Straight Out of College: International Student Continued

When I completed my dissertation and then read about the cultural adjustment process for international students (Ward, Bochner, & Furnham, 2001), it seemed strikingly similar to the sojourning ELTs I had been so focused on for years.  Most sojourner literature focuses on international students or international business people rather than teachers.  Although there are some similarities between sojourning ELTs and international business people, I find that sojourning ELTs have a lot more in common with international students.  Most of what I am going to share in this post comes from Chapter 7 of The Psychology of Culture Shock (Ward, Bochner, & Furnham, 2001), which provides a clear literature review of international student studies up to the turn of the century.

Bochner’s Functional Model of Friendship Networks

Arising from culture learning theory, Bochner’s model examines the patterns and outcomes of international students’ friendships.  In Bochner, McLeod, and Lin (1977), they found three distinct social networks:

  • Fellow international students from the same home country
  • Host nationals who help them with their academic and professional goals
  • Fellow international students from other countries

These networks are similar to the ones I identified using Holliday’s Host Culture Complex (1994), which contextualizes the context of teaching English abroad.  Let demonstrate the similarities below.

  • Fellow sojourning ELTs, not necessarily from the same country
  • Host nationals who help them with their professional and cultural learning goals
  • Fellow ELTs from the host country, often represented as co-teachers in situations where sojourning ELTs are assistant English teachers in government-sponsored programs

The last two bullet points are not exactly parallel.  In my study and personal experience, I see two categories of host nationals for sojourning ELTs.  The first category is exactly the same as for international students, host nationals who help with the sojourner’s academic and professional goals, usually local English teachers but also supervisors and/or administrators from the host institution.  The second category is different, host nationals who help more with understanding the local culture.  For some sojourning ELTs, local English teachers play both roles, especially during the beginning.  If and when the sojourning ELT develops a social network beyond the host institution, usually host nationals from this social group replace the local English teacher in this second category (Slagoski, 2014).  That’s basically one of the major findings of my dissertation.

I posit that one major difference between international students (at least those in the 20th century) and sojourning ELTs is that the latter may be more likely to claim a host national as their best or closest friend.  Although Ward, Bochner, and Furnham (2001) summarize a lot of studies to support that most international students report that a fellow international student from their home country was their best friend, I can only account for the 5 participants in my study, my casual observation of blog posts and YouTube videos, and my personal experience.  I don’t have as much data to back up my claim…yet.  And I don’t mind being proven wrong.

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Research Question 1:  Compared to international students, are sojourning ELTs more likely to report that their best friend is from the host culture?  Caveat question: Can we include a spouse as a best friend?

Beyond this, Ward, Bochner, and Furnham (2001) report that international students prefer local students for informational support whereas they prefer fellow international students from the same country (co-nationals) for companionship and emotional support.  I also posit that this is likely to be true for sojourning ELTs when the first arrive, maybe during their first year or two or even more.  Sojourning ELTs are not usually limited to an academic semester or year, so I posit they have time on their side to grow stronger social bonds with host nationals.

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Research Question 2: How do the functional benefits of having host national friends change through time for sojourning ELTs?  or How does a sojourning ELT’s friendship network grow in depth and breadth over the time abroad?

Related to the previous questions, Chapter 7 of The Psychology of Culture Shock also addresses the emotional benefit of interacting with host nationals, sharing studies that show a stronger social bond with or network of host nationals improves one’s psychological wellbeing abroad.  How reliable could this factor be to predict if a sojourning ELT leaves or not?  It seems common sense to me that if you can’t make friends with host nationals, you’re only there for the money and you should probably go home because you’re probably making everyone miserable including yourself.  I’m talking to you, the hypothetical sojourning ELT with no local friends.  It’s so easy to paint a picture of this hypothetical person because I have seen bits of him or her in myself and many others.

In contrast to this, studies have shown emotional benefits of socializing with fellow compatriots, mostly improving one’s perception of his personal and cultural identities.  It’s also common sense that you can easily “lose yourself” if you totally isolate yourself from your home culture.  This is known as Mistake #2 from a recent article from Rocket News 24.  Other sojourners can be offended by this.  Anyway, I have been tempted to look more into the literature about the shifting cultural and professional identities of sojourning ELTs.  I’m fascinated by this, but I find teacher identity research more difficult to promote.  It seems to be more of a political tool than a tool to improve teaching and learning.  At this time, sojourning ELTs in general are not oppressed or suffering as much as other groups of teachers or students.  I welcome debate on this topic.

To sum up the last two paragraphs, the emotional benefits of socializing with the particular groups are as follows:

  • Host nationals – psychological wellbeing
  • Fellow compatriots – improved self-perception of personal and cultural identities

Looking at this summary, I would prefer more of the former than the latter.  I need a little of the latter, but I couldn’t handle it abroad too long with the former.  Please note that this summary is also an overgeneralization and some teaching and living situations may prevent a harmonious balance of socialization with any group of people.

So what about being straight out of college?

I’m only a quarter of the way through showing how international students’ experiences from Chapter 7 of The Psychology of Culture Shock can be applied to the experiences of sojourning ELTs, but I don’t want to make this blog post too long.   So I’ll break into pieces.  I thought I could summarize it all plus a more recent study from one of the authors, Adrian Furnham, in one medium-sized blog post, but I was wrong.

I wanted to end by referring to the title of this blog.  For the most part, many new sojourning ELTs come straight out of college.  I don’t believe we have enough empirical evidence of this, but there are plenty of narratives on YouTube and the blogosphere about this phenomenon that we could quantify those.  If I don’t, someone will…eventually, I hope.

For those sojourning ELTs who have come straight out of college, I believe that for many of them their experiences are similar to studying abroad at least for the first year, hence “international students continued.”  Many of these young teachers have spent most of their lives as students and they don’t know any other role.  From my experience, I probably identified more with my college-aged students than my fellow teachers when I started. I believe that some (and I don’t know how many or what proportion of) ELTs come to a turning point when they realize that they’re not college students anymore.  Perhaps it has to do with brain development, but something changes in some (but not all) ELTs that causes them to mature and/or develop a professional teaching identity.  I’m very interested in this transition point.  I’ll write more on that later, before I am tempted to make analogies to caterpillars and butterflies.

References

Bochner, S., McLeod, B.M., & Lin, A. (1977). Friendship patterns of overseas students: a functional model. International Journal of Psychology, 12, 277-297.

Slagoski, J. (2014). The adjustment process of sojourning ELTs. (Doctoral dissertation).

Ward, C., Bochner, S., & Furnham, A. (2001). The Psychology of Culture Shock. New York, NY: Routledge.

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