The Problems of Sojourning ELTs

This is part 2 of my series that demonstrates the similarities sojourning ELTs have with international students in terms of culture learning and adjustment.  In the previous post,  I showed how Bochner’s functional model of friendship networks (1976) applied to both groups.  In this post, I’d like to show how sojourning ELTs face similar or parallel problems as international students.  Again, I am using Chapter 7 from The Psychology of Culture Shock (Ward, Bochner, & Furnham, 2001) as my main reference point.

Problems? What problems?

Furnham and Bochner (1986) classified problems international students face.  The first category refers to problems all sojourners face:

  1. insufficient linguistic and cultural skills
  2. prejudice and discrimination
  3. homesickness and loneliness

Then there are problems that are more unique to international students, some of which I will argue that sojourning ELTs face as well.  They are as follows:

  1. Playing the role of “foreign ambassador,” both voluntarily and involuntarily
  2. Identity and conflict related to personal development
  3. Academic challenges
  4. Transitioning to a new school

Foreign Ambassador

This situation arises when the sojourner is the only one from his or her country. The sojourner voluntarily plays this role when requested to give a presentation about his or her country. I believe this is not as stressful as the involuntary role, which is when the international student is suddenly put on the spot by her peers or the teacher to explain the culture, behavior, or news events from her home country.  For sojourning ELTs, the same thing can happen when colleagues or her students do the same thing.  This becomes a problem when it happens frequently to reach a personal psychological threshold in which the sojourner gets tired of explaining his or her home country.

Identity and conflict

This problem is associated with the personal development.  International students at universities and the younger (fresh out of college) sojourning ELTs both face the challenges of identity and conflict as young adults.  This did not become apparent to me until I reflected on my first sojourning ELT experiences ten years later, when I realized that my own personal development may have been the cause to my cultural adjustment issues in Japan.  I’d like to expand more on this in another post.

Academic challenges

Both international students and sojourning ELTs face academic challenges but from different sides of the same classroom.  Chapter 7 of The Psychology of Culture Shock provides some details regarding international students’ challenges.  One challenge is the perceived importance of intrinsic and extrinsic motivation.  On the flip side, new sojourning ELTs may be surprised that their students have different expectations on how to get motivated to learn English.  For example, I was surprised that a high-degree of “entertainment” was the invitation for learning, especially compared to my own experiences as an American student in the 80s and 90s.

Transitioning to a new school

To transition successfully to their new context abroad, the chapter stresses that international students should pay special attention to the educational setting.  I’d like to rephrase another sentence from the same paragraph on page 156, so it addresses ELTs rather than international students, “The responsibility for adapting to and succeeding in a new educational system falls on the” sojourning English language teacher.  Nobody is as responsible for the adaptation to the new educational system than the ELTs themselves.  I believe this is part of teacher socialization as well, finding out one’s professional and social role in the context of the host institution.  The contract may spell out the ELT’s professional role, but in many contexts the social role is equally important.  I’m thinking about enkai (Japan) and hoesik (Korean) traditions in particular.

Chapter 7 also discusses the group differences between teacher and student cultures.  In the chapter’s context, the international student culture is dominated by the host culture of their local peers and the teacher.  For sojourning ELTs, their culture is dominated by their students’ culture, which makes for an interesting power play between respect for authority and respect for the collective group, especially in cultures that are perceived as collectivistic, based on Hosftede’s dichotomy (1980).

I was happy to find that the authors (Ward, Bochner, & Furnham, 2001, p.157) provide an English language teaching and learning example to illustrate some of their points from a study by McCargar (1993):

  • Students wanted more error correction than the sojourning ELT intended to give
  • Students felt obligated to agree with their sojourning ELT even when the teacher was eliciting disagreement, especially in Chinese and Indonesian contexts
  • Sojourning ELTs believed their students should have more internal locus of academic control
  • Students, especially Arabs and Persians, were less willing to work in small groups
  • Students, especially Arabic and Spanish speakers, felt more compelled to write everything down that the teacher says.

The remainder of the section on academic challenges highlights cross-cultural differences in the classroom, which reminds me of a recent BBC program, “Are Our Kids Tough Enough?” about importing Chinese educational standards into a British classroom.

I believe cross-cultural comparisons of educational systems are useful, but they may move the attention away from how international students or sojourning ELTs need to adapt in order to succeed in these new systems.  They may oversimplify the context by identifying the problem as the system versus the guest or visitor.  I believe we should be more focused on successful integration into the system.


As stated in my previous post, sojourning ELTs share a lot of similarities in their cultural learning and adjustment patterns when entering their new contexts.  This post focused on similar problems the two populations face.  In the next post, I’d like to continue discussing these similarities longitudinally and in the context of returning home.


Furnham, A. & Bochner, S. (1986). Culture Shock: Psychological Reactions to Unfamiliar Environments. London, UK: Methuen.

Hofstede, G. (1980). Culture’s Consequences: International Differences in Work-Related Values. Beverly Hills, CA: Sage.

McCargar, D.F. (1993). Teacher and student role expectations: cross-cultural differences and implications.  The Modern Language Journal, 77, 192-207.

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


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