To What Extent is Intercultural Competence Necessary?

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After reviewing some literature on intercultural competence, I’ve been asking myself to what extent is intercultural competence necessary for sojourning English language teachers? The figure above comes from a study by Darla K. Deardorff entitled, “Identification and Assessment of Intercultural Competence as a Student Outcome of Internationalization” published 10 years ago in the Journal of Studies in International Education. It starts with the premise that the development of interculturally competent students is one meaningful outcome of internationalization. But what about interculturally competent teachers? Do you need them to develop the same type of students? How do you hire or develop interculturally competent teachers?

Do administrators and hiring committees overseas have the same concerns when hiring international faculty for their internationalized university? And this brings me to my question concerning the field of English language education specifically. For the schools that seek “native speakers,” how important is their intercultural competence compared to their linguistic competence or their teaching abilities? Do many assume that most competent English language teachers are also interculturally competent?

I bring up “native speakers” because of the central issues raised by my colleagues at It is known that many “native speakers” are hired for their image as a native speaker, which is often Anglo-American-centric and even racist. Because some employers prefer image over teaching ability and experience, do they also disregard or care less about intercultural competence of the “native speaker?”

I assume even the least interculturally competent “native speaker” would develop some competence while living and teaching overseas, but is there any incentive for this type of person to further develop their intercultural competence? If they want to keep their job, they probably need to get to know their students better, so this brings up another question about sojourning ELTs: Does learning about one’s students overseas automatically develop one’s intercultural competence?

My experience as an intercultural communication trainer in my previous job tells me, “No.” This is because teachers can select what they want to learn about their students, which can be very narrow and superficial like what their favorite movies are. Are employers satisfied with their teachers having a superficial understanding of their students? I assume most employers don’t even know what type of understanding their teachers have of their students.

What about “non-native speakers?” If they share the same cultural and/or linguistic background as their students, they may know their students better, but does that make them more interculturally competent. To what extent does speaking and teaching in another language help develop one’s intercultural competence? I’m sure it contributes, but is it the intercultural competence that employers want more than their language and teaching abilities?

Why all these questions?


I am seeking out to know the extent to which employers and/or school administrators value the intercultural competence of their English language teachers. I’m interested to learn if they believe a high degree of intercultural competence is the positive side effect of teaching English to students of other languages and cultures. If I am a supervisor with a teacher that has excellent rapport with their students, do I care how interculturally competent they are? Furthermore, if I have a teacher with terrible rapport, would I invest in training to develop their intercultural competence or would it be easier to fire that teacher?

I strongly believe in culturally responsive teaching and that one’s intercultural competence improves rapport and pedagogy, but that can be difficult to screen for during a hiring process and is more difficult to develop in teachers, already working for you, that resist or don’t believe in the training. Furthermore, intercultural competence is more than establishing and maintaining rapport with the students. Sojourning ELTs work with faculty and staff from many other cultures as well. So finally, from a supervisor’s perspective, what is the difference between intercultural competence and interpersonal skills?


Two Models Situating English Language Teaching Contexts and Cultures

After submitting a manuscript to the TESOL Quarterly, I received some very helpful feedback regarding various ways to frame or contextualize sojourning English language teachers.  Since I began this research agenda, I have been using Adrian Holliday’s Host Culture Complex, which was published in 1994, as my framework.  However, one of the manuscript reviewers informed me that Sandra Lee McKay offered a somewhat similar framework in her book, Teaching English Overseas: An Introduction, published two years earlier. The purpose of this blog post is to provide a brief overview of McKay’s model and compare it to Holliday’s.

The image above is a figure I created based on McKay’s organization of her book. I thought a visual representation of her model works best when comparing it Holliday’s model.  Since I’m having difficulty embedding a working Prezi on a WordPress blog post, I’d like to direct the reader to it here:

The image above shows the first of two layers of McKay’s contextualization of teaching English overseas.  Within the circle “Larger Context,” you will see a smaller circle with content that is too small to read.  The content of that smaller, inner circle is shown below.

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Figure 2. Educational Context of Teaching English Overseas (McKay, 1992)


For purposes of explaining and comparing it to Holliday’s model, I have provided his model below.

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Figure 3. Host Culture Complex (Holliday, 1994)

Because the perspective of the sojourning English language teacher, especially the newer sojourning English language teacher, was important for my dissertation study, I found Holliday’s appealing because it somewhat centered the classroom culture.  My study looked at culture more than context, although those terms can be used interchangeably even though they refer to very different yet interrelated concepts.

Since Holliday’s model is centered around the classroom culture, I will start looking at the educational context rather than the larger context of McKay’s model.

Educational Context

Institutional Context

The strongest overlap between McKay’s and Holliday’s models is with the (host) institution culture/context.  Holliday’s model shows that the host institution culture almost completely contains the classroom culture and contains most of the student culture. McKay’s model shows that there are different types of institutional contexts. Furthermore, it takes the ELT’s perspective in terms of securing employment. In her book, McKay uses this section as guidelines for ELTs before accepting a position overseas.  They are as follows:

  1. Why does the institution exist? What are its goals and objectives?
  2. Who are the people who make up the institution? Who administrates, staffs, and attends it?
  3. What is taught? What curriculum guidelines and textbooks are used?
  4. How does learning proceed? What methods are used? What schedules are implemented?
  5. Where does the learning take place? What are the facilities like? Where, and in what size community is the institution located? (McKay, 1992, p. 118-119)

In my study and in my personal experience, I have found that many sojourning ELTs do not ask these questions because they are more excited about living overseas. From my experience, if I would have known the answers to these questions, I may have been more intimidated to teach overseas. Naivete helped me become a teacher, just not a good one at first. I am confident enough to say that this was probably true for many new sojourning ELTs in East Asia before the internet made it easier to access all or most of this information.

Language Education Context

This section in McKay’s model is not clearly found in Holliday’s model mainly because it’s not directly related to culture.  Therefore, this is a good example of the difference between cultural learning and professional learning. McKay’s model shows that it’s important for teachers to gain awareness and knowledge of the policies, curriculum, and English language varieties.  Granted, policies are usually strongly linked to cultural norms and values.  To learn about the policies, ELTs need a greater understanding of the national cultures and the professional-academic culture from Holliday’s model.  To learn about the curriculum, ELTs need a greater understanding of professional-academic culture and the host institution culture. To learn about the varieties of English, ELTs need a greater understanding of cultures beyond the national boundaries,  including the international-education related cultures.

Larger Context

Cultural Context

Just like the (host) institution culture/context, the two models overlap a lot here as well, and that’s evident in the name “cultural context.”  The first category is central to my research interest, but has the misleading name of multicultural.  I say misleading because in the United States that refers to racially and ethnically diverse group of students.  McKay is referring to the cultural differences between the sojourning ELT and their students, specifically cultural views about the role of education, teacher behavior, student behavior, and their implications for language teaching.  For me, this is the heart of my research interest.  This is clearly represented in Holliday’s model in the classroom culture, which arises from a synthesis of the host institution culture, the teacher’s culture and the students’ culture.

In terms of ethnography, McKay suggests that the ELT take on the role of ethnographer to better understand the culture or cultures (as represented in Holliday’s model).  In this case, I believe Holliday’s model can be used as an ethnographer’s tool to better learn the various cultures represented in and influencing the classroom culture and students’ cultures.

Finally, McKay raises a point that is not clearly represented in Holliday’s model, culture in materials. The materials can represent the culture of the host country, the teacher’s home country, or various other cultures as the host institution or publisher sees fit.  For new sojourning ELTs, most of the time they do not get a choice of what to use as the main textbooks.  Sojourning ELTs may bring materials that represent their own culture.  In the case of my first EFL teaching experience, we used an old textbook in Japan intended for immigrants in the United States. That textbook contained pop culture references from the 1980s and assumed that most students were from Latin America.

Sociocultural Context & Economic Context

I’m lumping these two together because these do not receive the immediate attention from most new sojourning ELTs and they are less associated with culture. Even though the term “sociocultural” is used for one type of context, it refers more to sociopolitical contexts, such as language planning and social beliefs and attitudes towards one’s nation and one’s national identity.  This clearly is similar to Holliday’s national culture in his model.

Economic context also falls under national culture when referring to the motivation and attitudes of English language learners abroad.  However, it expands beyond national borders when referring to English language spread.  Through my study, most new sojourning ELTs are not completely aware of the relationship between the economic context and their jobs.  Although many are interested in and have broad guesses in learner motivation, it takes a while for new ELTs to get the whole picture.  Getting the whole picture is even more difficult when applying the history of the English language, specifically its spread to teaching English at a specific location overseas.


So that’s my brief overview of McKay’s contextual model of teaching English overseas and how it compares and complements Holliday’s host culture complex. After reviewing the two together, I find that they are stronger together and I may work on a synthesis of the two models combined with my own findings. My goal is to update these models to address teaching English in an unfamiliar context instead of “overseas” or “abroad” because that references a time when English was not a global or international language.


Holliday, A. (1994). Appropriate Methodology and Social Context. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press.

McKay, S.L. (1992). Teaching English Overseas: An Introduction. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press.

Can You Predict Your Adjustment?

Two blog posts ago, I promised to blog about longitudinal studies of international students that can also be applied to sojourning English language teachers.  Ward, Bochner, and Furnham (2001) report on a few of these longitudinal studies, and Demes and Geeraert (2015) provide a nice updated review of literature on the same subject.  Many of these studies look at predictors or correlations to the adjustment or maladjustment of international students abroad. As mentioned in a few previous posts, I posit that these patterns can be transferable to most sojourning English language teachers.


Below is a list of some the predictive variables, or antecedents of cultural adjustment (Demes & Geeraert, 2015), many studies have used:

  • Coping strategies (Carver, Scheier & Weintraub, 1989; Herman & Tetrick, 2009; Lazarus & Folkman, 1984; Wang et al., 2012; Ward & Kennedy, 2001)
  • Demographics of the sojourners, international students specifically (Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991)
  • Early experiences abroad (Kennedy, 1999)
  • Empathy (Davis, 1980, 1983; van der Zee & van Oudenhoven, 2000; van Oudenhoven & van der Zee, 2002; Ward & Kennedy, 1999)
  • Expectations (Demes & Geeraert, 2015; Kennedy, 1999; Martin, Bradford, & Rohrlich, 1995; Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991)
  • Language ability (Kennedy, 1999; Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991)
  • Pre-departure adaptation (Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991)
  • Pre-departure individual differences (Furukawa & Shibayama, 1993, 1994)
  • Pre-departure need for achievement (Kennedy, 1999)
  • Pre-departure stress (Kennedy, 1999)
  • Previous cross cultural experience (Kennedy, 1999)
  • Social support (Cemalcilar, Falbo, & Stapleton, 2005; Geeraert & Demoulin, 2013)

Measures of personality are one of the more commonly used predictive variables many of these studies have used, and they include:

  • Femininity (Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991)
  • Five Factor Model (Costa & McCrae, 1992; Piedmont, 1998)
  • HEXACO personality model (Ashton & Lee, 2009)
  • Locus of control (Ward & Kennedy, 1992)
  • Norm adherence (Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991)
  • Self-actualization (Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991)
  • Self-efficacy (Harrison, Chadwick & Scales, 1996)

Looking at all the variables listed above, which do you think best predicts adjustment or maladjustment of international students or sojourning English language teachers? I believe none of these alone are great predictors as the most likely answer is that it is case by case, but there are some predictors that more likely contribute to adjustment than others.

To what extent do the predictors predict?

First of all, these studies looked at international students, predominantly university students.  So if we consider age and maturity, these predictors may be more transferable to the younger sojourning English language teachers than their older peers.  Below is a very quick summary of most studies’ results.

Predictors of maladjustment

  • Pre-departure level of depression (Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991), followed by
  • Psychological femininity, poor self-assessed language ability, and anticipating more interpersonal problems (Ying & Liese, 1990, 1991)
  • Neuroticism (Five Factor Personality) and inadequacy of interpersonal attachments (Furukawa & Shibayama, 1993 1994)
  • Pre-departure stress and undermet expectations (Kennedy, 1999)
  • Neuroticism (Swagler & Jome, 2005; Ward, Leong, and Low, 2004)
  • Avoidance strategies to coping (Ward & Kennedy, 2001)

Predictors of adjustment

  • Language ability and previous cross-cultural adaptation (Kennedy, 1999)
  • Agreeableness, conscientiousness, and extroversion (Swagler & Jome, 2005; Ward, Leong, and Low, 2004)
  • Problem-focused or approach strategies (Herman & Tetrick, 2009)
  • Approach strategies to coping (Ward & Kennedy, 2001)
  • Use of humor (Ward & Kennedy, 2001)
  • Use of acceptance, reframing, and striving strategies (Wang et al., 2012)
  • Family support (Wang et al., 2012)
  • Perspective taking to cope with stress (Demes & Geeraert, 2015)
  • Seeking support from people in the host country (Demes & Geeraert, 2015)

From a lay perspective, many of these predictors make perspective.  For example, if you are depressed or neurotic, you may have a more difficult time adjusting to living overseas. And if you are agreeable and have a good sense of humor, you may have a better time adjusting to life abroad.  With this information, one could overgeneralize and say that an open and positive attitude will help you adjust.  And that advice can probably be applied to life in general no matter if you are a sojourner or not.

How can we apply this information?

First of all, we should approach this data with a great deal of skepticism because there haven’t been enough studies on this topic.  Furthermore, there are even fewer studies on the antecedents of cultural adjustment of sojourning English language teachers.

Prospective English language teachers

If you’re thinking of teaching English abroad, perhaps you should evaluate yourself by looking at these findings.  If you are neurotic and use avoidance strategies to cope with stress, you should probably stay in your home country.  Or at least visit another country for a short-term to see how well you do. I don’t know, perhaps your home country is contributing to your neuroticism and leaving would be a remedy.

English language programs

I’m not sure how legal this is, but programs could psychologically screen their applicants to make sure they will last more than a few months in the host country.  I assume most interviews are designed for this purpose. There’s not enough science behind this yet, so I would not trust the results of any formal measurement yet.

TESOL & CELTA programs

Instructors, professors, and advisors should look after the psychological well-being of their students. Perhaps a course, such as intercultural communication, could help raise awareness of these predictors. All English language teachers need this information either for themselves if planning to teach abroad or for their students if they are planning to teach students coming to their classroom from all over the world.


Ashton, M.C. & Lee, K. (2001). A theoretical basis for the major dimensions of personality. European Journal of Personality, 15, 327-353.

Carver, C.S., Scheier, M.F., & Weintraub, J.K. (1989). Assessing coping strategies: A theoretically based approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 267-283.

Cemalcilar, Z., Falbo, T., & Stapleton, L.M. (2005). Cyber communication: A new opportunity for international students’ adaptation? International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 29, 91-110.

Costa, P.T. & McCrae, R.R. (1992). Revised NEO Personality Inventory (NEO-PI-R) and NEO Five-Factor Inventory (NEO-FFI) manual. Odessa, FL: Psychological Assessment Resources.

Davis, M.H. (1980). A multidimensional approach to individual differences in empathy. JSAS Catalog of Selected Documents in Psychology, 10, 85.

Davis, M.H. (1983). Measuring individual differences in empathy: Evidence for a multidimensional approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 44, 113-126.

Demes, K.A. & Geeraert, N. (2015). The highs and lows of a cultural transition: a longitudinal analysis of sojourner stress and adaptation across 50 countries. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 109(2), 316-337.

Geeraert, N. & Demoulin, S. (2013). Acculturative stress or resilience? A longitudinal multilevel analysis of sojourners’ stress and self-esteem. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 44, 1239-1260.

Harrison, J.K., Chadwick, M., & Scales, M. (1996). The relationship between cross-cultural adjustment and the personality variables of self-efficacy and self-monitoring. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 20, 167-188.

Herman, J.L. & Tetrick, L.E. (2009). Problem-focused versus emotion-focused coping strategies and repatriation adjustment. Human Resource Management, 48, 69-88.

Kennedy, A. (1999). Singaporean sojourners: Meeting the demands of cross-cultural transition. Unpublished doctoral thesis, National University of Singapore.

Lazarus, R.S. & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, Coping, and Appraisal. New York, NY: Springer.

Piedmont, R.L. (1998). The revised NEO personality inventory: Clinical and research applications. New York, NY: Plenum Press.

van der Zee, K.I. & van Oudenhoven, J.P. (2000). The multicultural personality questionnaire: A multidimensional instrument of multicultural effectiveness. European Journal of Personality, 14, 291-309.

van Oudenhoven, J.P. & van der Zee, K.I. (2002). Predicting multicultural effectiveness of international students: The Multicultural Personality Quesst

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

Ward, C. & Kennedy, A. (1999). The measurement of sociocultural adaptation. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 23, 659-677.

Ward, C., Leong, C.H., & Low, M. (2004). Personality and sojourner adjustment: An exploration of the Big Five and Cultural Fit proposition. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 35, 137-151.

Ying, Y.W. & Liese, L.H. (1990). Initial adaptation of Taiwan foreign students to the US: The impact of pre-arrival variables. American Journal of Community Psychology, 18, 825-845.

Ying, Y.W. & Liese, L.H. (1991). Emotional well-being of Taiwan students in the US: An examination of pre- to post-arrival differential. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 15, 345-366.

Why Do Sojourning ELTs Need Attention?


I’m not talking about the egos of sojourning ELTs or that they have difficulty keeping students’ attention; I’m referring to making a case for sojourning ELTs to receive more attention as a target population in TESOL research. This is an updated extension to my post on another blog at

One reason is, through my observations and experience, that the world of sojourning ELTs is quite different from ELTs who teach in their own country. Sojourning ELTs, particularly new and/or young ELTs, do not seem to be taken seriously by the rest of the professional English language teaching community.  Because many of them come straight out of college and into the English language classroom overseas, they do not have much in common with their local counterparts.


To help illustrate the gap between sojourning ELTs and local ELTs, I like to use two groups of local ELTs.  For example, I will compare an American sojourning ELT in South Korea to an American teaching English language learners in the US public school system and a Korean teaching English in the Korean public school system. First of all, the biggest difference is the training.  Both local teachers require a degree, even a graduate degree in education, to teach English in the public school system.  For the most part, the American sojourning ELT only needs a bachelor’s degree in any field. So the bar to gain entrance to the English language teaching profession is set lower for most sojourning ELTs.

Privilege (exoticism)

Another difference, which only affects the white “native speaking” sojourning ELT, is privilege.  Both local types of ELTs do not enjoy the same level of privilege that comes to sojourning ELTs, who are a more exotic to language learners. (Since I haven’t been teaching abroad for a decade now, I wonder if this exoticism is wearing out/thin in some countries). Privilege is most enjoyed by the white “native speaking” ELT who is commodified as the prototypical authentic English language teacher (Seargeant, 2009). The young or new sojourning ELT straight out of college may not understand that language teachers usually get the least respect in the field of education. So another gap between these two populations is represented by an inequality of perceived prestige.  The local teachers who often receive more education in English language pedagogy and applied linguistics do not get the same amount of respect and, often likely, pay as their less educated and often younger counterparts, who may not even consider English teaching as a real job.

Professional Identity

Because most local ELTs have more preparation to become teachers, they have spent more time and effort into developing a professional identity. I posit that this professional identity is the main reason local ELTs and their contexts have been given a lot more attention in the research literature. I assume most researchers prefer to investigate ELTs who have received some sort of education or training and who teach in a more controlled environment, such as a classroom in a public/accredited school or program. In this context, the teacher and the researcher are both academic professionals as opposed to the sojourning ELT who may not care about the profession or be too new to have any rationale for his or her teaching approach.

I think back to my experiences as a new sojourning ELT in Japan.  My form of professional development came as on-the-job training. No research was presented to us, but I assumed my school’s method had a research-informed methodology. I didn’t know it was a combination of the direct method and the audio-lingual method (disguised as the communicative language approach) until I attended graduate courses in TESOL afterwards. I didn’t even know that Japan had professional teaching organizations such as JALT (Japan Association of Language Teaching) until I left. I wanted to grow professionally, but I was in a private/corporate language school that wanted teachers to teach their way and employed many people who were not serious about the profession beyond the business.

The Learner’s Perspective

My final argument is that sojourning ELTs need more attention in research because, for many English language learners all over the world, these sojourning ELTs represent the profession as it relates to the rest of the world. Back to my first example, the Korean student may see their Korean English teacher as just another teacher at his or her school like the math teacher and the history teacher, but he or she sees the sojourning ELT representing English teachers outside of the school context.  Through the eyes of this Korean English language learner, the sojourning ELT represents the ELT profession internationally.  And for this reason, for the sake of our profession, we should give more attention to sojourning ELTs.


Seargeant, P. (2009).  The idea of English in Japan: ideology and the evolution of a global language.  Bristol, UK: Multilingual Matters.


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.

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.


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.


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.


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.

Tons of Books about Teaching English in Korea

In my last post, I shared the tip of the iceberg that is YouTube videos about teaching English in Japan. I was going to do the same for Korea, but I just discovered that sojourning English language teachers are now turning to publishing books (mostly self-published) about their experiences and/or advice.  Could this be a reason (the main one?) that the number of new bloggers seems to be decreasing?

Most of these books below were published within the last two or three years, and many of these books are only a few dollars to purchase.  Some are even free on Kindle if you have an Amazon Prime account.  So, if you’re interested in what it is/was like to teach English in Korea, you have so many books to choose from. I haven’t read any of them yet, so I can’t make any suggestions, and I refuse to judge a book by its cover.

Could you identify the book that was published in 1996?

Thousands of Videos about Teaching English in Japan

When I started my research project 6 years ago, there were a few people producing YouTube videos about teaching English in Japan.  Since 2010, so many more people have turned to online videos to express their culture shock and curiosities with teaching English in Japan.  One reason for this, I believe, is that the recent college graduates, who represent a large majority of new sojourning English teachers in Japan, are more savvy with social media and creating online video content that is easier for them to produce these videos.  Another reason is that the technology is making it easier to record, edit, and upload videos online, especially with the improved convenient video recording capabilities on smartphones.

I wanted to start with Japan first because that was my first teaching experience, but also because there seemed to be an effort to create a J-vlogging group.  Although I believe Korea has probably the same number of ELT vloggers or YouTubers, I noticed a greater effort of those in Japan trying to collaborate and organize.  This noticing was a side effect of more rigorous research.  Below is an example of this loosely organized group of J-vloggers from a video by BusanKevin.

In the video above BusanKevin addresses the concern that many J-vloggers have negative perceptions of Japan and Japanese people and culture.  Although this may be true, I’d like to demonstrate how J-vloggers and other sojourning ELTs who’ve posted online videos share their experiences and observations to help English language teachers.  I’ll start with the two Kevin mentioned: Victor and Mully.

Victor produces what I consider two of the few successfully marketed YouTube channels, Gimmeabreakman and Gimmeaflakeman, about living in Japan (and not necessarily about teaching English).  If you browse through his hundreds of videos, you will see that he often produces videos to help others understand what it’s like to teach and live in Japan.  He usually makes it clear that his perception and experiences may be very different from the average English teacher or non-Japanese in Japan.

Mully is another veteran J-vlogger, but the following videos are made by others who may or may not claim to be part of the Jvlogging community.

LaurenNIHON no longer makes videos about living and teaching in Japan, but she did have a series of videos several years ago and the video above is the first in this series.

Myargonauts Jason compares teaching at a Japanese university to being an assistant language teacher in Japanese public schools.

Above is the first of 12 videos that Rhyminggaijin made about getting an English teaching job in Japan.

SakanaJin has a YouTube channel about living in Japan, and the video above from a few years ago is his live video chat about what it’s like to start out in Japan.

Superscheu creates videos mostly about his life in Japan, but here’s one about teaching English.

TheJapanGuy makes some high quality videos about his experiences living and teaching English in Japan.

TheMexican Gaysha explains and implies above why it can be difficult to find videos and blog posts about teaching for some specific schools in Japan.


If you’re like most people, you will probably just go to Google or YouTube and search for “teaching English in Japan” to find the most popular and/or recent videos.  I just did that today and found that many of these YouTubers above do not appear on YouTube’s first page.  I assume it’s because most of them are no longer recent.  To test this hypothesis (not very rigorously), I searched for “teaching English in Japan” on YouTube and it estimated about 147,000 videos.  Then I filtered videos for the past year only and got an estimated 37,100 videos.  So about about 25% of all YouTube videos about this topic were uploaded in the past year.  However, we don’t know how many videos are taken down.

For this last month alone, there were over 1000 videos.  I don’t know how many of them are exactly about teaching English in Japan, but that gives an impression about how many people are sharing their experiences, observations, and opinions (facts?).  This inspires me to investigate further other online video trends concerning teaching English.

Blogs for Professional & Cultural Learning: A Literature Review

In my last post, I shared over a hundred examples of sojourning ELTs who blog or who have blogged.  In my PhD dissertation, I analyzed only a handful of these blogs to find if there were any patterns concerning the ELTs’ adjustment to the host culture.  But still, what does the research literature say about blogs used for professional and cultural learning?  I found three studies that approach this question in different way.

Elola, I. & Ozkoz, A. (2008).  Blogging: fostering intercultural competence development in foreign language and study abroad contexts.  Foreign Language Annals, 41(3), 454-477.

This article looks at the cultural learning of foreign language students studying abroad.  I was drawn to this article because, through my own research, I have found strong parallels between international students’ cultural learning and new sojourning ELTs’ cultural learning.  The authors use the term intercultural competence and Byram’s model to illustrate their framework for cultural learning.  They also provide a brief literature review on intercultural competence in “the electronic environment” with all the studies published before most of today’s social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram) were popular, so the reviews mostly looked at email exchanges.  The study asked the following research questions:

  1. To what extent does intercultural competence take place in the interaction via blogs between study abroad and at home learners?
  2. Does intercultural competence differ between the study abroad students and the at home students?
  3. What is the impact of using blogs for intercultural competence development in both study abroad and foreign language classroom contexts?

These questions show how the study abroad students’ experiences (in Seville, Spain) compare and contrast to those who are studying a foreign language (Spanish) in their home country.  Another difference between these two groups is that they are enrolled in different universities.  They were both asked to complete questionnaires during different phases of their studies, respectively abroad and at home.  These questionnaires contained items that allowed for both quantitative and qualitative analyses.  Because the study also analyzed blog data, the majority of the data was qualitative.

The study found that the communicative aspect of the blog had a positive impact on the students’ intercultural competence, helping the students at home confirm or reject some preconceptions about the culture of Spain.  More specifically, the blogs helped demonstrate the linguistic and cultural educational advantages of studying abroad.  The blogs also helped both groups of students resolve cultural misunderstandings.  The authors also found that the blogs “became a means for the study abroad students to reflect more profoundly about different aspects of Spanish culture and society” and the blog interactions “appear to encourage study abroad students to explore and closely examine different aspects of the target culture and to verbalize their impressions about their surroundings; this very likely leads to greater absorption of new cultural practices.”  It is my assumption that these conclusions can be transferred to sojourning English language teachers who blog.

Hou, H., Chang, K.E., & Sung, Y.T. (2010). What kinds of knowledge do teachers share on blogs?  A quantitative content analysis of teachers’ knowledge sharing on blogs. British Journal of Educational Technology, 41(6), 963-967.

This study looks at blogs for professional learning purposes and does not single out English language teachers nor does it directly investigate cultural learning.  The authors here investigated the blog content of 495 Taiwanese primary and secondary school teachers.  These blogs were created in an environment developed by the researchers, so I question the personal and professional incentives for blogging.  This blogging community was not open to the public.

The researchers developed four categories of general knowledge and nine categories of pedagogical knowledge as shown in the tables below.

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For the first category, the teachers blogged mostly (46.6% of the content) about other types of knowledge irrelevant to teaching (K4).  If these teachers were sojourners, some of the posts about traveling may be relevant to cultural learning.  As for professional learning, 32.4% of the blog content was about the teachers’ content knowledge (K1), the equivalent of ELTs blogging about grammar, vocabulary, phonology, etc.  13.6% of the blog content was about teachers’ metacognitive knowledge (K3) and 7.4% was about their procedural knowledge, both of these categories could be classified as pedagogical (content) knowledge.

For the second category, the most dominant knowledge content was T9, other types of content that do not belong to the aforementioned categories, at 54.5%, which tells me the researchers should have attempted another coding scheme to better capture the majority of the themes.  Among the remaining 8 coding themes, the most blogged one was T1, subject content-related knowledge at 23.7%.  The remaining themes were under 8% in descending order: T3, T6, T2, T4, T8, T7, and T5.

The researchers acknowledge that this data is part of a larger study, which is why their discussion and conclusion section was limited to only suggestions.  I find this data interesting to compare to my preliminary qualitative overview of sojourning ELT blogs.  I require a data scraping program to get similar data from public blogs.

Okan, Z. & Taraf, H.U. (2013). The use of blogs in second language teacher education. Social and Behavioral Sciences, 83, 282-289.

Unlike the other studies, this one investigated second language teachers, specifically pre-service English language teachers.  Similar to the previous studies, the blogs were integrated into their respective program, which in this study was a 6-week course at a Turkish university.  Although I’m interested in the cultural and professional learning of ELTs, this study is interested only in the professional learning as it pertains to information and communication technology (ICT) skills, which may be categorized as technological pedagogical content knowledge (TPACK).

The researchers are motivated to conduct this study as the pressure for teachers to integrate technology in the classroom builds in nearly all educational sectors.  Their research questions are as follows:

  1. What are the prospective L2 teachers’ views on the usefulness of blogs in their preparation?
  2. Is the integration of ELT blogs effective in prospective L2 teachers’ preparation?
  3. Does the use of ELT blogs contribute to the improvement of prospective L2 teachers’ ICT skills?

These questions appeal to me for two different reasons.  The first two appeal to my role as a researcher on sojourning ELTs who blog.  The first and third questions appeal to my role as technology coordinator at an intensive English program in the United States.

The researchers conducted a case study on 20 pre-service teachers (students) using three tools for data collection: a participant information form, weekly lesson evaluation reports, and a questionnaire.  From the first tool, they found that only 7 students reported knowing what a blog was, but most of them could not accurately describe one; and only 1 student had created a blog but did not know any other ELT bloggers.  From the evaluation reports, they found ELT blogs useful and promising to learn more about teaching ideas and tips.  The students also found blogs as useful sources to learn more about websites and online tools to integrate technology in the classroom.

The questionnaire revealed a unanimous positive effect of using blogs in the pre-service ELT education classroom in terms of their perceptions of blogs in general, ELT blogs, the content of ELT blogs, their experience with ELT blogs, and the course itself.  However, these unanimously positive reports may have been directly or indirectly influenced by their teacher.  The researchers did not make it clear if one or both of them were their teachers.

Summary & Conclusion

All of the participants in these studies were required to use blogs either as Spanish language learning students at home and abroad, as primary and secondary school teachers in Taiwan, or as pre-service English language teachers in Turkey.  All of these studies found positive and/or useful results for the use of blogs to 1) develop intercultural competence more deeply, 2) share pedagogical content knowledge, 3) learn why and how blogs are used for ELT professional development.

All of these studies differ from my research interest in that I am more interested in the blogging content and habits of and reasons for teachers who are not required to blog.  I’m interested in those teachers who publicly share their professional and cultural learning with the public.  These types of bloggers may have a more vague idea of who their audience is compared to the participants in these studies.

Who Blogs about Teaching English Abroad?

The blog is not dead nor is it as exciting and new as it once was.  Ever since I chose my dissertation topic way back in 2010, I have been reading and following blogs written by sojourning English language teachers, mostly those in Japan and South Korea.  I’ve been following a few dozen or more to start noticing some interesting patterns.  Now I’d like to share this collection of blogs with you.  Perhaps you will find your own.

Active Blogs

I found it easy for me to categorize these  active blogs written by sojourning ELTs into four categories.

The well-established blog


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Many of these blogs are written by sojourning ELTs who have been teaching and writing for more than a few years.  They have been persistent enough in their writing and promoting habits to build a following, and many of them have become famous among their respective overseas blogging community.  The authors’ blogging identities may overshadow their teaching identities.

The current and relevant blog

Most of these blogs are written by and for sojourning ELTs frequently enough to keep audiences engaged at least once a month.  They may not have the time or resources that the well-established bloggers have.   Some of these blogs may have more readers then well-established blogs at times.  More importantly, they may be more helpful to inform new and prospective sojourning ELTs about living and teaching abroad.

The other topics blog

Some of these blogs may be written about sojourning ELTs, but they prefer to write about their travels.  Many of these blogs are about travel advice and/or travel experience.  Some of them give ELT advice without going into detail about the blogger’s identity or personal experiences.  If you are interested in learning about the cultural and professional learning of sojourning ELTs, you will not find it here.  The only reason this category is included in the active blogs category is that some of them have written about ELT once in a while and/or they share the same community as the well-established blogs.  Some of these blogs are also well-established but for a different audience.

The former sojourning ELT blog

These blogs are written by sojourning ELTs who have returned home and/or found another line of work.  Their sojourning ELT experience is archived in the blog that now has a new purpose.

I am trying my best to keep track of these blogs.  You may view them here.  It is on a Google document, so I can easily edit and update this information.

Inactive Blogs

If someone has not blogged for two months, I categorize their blog as inactive.  For example, as of this writing in December 2015, there are a few blogs listed as inactive even though they were last published in October.

Some inactive blogs are still published but not frequent enough to be called active.  This blog is a good example of that.  I blogged frequently during the last half of this summer, but then I became inactive because I was focusing on my day job.

I didn’t break down inactive blogs into categories, however there are some that could overlap with the Other Topics Blogs in the active category because the bloggers now write about travel.  However, most if not all of them do not blog regularly anymore.

I also made a Google document listing these here.  As I just updated the document this week, I realize that this is probably the fastest changing document of the three.  These bloggers don’t write often enough, but they haven’t stopped long enough to be categorized as abandoned.

Abandoned Blogs


These blogs have not been updated in a year or more.  I like to consider my document list for this category as the sojourning ELT blog graveyard.  Every so often a blogger will remove his or her blog from the Internet, but usually the writers just leave their writing online to age like a fine archive.  A few of these blogs have been abandoned so the bloggers could start afresh on a new blog, usually on a new blogging platform.  We cannot assume that the bloggers have stopped teaching English, returned to their home country, lost the will or ability to write, or something worse.


As of this writing, these documents that I am sharing only include blogs I have encountered from 2010 until last year.  I have not actively searched for new sojourning ELT blogs since last winter, so I may adding to these lists within the next few weeks.

I also notice that YouTube is becoming a more popular social media hub for sojourning ELTs to share their cultural and professional learning experiences.  I would like to share those YouTube channels in one of my next posts.

Lastly, if you notice that your blog or your colleagues’ blogs are not listed here, please let me know in the comments section or send me a tweet or email message.