As of 2014, I have been a sojourning ELT three times in my life. I would like to briefly write about each context to demonstrate similarities and differences.
Japan (1998 – 2001)
I taught at the largest private English conversation school in Japan at the time. This was my first time teaching English. I had very little formal English teaching experience, although I had plenty of education in the English language and some in linguistics. There were probably between 30 and 50 other ELTs hired by this company in the same week. I estimate the number based on my memory of the first day of orientation. This school seemed to me to function more like a business than a school in the way that teachers dressed and the way that learners were recruited. However, I learned a lot about teaching English speaking, listening, and grammar.
Except for ethnicity, I have never taught such a wide range of students ever since this job. My youngest student was 14, and my oldest student was in or around his 80s. I taught secondary school students, college students, stay-at-home mothers, farmers, pharmaceutical company employees, insurance workers, bankers, small business owners, entrepreneurs, engineers, masons, teachers, and many other types of occupations. Their English proficiencies also ranged from beginners to superior speakers, however most students were between the beginning and intermediate levels.
The main task of sojourning ELTs was to build our students’ confidence as most of our students had many years of English grammar and reading education from their formal schooling. A secondary task was to make English fun, interactive, and engaging. Because I was new to teaching, I took my first year too seriously and perhaps bored many of my students as I was focused on linguistic development than their interests and customer service. Once I focused on students’ interest, I became a better teacher. One reason I left the job was to get a better understanding of English language education as I felt that this job was quite limited in scope. For example, I did not teach writing and very little reading. Furthermore, we only learned the school’s approach to language learning which was a hybrid of the direct method and the audio-lingual method.
South Korea (2003 – 2006)
I taught ESL methodology in a TESOL certificate program at a private university. This certificate program was the first and one of the more successful TESOL programs in the Korea, and it probably still is. My interest in sojourning ELTs started here when my culture shock was so different compared to the one I experienced in Japan. The honeymoon period was shorter, and I incorrectly assumed that Korean students were similar to Japanese ones. However, I had only graduate students in Korea compared to the wide variety in Japan. My students were more serious and the program was more intense. Although the physical appearance (dress code) of the teachers was the same, the level of professionalism was much higher than the one in Japan.
This job helped me grow more professionally as I learned more about English language teaching as I taught and helped develop the program. Many of my students were in-service English teachers, so I learned about the English language teaching contexts of Korean private and public schools. In Japan, I had very little understanding of English language education in public schools and other types of private schools.
This job was the first in which I felt like a professional as I attended and presented in national and international teaching conferences. It was also the first in which I was promoted to a leadership position in terms of curriculum development. And I found it a challenge at first to work with others that were once my equal but now had to answer to me. I left the program with that last sentiment as the greatest learning curve. Looking back, I believe I grew the fastest professionally.
Russia (2006 – 2007)
I was a Senior English Language Fellow for the Greater Volga Region in Russia, and I was based in the city of Samara. This job was possible through the support of the US Department of State, the Russian Ministry of Education, and Georgetown University. This was the first job where I had to manage a budget and develop a program for English language teachers in Samara and the Greater Volga Region. This was my professional peak, so to speak, as a sojourning ELT.
The interesting aspect of this time of my life is that I met cultural shock more physically than mentally. Although the physical effects began to wear on my mentally. Looking back at how I processed culture shock in Japan, South Korea, and Russia raised my interest in sojourning ELTs. In Japan, I most likely exhibited many of the traits of culture shock apparent to me and others. In South Korea, culture shock was less apparent to others except for my colleagues and my closest friends. In Russia, culture shock was not even apparent to me until retrospect. Although this is only my experience, I seem to have developed a skill to give the appearance that I am adjusting well to the host culture when in fact I am facing challenges. In Russia, I believe I fooled myself. If this is true, how could one study culture shock when the research participant is in denial and may not show any outward signs.
I returned to Japan to teach in a summer intensive English program in a beautiful mountainous rural area. This was the first job I had after reviewing some literature about culture shock and acculturation theory, so I was more acutely aware of my adjustment processes. My stay in Japan this time was less than 2 months, so my experience wouldn’t really be classified as a sojourner study. Most studies investigate participants who reside abroad for at least one year long. In one sense, I could be classified as a tourist. My whole family and most of my belongings remained in the United States. As opposed to my first job in Japan, I did not have to register as a resident of Japan. My accommodations were similar to dormitories for students with families.
I am uncertain that I will be a sojourning ELT in the future, but I am not counting that out. As the world becomes more globalized, it may be easier to live and work abroad and not feel like or be treated like a foreigner. English language teachers are fortunate (at least for now) that there is a great need for their skills in nearly every country. Because I am interested in how the global spread of English affects sojourning ELTs, there are I many other places around the world that I would like to visit and possibly live.