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.
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.
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.
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.