Host Culture Complex (Holliday, 1994)

This host culture complex model appeared in Adrian Holliday’s textbook Appropriate Methodology and Social Context for English language teachers, published in 1994.  He created a model (on page 29) that I found to be particularly helpful to understand the social contexts in which English teachers find themselves.

It is represented by 6 overlapping rectangles.  The largest rectangle represents the national culture (1).  Completely enclosed within the national culture are two other smaller rectangles, one representing the classroom culture (2) and the other representing the student culture (3), both of which overlap with each other.  A larger rectangle that is mostly contained by the national culture rectangle is the host institution culture (4), and this one also overlaps with the student and classroom cultures.  Another rectangle represents the international education-related cultures (5), which overlaps a little with the national culture, and also overlaps with the host institution and classroom cultures but not the student culture.  The last culture in this model is the professional-academic culture (6) which overlaps with all the other rectangles representing parts of the host culture complex.

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I like this model because it helps me to understands the complexity of adjusting to living and working abroad, and that some of the experience overlaps with cultures outside of the national culture.  I will now elaborate on each of the 6 components of the host culture complex.  (Holliday did not assign numbers to these components.  I added them arbitrarily, and they do not represent any hierarchy.)

  1. The national culture – This may be, on the surface, the easiest to prepare for as there is a lot of travel media and literature.  It is the sojourners’ choice to prepare ahead of time or not with these references.  Some sojourners may have received formal education on the national culture through foreign language and/or cultural studies courses.
  2. The classroom culture – This is the culture of the classroom that is created physically by the host institution but emotionally and mentally by the participants within the classroom.  The interactions between students and the sojourning ELT create this culture for the most part, and therefore is difficult to predict beforehand.
  3. The student culture – Experienced English language teachers may have an advantage over inexperienced ones in that they have a certain knowledge of how students operate.  The challenge is the difference, if any, between previous students and the new students.  Student cultures anywhere can vary wildly from cohort to cohort let alone from country to country.
  4. The host institution culture – The sojourner may have an idea of the host institution prior to arrival through the hiring process.  The host institution can vary in size from a small private school to a government-sponsored program in which the sojourner teaching English in multiple schools across the country or a certain region of the country.
  5. International education-related culture – This is the most difficult culture for me to understand.  Holliday explains it as the concept of education and international education by the host culture.  For the sojourner, one aspect is the expectations that members of the host culture may have for the sojourning ELT.  To help the sojourner understand this component of the complex, he or she must learn about the education system and the language policies at the institutional, local, and national levels.  My experience has shown me that many new sojourning ELTs spend much time thinking about this component.
  6. Professional-academic culture – This is best represented by professional organizations like TESOL and IATEFL, and local chapters such as JALT in Japan.  It also greatly depends on the host institution’s perspective on what is professional.

I believe the awareness of this or similar types of models can help sojourning ELTs understand the complexity of teaching English in another country, especially if they plan to teach abroad for the long-term.


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