with a co-teacher, how some teachers spend their lesson planning time, what to expect in the contract, and vacation time.

Although Abby and Abi both provide information to help new ELTs understand what it’s like to work in a public school. Their tone is quite different. Abby presents her video as a professional guide through the lesson plan, such as making a reference to the 3 P’s (presentation-practice-production), which many students learn in TESOL certificate or MA TESOL programs. Abi presents her video as friend or colleague trying to convince someone to teach in a public school. Her reasons are less professional, especially when she describes how much free time and vacation time one can have.

Abi’s video starts with her colleague Kyle talking about the pros for working at another teaching context in Korea, the hagwon or private school. His presentation tone matches Abi’s as a friend with reasons that not so professional, such as anyone who speaks English can get the job and there are many opportunities to socialize with your colleagues “because there’s a lot of stuff that happens at a private hagwon.”

To summarize, both videos complement each other in terms of the content of the video. The audience can learn a lot about teaching in Korean public and private schools by watching both. Additionally, both videos contrast each other in tone. Abi talks to her audience like a friendly senior teacher or supervisor whereas Abby and Kyle to their audience like friends hanging out at a cafe or hof somewhere in Seoul. This contrast should not be generalized so we cannot assume Abi is like Abby outside of the institution or that Abby is like Abi inside the institution. We also must take into consideration that these videos represent a performance that may be different from how all three of them are in real life.

In terms of societal contexts, Abby’s video doesn’t provide much information. We can infer society’s expectations for English language teaching and learning in public schools, but not much more than that. In contrast, Abi’s video reveals a little more as she and Kyle compare public schools to hagwon (private schools). They make a few critical comments on the selection process for hiring foreigners. They mention that hagwon. will hire anybody who speaks English, implying that the standard for English language teachers is quite low. Furthermore, they add being attractive helps one get a job, implying the commodification of English language teachers, in which looking the part is more important than academic preparation. We also learn that there are certain areas of Seoul (like Mokdong) that have a higher proportion of students with high proficiency than others (Bucheon). Finally, they state that public school contracts are more legitimate than one for hagwon, implying that the private teaching enterprise is not well regulated.

For the individual level, I’ve already mentioned tone, in that Abby’s video was speaking as if she were the supervisor of her video’s target audience whereas Abi and Kype were speaking as if they were friends of their target audience. Further exploration of their respective YouTube channels would likely help support or refute these assumptions. So what can we learn about the Abby, Abi, and Kyle’s intentions and values without directly asking them? What cues do they provide?

Both of them value their YouTube audience’s engagement by adding features to their video such as careful editing, background music, titles, text on screen, and so on. I mention this because some teachers don’t edit much and don’t spend time on quality lighting and sound. For these two videos, delivery is just as important as content (a metaphor we can take to English language teaching as well).

Abby seems to value empathy, support, and clarity in her video. All these skills transfer over to a successful teacher and supervisor. She starts her video empathizing with the new teacher overwhelmed by the public school curriculum, but then she demonstrates how this curriculum can be carried out with relative ease. Reducing anxiety seems just as important as explaining the lesson plan. Although there are plenty of opportunities, she refrains from criticizing the design of the lesson plan and from explaining the complexities of teaching and classroom management.

Abi and Kyle also attempt at criticizing both public and private schools as they reserved that criticism for another video. Although this video emphasizes the pros, the audience can clearly find the cons in both contexts. Within the first minute, they explain they have a lot of dirt on these contexts, which is not necessary for a video on pros. The quote “they will take anybody” for hagwon does not come off sounding like a pro unless their audience is made up mostly of totally unqualified people.

Abi and Kyle also reveal that they enjoy distractions from teaching during their work time. Some of these distractions may be appropriate, such as socializing with colleagues, but others are most likely not, such as playing Candy Crush and streaming TV shows during office hours. This confession may be a reflection of their commitment to work, but it could also be a criticism of the school’s low standards or expectations for teachers, which may lead to low morale.

Both Abi and Kyle overtly express how much they value their free time as they mention twice that public school teachers have to work 22 hours a week and they get 21 days paid vacation. When Abi mentioning this, Kyle expresses amazement with a hint of jealousy. Free time is often celebrated in this video. Therefore, this video emphasizes the quality of life for teachers in and outside the schools because that is likely what Abi and Kyle value. For educators in all sectors and stages of experience, work-life balance is an important consideration for teaching jobs. This video clearly shares this point.

Conclusion

I can’t make any definitive conclusions based on preliminary findings of two videos I selected in alphabetical order of YouTube channels about teaching English overseas. This was just an exercise to see how and what I could learn from analyzing these videos with a very broad framework. This exercise has helped me choose a more specific framework to learn the cultural representations on YouTube.

If I had more data and a specific framework, I would have been better able to describe how these videos represent the culture of both the video producers (current and former English language teachers) and the culture of the video’s subject matter (Korean English language schools and Korean society).

If you’ve taught or are teaching English in Korea, to what extent do you think these videos help or harm the general understanding of our profession as teachers and Korean English language education? To what extent are these videos useful for prospective English language teachers? What is the ELT industry’s role and the ELT profession’s role if asked to address videos like these to the general public?

Gaps in Socio-cultural Adaptation Research

This post is a reaction to a literature review I just read to update and refresh my understanding of socio-cultural adaptation theories. You can access it by clicking on the link below:

Bierwiaczonek, K. & Waldzus, S. (2016). Socio-cultural factors as antecedents of cross-cultural adaptation in expatriates, international students, and migrants: A review. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 47(6), 767-817.

The following figure is the best way to summarize the review. I will do my best to explain the figure and relate it to the field of English language teaching.

Screen Shot 2017-10-27 at 9.50.19 AMScreen Shot 2017-10-27 at 9.50.28 AM

Who’s adapting to what culture(s)?

Let’s take a look at the labels for each column first. The first two columns refer to expatriates and their families. The second column is the most relevant to the subject of this blog as expatriates include sojourning ELTs. According to the literature review, most of the studies investigated expatriates from the West traveling to work in highly developed non-Western countries, such as Japan and China. Does this follow the trend of sojourning ELTs? I mean, do the majority of them travel to highly developed non-Western countries? The assumption is that those countries pay their ELTs more. Although the destination may be similar, the average age may be different. The average age of expatriates in the literature review is 41. I believe the majority of sojourning ELTs are younger than this, but my observations are anecdotal and perhaps outdated. I was surprised to find many older non-Japanese ELTs at last year’s JALT conference.

The third column refers to migrants, more specifically first-generation migrant workers. In the United States, English language teachers would most encounter this population as students in community colleges, I assume. I am somewhat certain that most ELTs would not consider themselves first-generation migrant workers, but I’m thinking of my own context as a privileged white American male. Perhaps there are some ELTs who get into the profession for better opportunities abroad in the long-term.

The fourth and final column refers to international students, who are our students if we (ELTs) are teaching in a country or a school where English is the dominant or official language. In our field, these labels can be tricky. For example, I taught one summer at the International University of Japan with many students from different parts of Asia. In this case, only a part of my class was made up of international students as opposed to another context I’ve taught, intensive English programs in the US, where all of my students were international. Most of the studies in the literature review investigated students mainly from non-Western countries, especially from Asia, who traveled to study in Western countries, especially the United States. In this case, my international students in Japan would be outliers. Would this be a fair representation of international students around the world?

How are we observing, measuring, and/or evaluating their adaptation?

The rows refer to the different variables from different theoretical models to help identify how the intercultural travelers adapt to their host country. The top two rows refer to adaptation outcomes that can be measured through scales proposed in Black, Mendenhall, and Oddou’s (1991) study.  These rows have the largest circles in the figure above, but they also show that the psychological factors of expatriates’ adjustment and the socio-cultural factors of migrants’ adjustment have not been studied as much. The reviewers believe that the psychological factors of expatriates were not studied as much because of the practical nature of the studies. Employers felt that the psychological factors offered little to no practical solutions, whereas they could act upon the socio-cultural factors. The reverse applies to migrants. The reviewers believe researchers assume that migrants move abroad with a higher level of efficacy.

These assumptions help me to reflect on the field of English language teaching. To what extent are employers concerned about their teachers’ psychological adaptation to the new working environments? I think this is important in all areas of education, but more strikingly in areas in which the teacher comes from a different culture. I find parallels here between English language teaching and issues of inclusion and diversity in American public schools. I am not sure of how to apply the assumption of migrants’ efficacy to English language education because, as a teacher, I don’t assume they are more or less efficacious than my other students. Do school leaders think differently? I need an expert in this area to help clarify this issue for me.

The next two rows look at two aspects of culture learning, which is the underlying theory of my studies of sojourning ELTs and this blog. The two types of culture learning are cultural distance, in which travelers report on how similar or different the host culture is from their home culture, and social interaction, in which travelers report on the quantity and quality of their interactions with members of the host culture. These are the least used theories in the literature review, which helps me understand why it is difficult to find similar studies out there. My dissertation helped me learn that the quality of social interaction was a key factor in adjustment, but that area is understudied for expats. It is looked at more with international students because their hosts, the universities and colleges, are interested in recruiting and retaining more students who can adjust well. I believe it is safe to say that schools abroad are comparatively less concerned about the recruitment and retention of their English language teachers, especially when there seems to be a larger supply of them now.

The fifth and sixth rows are underlying factors to intercultural travelers’ stress and coping of living overseas. Resources refer to the support available to help the traveler’s cope with their new situation, whereas stressors refer to factors like language barriers and social status that make living overseas more difficult. I encountered these indirectly in my dissertation, and that somewhat reflects the results in the figure, which shows that these variables were not as closely studied in expatriate groups as they were for migrant and international students. Of the two variables, resources were investigator more than stressors, which was the reverse of my preliminary findings. This is one reason I am researching online and collaborative professional development as a resource to cope with living and teaching overseas. In some contexts, I’m not sure if the new living conditions are more stressful than the demands of the job itself.

The last row concerns family and this is the least surprising finding to me perhaps because I lived and taught abroad with my wife. The literature found that a spouse’s “maladjustment” to living overseas resulted in a premature departure from the host country. Yes, speaking from direct observation, the spouse needs as many if not more resources to cope with living in a new environment. However, thinking about others, I find that many married ELTs have spouses from a different culture. That can make adaptation easier if the spouse is living in his or her host country, but it can make it worst if it’s the opposite case. And I’m unsure how it plays out when each partner is from a different culture and they are living in a country with a culture different from both of them.

My Biggest Takeaways

I was especially drawn to the implications for research because that section provides the wind for my sails on my proverbial ship of ELT research. The ones most relevant to me are as follows:

  • More systematic examination of expatriate psychological adaptation and the stress and coping processes behind it
  • Include non-work factors identified in studies on different populations
  • Research Designs
    • More longitudinal designs
    • More control groups
    • A more systematic comparison of the various contexts of intercultural transitions

Although I’m quite skeptical, I need to look more closely at these self-reported quantitative measures more closely. Additionally, I have been keeping track of some sojourning ELTs via social media, but this observational approach is too loose for a longitudinal study. I should get more serious about starting this after nearly seven years of following sojourning ELTs bloggers and Twitter users.

I am quite happy though to see that my current research projects on professional learning fit in nicely with the findings and recommendations here. I look forward to investigating other resources for sojourning ELTs to help them cope. That’s assuming that some ELTs don’t see professional development as a stressor.

Reference

Black, J. S., Mendenhall, M., & Oddou, G. (1991). Toward a comprehensive model of international adjustment: An integration of multiple perspectives. Academy of Management Review, 16, 291-317.

Sojourning ELTs 3 years later

Three years after my dissertation on the adjustment process on a few members of this population, I am still interested in conducting research on sojourning ELTs. After noticing an interesting pattern on social media and the blogosphere over a year ago, I launched a couple new research projects to investigate a wider range of the population. The first project is underway with data collected and analyzed. In a month or two, I will start the second project, which is more closely aligned to this blog as it investigates culture learning of English language teachers.

Who are sojourning English language teachers again?

I borrowed the term “sojourning” from the literature on acculturation psychology (Ting-Toomey, 1999; Ward, Bochner, & Furnham, 2001). A sojourner is one who travels abroad for work or study for an extended period of time, usually more than a year, with the intention of returning to one’s home country after a few years. The two most researched sojourning populations in psychology are international students and corporate workers. Sojourners are one group or type of expatriates categorized by length of stay. Those who live abroad for up to a year are “tourists” and those who stay for closer to a decade or longer are “immigrants.”

Who cares about sojourning ELTs?

I think this group is worth researching because, for most members, it’s a group in a career transition. Many of them are entering the workforce full-time for the first time while some of them are deciding to make career changes, leaving a job or lifestyle they were getting tired of in their home country. Many of them can also be classified as native speakers, a term I dislike using. For more on the issue of native-speakerism in the ELT industry, I recommend visiting the TEFL Equity Advocates website at https://teflequityadvocates.com/.

My assumption, based on experience, observation, and very limited formal research, is that most sojourning ELTs are recent college graduates from countries where English is the dominant language, in Kachru’s Inner Circle of World Englishes (1992) or Holliday’s BANA countries (1994), which I wrote about a couple years ago here. My hypothesis (which seems pretty obvious to anyone with TEFL experience) is that the sojourning ELT lifestyle is an extension of the college lifestyle, which ends if and when the individual decides to seriously join the ELT profession or quit. However, this hypothesis mainly applies to sojourning ELTs who come straight from college. There are a number of sojourning ELTs who go abroad many years or decades after their early 20s. However, no matter their age, all sojourning ELTs go through a steep culture learning curve during their first year aboard, which may define their ELT identity.

Another reason I think this group is worthy of research is that they represent their home country and the entire ELT profession to a large proportion of English language learners around the world. They are able to make a bigger impression on students than most more established and/or “professional” ELTs, which brings me to the distinction between the sojourning ELT “newbies” and the “professional” ELTs. I am very interested in learning more about what separates these two in the minds of both groups. For example, I had little to no access to “professional” ELTs when I was a new sojourning ELT. After earning my graduate degrees in education, I’ve noticed a certain “othering” of  sojourning ELTs by my peers or by local ELTs. I want to learn more about this. I have my hunches, which I have overheard in grad schools and teacher conferences, and read on social media, such as:

These sojourning ELTs:

  • Are not qualified to teach
  • Are backpackers (in the 90s) or digital nomads (in this decade)
  • Are privileged native speakers
  • Are unprofessional, don’t take the job seriously
  • Are “scabs,” willing to teach for cheap

I recently learned that the last bullet point is a cause for concern for some members in teacher support groups, such as the Teachers as Workers Special Interest Group and the TEFL Guild. These groups help to provide all ELTs, sojourning and not, representation and voice in the industry, so we can learn that these impressions should not be generalized. The argument that I recently encountered is that the constant supply of college graduates keeps the demand stable or low enough that there is no need to provide benefits to more experienced teachers. I am just scratching the surface here, so I urge readers to visit the websites of both groups to learn more about these issues.

Another idea I would like to explore is the notion of privilege. Perhaps a decade or two ago, sojourning ELTs had a better chance of finding a higher paying job just for having a college degree and appearing as/sounding like a native speaker. For better and for worse, this is changing. “Native speakers” still have more privilege than non-native speakers, but in some places the difference in pay is shrinking. Unfortunately, I don’t believe the pay for non-native speaking teachers or local ELTs is increasing. Are we getting closer to equalization in pay or is this part of a larger trend of not paying teachers, especially language teachers, enough overall? I definitely believe the world has a higher proportion of well-qualified English language teachers than it did, but this is not necessarily to the students’ advantage as it is to the employers’.

Finally, although being a sojourning ELT in this decade may not pay as well or be as safe (in terms of political instability) as it was a decade or two ago. I believe the newer sojourning ELTs are entering the industry or profession with more (better?) resources to improve their teaching and to learn about the host culture. They are also more connected to other ELTs around the world as well as the friends and family who they “left behind.” In this sense, it may not be as isolating as it was when the jobs were more lucrative.

Within a year or two, I hope to share evidence supporting or refuting my speculation about the sojourning ELT population. I promise to blog more, especially when my second research project begins within the next few months.

References

Kachru, B. B. (1992). World Englishes: Approaches, issues and resources. Language teaching, 25(1), 1-14.

Holliday, A. (1994). Appropriate methodology and social context.  Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

Ting-Toomey, S. (1999).  Communicating across cultures.  New York, NY: The Guilford Press.

Ward, C., Bochner, S. & Furnham, A. (2001).  The psychology of culture shock, (2nd ed.).  New York, NY: Routledge.

ELT Group Cultures and Subcultures

This post is part three of my continuing note-taking series from the Handbook of Cultural Sociology from Routledge International Handbooks, and it shares my thoughts on Gary Alan Fine’s chapter on group cultures and subcultures. I am fascinated by this topic because I have been considering if ELTs or a subset of ELTs can be a culture. I have been theorizing this since I entered the field and gained a stronger sense of this when I stepped out of the field for two years to work as an instructional designer.

A Prescriptive Definition of Culture

Culture should be conceptualized as a set of actions, material objects, and forms of discourse held and used by groups of individuals. In this view culture is a tool that is situated in particular communities of action, shaping the contours of civic life (Fine and Harrington, 2004). As a result, culture is tied to the existence of shared pasts and prospective futures. – Fine, p.213

The first and third sentences are quite general and could be applied to nearly any group of individuals. The second sentence is more specific saying that culture shapes the contours of civic life. As educators, ELTs somewhat do this but I doubt most are aware of the extent they do. From this definition, ELTs are not necessarily a culture unless they affect a larger community or nation.

On the next page of the chapter, Fine suggests that “the study of culture properly belongs to the analysis of groups (clubs, teams, cliques) to networked segments that are tied together through their ongoing interaction, communication, spatial co-presence, or consumption.” In this regard, the analysis of groups pertains to ELTs teaching in the same context (school, program, institution) and the analysis of networks pertains to ELTs connected through social media, conferences, and other types of professional development.

ELT Groups and Idiocultures

Reading through the section of “Groups and idiocultures” reminded me of my first experiences as a sojourning ELTs, specifically in the second paragraph:

Any fully sociological understanding of the creation of group cultures must recognize the extensive institutional influences that impact the local scene, providing the conditions for shared action. The backgrounds (both demographic and habitus) of participants, coupled with the expectations that stem from group interaction, contribute to the expansion of a group’s meaning system when a triggering event occurs–an event that sparks a recognition of collective experiences. – Fine, p.214-215

The extensive institutional influences refers to how the school or program shapes ELTs’ perspectives on the local scene. As a new ELT in Japan, I can confidently claim that my experiences with my colleagues within and outside strongly influenced my perceptions of Japan, at least initially. During my first year especially, there were many triggering events in the school and in the local area that seemed to solidify my identity as a sojourning ELT. This is similar to my doctoral dissertation findings as well.

An idioculture is a term coined by the author in 1979 as “a system of knowledge, beliefs, behaviors, and customs shared by members of an interacting group to which members can refer and employ as the basis of further interaction” (Fine, 1979, p.734). As a new sojourning ELT the idioculture was mainly developed by the institution and its employees with some underpinnings from the greater ELT community. Now, nearly 20 years later, this idioculture is much more based on scholarly work and experiences across different national and institutional contexts. In short, I’m working with a different idioculture from my early days, so my culture has shifted away from exclusively new sojourning ELTs in Japan to the professional ELT community.

Incidentally this shift has helped me develop a greater awareness between the ELT industry and the ELT profession, categories made clear to me only recently by an online exchange on Twitter. The main difference between these two groups is that the ELT industry is profit-driven and the ELT profession in research-driven. However, the privatization of education is blurring this distinction.

The last paragraph is an example of theoretical problems in the sociology of culture. Fine states that “By understanding the dynamics of community and the creation of collective identities, an emphasis on local culture stands ad the critical and often unexplored junction of of the individual and the institutional, thus addressing forms of cohesion as well as disaffiliation” (Fine, p. 216). My example shows I am attempting to disaffiliate myself from the ELT industry, although I work in an institution that depends on student enrollment and retention to keep me employed.

ELT Networks and Their Subcultures

For me, ELT networks refers to professional learning networks, however this is not the direction Fine takes. In this case networks refer to what connects a larger culture group, such as ELTs, in terms of subdivisions. For ELTs, these subdivisions can be classified as special interests (material writing, technology integration, English for Academic Purposes, etc.) and as types of teachers (young learners, EFL, non-native speakers, etc.). This prompted me to design a graphic representation of my networks.

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The network is overly simplified because the subgroups should be interconnected. For example, native-speaker should be a part of all of those. (However, I dislike the privilege of native speakers given my advocacy for ELT diversity and equity.) Also, I could have included broader subgroups like EFL that would pertain to my subgroups of English Language Fellows, eikaiwa teachers in Japan, and EFL teacher trainers in Korea. Creating this network helps me to reflect my sense of belonging to each subculture, but I’m not sure how useful this reflection is in the long run.

This map also helps to demonstrate Fine’s four interlocks (or social connections) that “create a shared universe of discourse that can serve as the referent for each local establishment of culture:” multiple-group membership, weak ties, structural roles, and specialized media diffusion.

Multiple Group Membership

The map clearly demonstrates this through my personal example. Currently, I am a member of the following groups: ELT adminstrators, IEP teachers in the US Midwest, native speakers, TESOL members, advocates for ELT diversity & equity, and ELT researchers. I use these linkages to help benefit the whole group, transcending boundaries.

Weak Ties

Most of these subcultures are bounded by weak ties. The strongest may be TESOL members because we must pay to be members, but the group is so large that there’s little cohesion across the whole subculture. The transient nature of our lives and our students’ lives makes many of the ties weak. However, my current IEP culture has several teachers who have worked together for 8+ years, but this does not mean they have stronger ties to each other or the institution.

Structural Roles

This is about the ability to spread information across groups. For example, my role as a researcher puts me in a position to spread more evidence-based information to the IEP teachers where I work. And my role as a TESOL member helps me promote professional development opportunities to my colleagues.

Media Diffusion

This blog is an example of how media can reach several groups simultaneously. Itis part of the ELT researchers subculture and the EFL subcultures, so I am hoping that it spreads information across these groups. I’m not sure how much interest the other subcultures have with the structural role of this blog.

Conclusion

Although I find learning how cultural sociology can help describe multiple ELT groups and contexts personally rewarding, I’m concerned that it has little benefit for most ELTs. I am left to wonder if it is worth pursuing this interest if there is only a small audience. I am torn between practical research pursuits and the goal of learning for learning’s sake. I am not sure what others will gain by this.

Reference

Fine, G.A. (2010). Group cultures and subcultures. In Hall, J.R., Grindstaff, L., & Lo, M-C. (eds). Handbook of Cultural Sociology. Abingdon, Oxon, UK: Routledge.

What Do ELTs Write and Say Online?

Ever since I started my dissertation data collection as early as the fall of 2010, I have been following ELTs online. Back then, I was primarily looking at blogs, and I was especially interested in ones that contained narratives about the first year or two of living and teaching abroad. There were many of those, but it seemed like at least half of them would stop writing or delete their blog before the end of the first year.

In terms of online data, my dissertation only looked at blogs written by ELTs in Japan and Korea, published between 2011 and 2013. However, near the end of the my data collection, I learned that Twitter was a more efficient way of finding ELT bloggers than using a search engine like Google. Unfortunately, I was in the middle of data collection and analysis and did not want to start over because “a good dissertation is a done dissertation.”

And then, after completing my data collection and in the midst of data analysis, I learned about an online group of vloggers in Japan and Korea. Searching for ELT vloggers through YouTube was nearly as efficient as searching for ELT bloggers on Twitter, but the results were different. There was a higher frequency of ELT YouTubers vlogging about cultural matters and experiences whereas there was a higher frequency of ELT bloggers writing about professional teaching matters.

Since this discovery, I’ve been overloaded by the amount of data because I’ve become better at collection plus there are more ELTs on YouTube and Twitter now than six years ago. Looking back, it almost seems like there’s a completely new generation of ELTs online than when I first started. Many of my most reliable ELT bloggers and YouTubers between 2010 and 2016 went back home and/or stopped publishing narratives about teaching and the host culture.

Unobtrusive Research

Since I completed my dissertation research in 2014, I’ve been unobtrusively collecting public data on this topic while being distracted by life (changing jobs, moving, learning the new job, etc.). It hasn’t been until now that I’m learning how to focus this informal research for the purposes of formal research and publication. So I’m reading “Collecting Data from Social Networking Web Sites and Blogs” by Elizabeth Mazur, in a chapter of the book Advanced Methods for Conducting Online Behavioral Research.

How can I organize my voluminous collection of data?

Broadly

  • Categorize by textual, visual, and oral content
  • Investigate narratives “that often disclose information about [ELTs] that offline would normally be part of a slower and more private process of acquaintanceship but online are posted frequently and often in full public view” (p.78)
  • Study technology-integrated communication
  • Study “processes of communication on the Internet” (p.78-79)
  • Investigate specific aspects of the blogosphere, such as various issues raised about the host culture, teaching English, and using research

Specifically

  • Mine for “data on oral and visual culture, presentation of self-identity, language use, and interactive social dynamics” (p.78)
  • Analyze blogs written by persons of persons who share demographic commonalities, such as newly arrived sojourning ELTs, long-term immigrant ELTs, online community leaders, ELTs advocating for specific causes (equity, teachers as workers)
  • Collect data “about individuals’ or groups’ perceptions of naturally occurring historical events,” such as the 2011 Tohoku earthquake and tsunami which occurred during my early data collection period (p.79)

The rest of the chapter informs the reader with issues that I’ve become aware of, such as accessibility and the differences of data richness across types of online writing (blogs vs. social network pages). It also reminds me of the drawbacks of this type of research, that I as a research may need to mistrust the credibility of some bloggers. However, I don’t believe this applies to most ELT bloggers. I’ve only run across a few that have had dubious stories, but humans have a tendency to exaggerate for the sake of entertainment.

So what are ELTs writing and saying online?

The short answer is “everything.” They–we write about our personal lives, our professional lives, our likes and dislikes, our concerns and issues, etc. When looking at all ELTs online there may or may not be a pattern that makes us unique from anyone else, however I notice a gap between my ELTs online and ELTs offline.

Most if not all of my colleagues at my current job do not use social media or blogs for professional purposes. I’m friends with them on Facebook where they write about their lives and local events, but not much about teaching English. Many of them find it strange or funny that I can learn from other ELTs on Twitter and YouTube.

It’s more interesting to me to see low public online participation from ELTs in higher education in the United States. I have found most people in this category collaborating in closed online groups, which makes me self-conscious about my public practices online. However, even in these closed groups, it seems that a low number of ELTs are participating.

My own professional learning network (PLN) consists of ELTs mainly outside the United States. And most of the ones in the United States have had experience teaching overseas.  My PLN has changed since I started growing it in 2011. It started with the target population of this blog in Japan and Korea, and now it’s mainly ELTs writing for professional learning. I’m interested in if and how ELTs online for professional purposes differ from those who are not in terms of teacher identity and professional goals. How are ELTs online helping, growing, or hurting the profession? Are ELTs online unintentionally shutting other ELTs out of the conversation?

For the last question, I’m thinking mainly of identity. How tightly connected and/or open are some ELTs online in terms of professional training (e.g., CELTA) or teaching context (e.g., ELTs in Japanese universities)? These are areas I’d like to explore very soon. I’m just waiting for IRB approval to start collecting data formally.

ELTs in Cultural Sociology

My interest in sojourning ELTs is a multi-disciplinary interest. It seems obvious that the fields of TESOL and applied linguistics are at the center of this interest. Broadly speaking, TESOL (or TEFL) focuses the practices of ELTs and applied linguistics focuses on the knowledge of ELTs. Of course, most TESOL and applied linguistics programs focus on a mix of these areas. However, I find that these areas do not help provide me with theoretical frameworks when studying adjustment processes and the culture learning of ELTs. For these, I need to look into the fields of psychology and sociocultural anthropology, the latter of which was my cognate area in my doctoral studies. Recently, I have been revisiting cultural sociology. More specifically, I have started reading Routledge International’s Handbook of Cultural Sociology, edited by John R. Hall, Laura Grindstaff, and Ming-Cheng Lo (2010).

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The introduction is helping me develop a new perspective on ELT research, specifically one paragraph on page 5.

Most basically, a cultural sociology ought to be grounded in the analysis of everyday social life. As Georg Simmel recognized a century ago–and Charles Tilley (1984) reminded us more recently–“society” is not a thing. Instead, the social consists of networked relationships that develop through face-to-face and mediated interactions. All people live in the lifeworld–or, more accurately, in lifeworlds (plural)–where we enact our lives socially, episodically, in relation to other people.

As a novice in this field, these statements seems quite obvious but the framing helps me look at ELTs in a new light. I believe that ELTs, specifically those who teach far from home, enact their lives differently than most other people. The authors of this introduction, indicate this point has two implications.

First, whatever the ways in which culture exists outside lifeworlds (an important topic in itself), culture that has any specifically sociological bearing would have to come into play within lifeworlds, that is where “society happens.”

How does culture exist outside lifeworlds? Perhaps this is the inner working of ELTs’ minds. This helped me to revisit the concept of “imagined communities,” in which we assume that everyone in our community shares similar values and beliefs. They are imagined because they are not true. So here’s what I believe are the shared values and beliefs of the ELT community, specifically the sojourning ELT community:

  • We believe that immersing ourselves in another culture improves our understanding of humanity
  • We have a strong commitment to improving communication and relations between peoples of different cultures and backgrounds
  • Our strong interest in languages drives our interest in cultures, or (vice-versa) our strong interest in cultures drives our interest in languages
  • Although financial security is important, satisfying our linguistic and/or cultural curiosity is often more important; hence, we are lifelong learners

For some of us, these values and beliefs may only represent a phase of our lives. But for others, they may be the driving force of our lives. Additionally, perhaps it is just one culture that we seek to understand and integrate into, such as the case for some sojourning ELTs. As I’m spending more time in my own country now, I see ELTs here with an equal commitment to a diverse group of cultures.

Second, given the diversity of social phenomena that manifest in lifeworlds (work, leisure activities, bureaucracy, religion, markets, war, social movements, and so on), Simmel’s (and our) concept of the social warrants the shift we have already described, to a cultural sociology concerned with all venues, processes, and meaningful activities in social life.

This last statement illustrates why I believe ELTs deserve more focus in the field of cultural sociology. We are one of the unique areas where we observe social change immediately in our classrooms. Let’s take the recent election of Donald Trump as an example and apply it to the social phenomena listed in the above quote:

  • Work – Our work depends on students’ interest in learning English and the society’s needs for more English language speakers. With a sudden increase in hostility towards immigrants, perhaps many students are not interested in coming to the United States for their (English language) education.
  • Leisure activities – Many ELTs love to travel. With new travel restrictions emerging as actions and reactions to Trump’s policies, travel may become less appealing.
  • Bureaucracy – Visa rules and regulations as well as education systems in many countries. Keeping up with the requirements for both can sometimes overwhelm ELTs.
  • Religion – Muslim ELTs and ELTs of Muslim students are the most obviously affected by recent events
  • Markets – The trend towards privatizing public schools and the ease of teaching and learning English through technology is making the market more competitive. Job security is shrinking, but learning opportunities are expanding. At this point, it’s also hard to determine if the growing supply of ELTs is faster than the growing need of English language skills.
  • War – Compassion for refugees is diminishing in governments that used to provide English language education as part of their services. War also increases mobility of some ELTs while decreasing mobility of others.
  • Social movements – The ELT field is becoming more politicized to defend our beliefs and values as professionals and to advocate for our students

This is what I got out of one paragraph of this 690 page book. At this rate, I may retire before I finish the book.

Practical Applications

So what? The field of TESOL is only marginally interested in this area of study. Knowing teachers doesn’t necessarily improve pedagogy. It also doesn’t add much to the discourse of applied linguistics. Because this is about teachers, I’m sure some teachers are interested, but what about students and administrators?

Since I’m only on page 5 of the handbook, I’ll look into seeing if the fields associated with cultural sociology will benefit from study. As I stated above, I believe ELTs are worthwhile because we are at the crossroads of global social phenomena.

Transnational English Language Teachers?

Up until this posting, the subtitle for this blog has been “Global Citizens, Migrant Workers, Transnationals.” I included the word “transnationals” because it was a buzzword that appealed to me at the time, but what does it actually mean?

I have found that “transnational” is most often used to describe organizations or corporations rather than people, but I’ve been finding the term more in the social science and humanities. I’m currently reading through a fascinating overview of the term being used in the study of history in the book below.

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However it does not give me a clear definition of the term, especially to describe people. The purpose of the book is to give example of how “transnational” is used to describe history and studies of history.

So far, the best I could find is from the book Transnational Competence: Empowering Professional Curricula for Horizon-Rising Challenges, which presents the model of transnational competence to higher education institutions as a model for 21st century learning. (Some of us ELTs are quite aware of how “21st century learning” is used to promote certain types of agendas and/or technology in our schools.) Here’s how the book attempts to define transnational in its second chapter:

Transnational phenomena and dynamics “cross, alter, transcend, and even transform borders and boundaries”

“Transnational” directs attention to activities that traverse and interlink levels (urban, rural, national, regional) at the same time that it recognizes the permeable status of physical borders and intangible boundaries that have not disappeared.

“Transnational” also galvanizes change and transforms curricular visions by explicitly integrating and building on the efforts and advances contributed by advocates of internationalizing higher education and of multicultural education.

“Transnational” captures the diversity and multiplicity of contemporary domestic-foreign boundary exchanges without requiring global reach.

Koehn & Rosenau (2010), pp. 5-6

None of these describe people, but the first sentence indicates that it describes phenomena and dynamics. So if ELTs cannot be transnational, then how about our profession? This book suggests that all higher education learning outcomes should be transnational because we will be living transnational lives in the near future if not now.

English in Transnational History

The previous section points out that English language teaching is an act of transnational education as ELTs are preparing students to “cross, alter, transcend, and even transform borders and boundaries.” But the book that failed to provide a definition of “transnational,” provides an example of the role of English in transnational history.

What would cultural globalization do to indigenous cultural traditions?

…globalization has seemed to promote, and to be promoted by, the near universal use of English as the language of communication. It has become the language not only of diplomatic negotiations and transnational business transactions but also of cultural activities.

Above all, English has become the chief medium of scholarly production and communication. Academic conferences of scientists as well as humanities scholars, regardless of where they are held, are usually conducted in English. Universities are ranked by the number of English-speaking publications by their faculty and courses are frequently taught in countries such as China, Korea, and Turkey in English–even by instructors whose native language is something else.

Iriye (2013), p.49

Through this point of view, these are major reasons for our students to learn English. Higher education or English for Academic Purposes is means to these ends, so could we propose English for Transnational Purposes?

A Transcultural Historical Perspective on English Language Teaching

In the last chapter of the book, Iriye writes that he expects non-national identities and groups will continue to attract the attention of historians. He provides youth groups and “the transnational coming together of individuals and groups of people pursuing their shared avocations, be they scholarship, music, and other cultural activities, sport, or traveling” as examples of these non-national groups (p.73). I believe English language learners and teachers fit into this category as many of us are at the epicenter of scholarship and cultural activities.

Furthermore, Iriye is also interested in the most obvious aspect of our profession, traveling across borders to either teach English language learners abroad to learn English in an immersive experience abroad. This transnational phenomenon has been rapidly increasing since the 1990s, however he hasn’t seen many studies in this area:

…few scholars seem to have examined this quintessentially transnational phenomenon in historical perspective. Students of global history would be particularly interested in this topic inasmuch as an increasing number of cross-border travelers began to originate in non-Western parts of the world such as the Middle-East and East Asia in the last decades of the twentieth century. What such transnational experiences do to individual tourists’ view of themselves, of others, and of the world is a fascinating to explore, the more so since the tourism industry in all countries has assumed a position of great significance in their economic affairs. Economic globalization in a sense goes together with social globalization.

Iriye (2013), p.75

I believe we can extend this to the education industry, which is becoming more internationalized in many countries all over the world. A certain degree of English language education still acts as a key to enter the broader world of higher education at the international level.

Teaching English for Transnational Purposes

Now let’s turn from taking an outward look at our profession and toward an inward look at our profession. How can we integrated transnationalism into our curriculum? Our profession has a myriad of purposes and approaches to teaching and learning the English language. I assume there is room for one more, here is my proposal with a model to work from, the transnational competence model from Koehn & Rosenau (2010).

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How could we adopt this model to English language teaching practices? I don’t think it would be too hard to demonstrate how one’s current EAP curriculum already is an ETP curriculum. Perhaps it would be better to contextualize this question in classrooms that provide opportunities for English language learners to interact with the community.

Perhaps I bit off more than I can chew with this last question, but I think English language teachers and programs should reflect on how they can contribute to the needs, if any, for transnational competence. I am unsure of how many universities are transforming their mission statements to develop this type of competence, but I am more sure that many English language teachers have the skills to help universities and other schools reach these goals.

So, back to the title question, “Are English language teachers transnational?” No, but are teaching objectives can be and the lifestyles for many of us are. To secure our way of life in the future, if the future continues to be both more globalized and more localized, I argue that we should market ourselves as leaders or models in transnational competence.

References

Iriye, A. (2013). Global and Transnational History: The Past, Present, and Future. New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan.

Koehn, P.H. & Rosenau, J.N. (2010). Transnational Competence: Empowering Professional Curricula for Horizon-Rising Challenges. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Who’s Still Blogging?

Every January I go through my list of sojourning ELTs who blog or bloggers who teach English abroad. I started this list in 2010 as part of my doctoral dissertation research project. You can view a part of it in the tab above, Active Bloggers. On that page, I divide the active bloggers into three subgroups: well-established blogs, current and relevant blogs, and other topics. Today I revisited the blogs of the first two subgroups.

Well-Established & Still Blogging

Four of the six sojourning ELTs with well-established blogs are still blogging.

Busan Kevin is still blogging and moved his Just Japan podcast materials to a different site. The last time I explored, his Just Japan podcast dominated the site and I couldn’t tell how frequently he was still blogging.

Michael Griffin’s ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections blog is still going strong. It’s one of my favorites because we have similar views on the ELT profession and experience teaching in Korea.

English Teacher X is still raunchy.

Baye McNeil’s Loco in Yokohama is also still doing very well. I’m also a fan of this blog because of Baye’s engaging writing style and he’s not afraid of addressing issues of race in an informed and respectful manner. Many ELTs get tripped up when addressing race and ethnicity in a country they are not from, but not Baye for the most part.

Current, Relevant, & Still Blogging

Fifteen of the twenty-eight blogs that I considered current and relevant last year are still current, relevant, and active this year. Because there’s a higher number of those, I will just list them below.

  1. Writer. Traveler. Tea Drinker.
  2. Christina Sky Box
  3. Reflections of a Teacher and Learner – now in Bahrain
  4. Don’s ESL Adventure!
  5. EFL Notes – less active now, now contributing to ELT Research Bites
  6. Japanese Rule of 7
  7. JimmyESL – functions more like a website now
  8. Evidence Based EFL
  9. Nashboroguy3
  10. Sandy Millin
  11. sendaiben
  12. Shea in Japan
  13. The Japan Guy – functions more like a website now
  14. The Teacher James – less active now
  15. Throwing Back Tokens – less active now

What makes these not well-established? I’m asking myself the same question. My criteria is outdated because I have less time exploring how well connected the bloggers were to the sojourning ELT community. If appearances were the determining factor, a few of these blogs seem more well-established than the well-established blogs. I may merge these two subgroups into one category.

Who Stopped Blogging?

Of the two well-established blogs, one of them stopped because she left Korea. I’m unsure if she’s continuing to teach English or not. The others, Evan and Rachel, stopped blogging and now communicate with their audience through Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram. They also left Korea and are now Peace Corps volunteers in Indonesia.

This brings me to the rest of my list of sojourning ELT bloggers. On my Active Bloggers pages, I have one more subgroup, Other Topics. Additionally, I have two more categories: inactive blogs and abandoned/expired blogs.

  • Other topics blog – the blogger used to blog about teaching English in their host country but now writes about travel, another hobby of theirs, or tips to live and/or work in the host country
  • Inactive blog – the blogger hasn’t published a new post for 6-12 months and hasn’t signaled that he or she is leaving the country, leaving the profession, or ending the blog
  • Abandoned blog – the same as inactive but the blogger hasn’t published a new post for over a year. Or the blogger announces that they are leaving the country or ending the blog but they leave the blog up on the web. This is the case for Smiling Seoul. Once in a while some bloggers will return to their abandoned blog.
  • Expired blog – the URL doesn’t work, the server is down for an extended period of time, and/or the blogger shut it down or deleted it

From blog to website

Evan and Rachel‘s blog is an example of a growing trend of blogs changing their format to function more like websites. A couple other bloggers in the current & relevant subgroup did the same: JimmyESL and The Japan Guy. The Japan Guy’s site moved away from the blog format over a year ago, but it wasn’t a trend yet. Both JimmyESL and The Japan Guy’s site now function like many of the other topics blogs, so I will likely place them there.

Other topics

There were three other blogs that used to be current and relevant that also fit into the category of other topics for other reasons.

  1. Gordsellar.com – writes about his hobbies and fiction writing
  2. Kanadajin3 – writes about living in Japan but not about ELT as she left the profession
  3. Lonna Lisa Williams – has left China and is now back in the United States, not teaching at the moment

Relevant but not current (inactive)

  1. Kimmy on a Quest – last posted in May 2016
  2. The Lives of Teachers – last posted in February 2016 (a very good blog)
  3. Roboseyo – last posted in August 2016 (16 years of blogging!)
  4. TEFL Reflections – last posted in September 2016

Abandoned blogs (ended in 2015)

  1. Search for Dead Memory
  2. The Fellow in Lombok
  3. Warmoth_Strat

Expired blogs

  1. A Geek in Korea – the server is down today but it could come back up. I know he’s still active because I follow him on Twitter.
  2. Teach Them English – the server is down today but it could come back up
  3. Waegook Tom – blank page

Life Happens

Why do people stop blogging? As one of my dissertation committee members said flatly, “Life happens.” I understand most of the reasons to stop blogging. I wasn’t able to blog much since October 2016 because my life got filled up with other responsibilities.

I’m more interested in why ELTs leave their host country, but I’m even more interested in why ELTs leave the profession. My belief is that the strength of our profession is measured in the demand for our work and the well-being of teachers. My concern is that many good teachers leave because of undesirable working conditions abroad and at home. When good teachers leave, the profession is left with mediocre and poor teachers, and that is detrimental to the students. Where do the good teachers go? I am noticing that very few go on to be successful bloggers and writers. I myself am heading down the researcher/administrator path, but I still have opportunities to teach.

New Bloggers

After this stage of catching up on sojourning ELT bloggers, I go look for more. I was able to find more new bloggers in 2016 than 2015 and 2014. I hope to report on the new bloggers I find plus inactive and abandoned blogs that have come back to life. Let me know if I missed any well-established or active blogs about teaching English abroad. Maybe you’re one of them?

2016 JALT Presentation & Learning

Culture Learning

On Monday, November 28th, I gave a presentation summarizing my doctoral dissertation. You can view the full Prezi here. It’s basically the same Prezi I used during my dissertation defense with a few modifications, the biggest one being the change of title to Culture Learning of Sojourning ELTs from the Adjustment Process of Sojourning ELTs in order to better frame it in terms of professional development instead of psychological adjustment.

It was over five years since my last visit to Japan, when I taught at the International University of Japan’s summer intensive English program. Many of the faculty there were generous enough to allow me to present an early draft of my dissertation proposal, and I was happy to receive feedback from people similar to the participants in my study during both times. The best advice I received during my JALT presentation was to seek out dispatching companies, such as Interac, for future participants and possible collaboration. Those companies may share a similar interest in the culture learning of their clients.

Professional Learning

Although giving my presentation in Japan was rewarding, I found the spontaneous discussion that developed around an absent presenter’s topic very insightful. The day before, I was looking forward to attending Daniel Parsons’ presentation on “Migrant Teachers in Japan,” a topic very similar to mine. In his description, he posed the question, “What does it mean to be a foreigner, professional educator, and settled in Japan?” He used post-structuralist theory from Julia Kristeva to ask new questions about cosmopolitan, migrant, and transnational professional identities. I’m not familiar with Kristeva’s work, so I will check that out soon.

Daniel had a larger turnout than my presentation, and our audience seized the opportunity to hold an impromptu discussion based on his presentation’s discussion. I co-lead the discussion because of my background on the topic, and I found it completely rewarding and wished I could have recorded it with everyone’s permission. I did not record it, but I want to share what I learned based on my jet-lagged memory:

  • “When are you going back home?” was a common question that many of the participants heard when many of them did not plan on going “back home” any time soon. I completely forgot about this phenomenon until this discussion. It reminded me of when I returned to Japan in 2011 and my ex-landlord was surprised that I was still teaching English. Can you make a career out of that?
  • We wondered why the term “migrant” was chosen. I told them I decided against using the term migrant because it was closely linked to economics and that the word suggests that migrants work abroad because they cannot find work (that pays enough) in their home country.
  • I learned that many of the participants represented many at the conference in that they wouldn’t fit my classification as “sojourners” because they did not intend on returning to their home country any time soon.  Before this conference, I had assumed there were only a few ELTs in Japan with 15+ years there. I felt mildly judged when they learned that I “traveled the world” teaching English. I was more intrigued than hurt by this feeling as it raises an invisible barrier between types of teachers.
  • We briefly discussed being marginalized as “migrant” teachers, but I could sense that this was a sensitive issue that only a couple participants wanted to discuss more deeply. I agree that it borders on complaining, which can lead to negative unprofessional talk. I felt equipped with the skills to keep the talk professional, but I could not convey this to them.

I wonder if anyone left the room feeling as good as I did. I’m afraid the discussion may have made some of them feel worse, but uncertainty is the nature of our field.

Participant-Driven Learning

I also enjoyed having the opportunity to meet many of the ELTs that I have been following on social media, primarily Twitter. I especially enjoyed attending the presentations by Anna Loseva and Michael Griffin. I didn’t get a chance to tell them this but I believe their efforts towards participant-driven learning online and through social media have probably made them better, more confident presenters at traditional professional development conferences like JALT. I also learn a lot more from them online than in one of their presentations. Is that just me?

I would like to explore more on how we can help transform conferences like JALT and TESOL to bridge the gap between sage-on-the-stage and participant-driven learning. Both are valuable and do not have to be mutually exclusive. Now that I am back in the United States, it’s mostly the English language teachers in Japan (and other countries) who use social media that I continue to learn from.

What’s Next?

My presentation at JALT represented the end of this part of my career, talking about my dissertation research findings. I am now ready to move beyond my dissertation to the next stages of my research agenda, hints of which are given in previous posts. After earning my PhD two years ago, I have a better idea of what directions I can go towards and what directions to avoid. My experience at JALT put a great punctuation mark on this realization, and I’m looking forward to the next stages of my career in research.