A ‘mirror-image’ investigation: foreign language learners’ acculturation experiences in Chinese and British Study Abroad Programmes

He, Rui (2021) A ‘mirror-image’ investigation: foreign language learners’ acculturation experiences in Chinese and British Study Abroad Programmes. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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This study is within the context of internationalisation in worldwide higher education institutions (HEIs), focusing on Study Abroad Programmes (SAPs) for foreign language learners. A one-term or one-year abroad programme is now embedded in Foreign Studies degree programmes in many HEIs all over the world, either as an optional (e.g. in China) or compulsory component (i.e. in the UK). Nevertheless, there are limited comprehensive insights into these non-degree-oriented foreign language sojourners’ study abroad experiences in the countries of their target languages and cultures within the specific context of short-term SAPs. In particular, comparisons of SAP student sojourners’ acculturation experiences in the largest origin nation and host destination, China and the UK, remain under-studied, possibly because non-degree-oriented short-term study abroad experiences are perceived to be less formal and important than degree-oriented long-term sojourns. This has led to an inadequate understanding of the overall experiences as well as the distinct challenges that this specific cohort may face as they endeavour to learn both the language and the culture of the host environment in a relatively short period.

This study aims to respond to this gap under the guidance of an overarching question: “What are the distinct features that characterise acculturation experiences in the context of Chinese and British foreign language learners where culture and language learning take place simultaneously?” Three specific research questions were formulated for the present study: 1) How do Chinese foreign language learners experience acculturation in the UK through Study Abroad Programmes? How does it compare with British foreign language learners’ experiences of acculturation in China? 2) What factors facilitate Chinese and British foreign language learners’ acculturation experiences? What factors serve as barriers? and 3) What are the first-hand lessons (benefits and challenges) when foreign language learners are exposed to the target language and culture? In seeking to address these questions, this study provides a meaningful ‘mirror-image’ investigation to explore and compare the acculturation experiences of two cohorts: a) 15 English language learners in China who took one-year SAPs to the UK, and b) 18 British learners in Chinese Studies who went to China on one-year SAPs. This study adopted purely qualitative approach where creative research techniques (i.e. vignettes and metaphors) were also employed to encourage the participants’ in-depth reflections and introspection of their experiences, with a view to facilitating and complementing the semi-structured interview method that was primarily used for collecting data. Thematic analysis was utilised as a deductive data analysis approach with the assistance of the NVivo qualitative software.

Drawing upon Urie Bronfenbrenner’s Bioecological Theory of Human Development and the subsequent extended Academic Acculturation Model offered by Elliot et al. as a guiding theoretical framework, this study investigates not only the processes entailed in both groups’ acculturation experiences in SAPs, but also the key influential factors, both personal and environmental. This study proposes a further extension and conceptualisation of Bronfenbrenner’s theory, which has been termed the ‘Person-Environment Interaction Model of Acculturation’ as a contribution to knowledge. In this proposed model, a fresh and more nuanced insight is offered to unpack the intricacies in foreign language learners’ short-term SAP sojourns. In the Person-Environment Interaction Model of Acculturation among SAP learners, three important components of their experiences of acculturation are identified: a) the ‘in-between direct producer’ (i.e. the person), b) the ‘bi-contextualising’ environment (i.e. the home and host environments), and c) the ‘liquid’ process of interactions between the individual sojourner and the environments he/she interacts with.

The findings from the shared experiences of the two cohorts of short-term SAP students offer ‘mirror-image’ insights as well as a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the (explicit, implicit and potential) bioecological-related factors that impact on these foreign language learners’ overall acculturation experiences (both academic and non-academic). On a pragmatic level, it is expected that this model will have practical utility not only for foreign language learners but also for other similar groups of international students, helping them better prepare and personalise their own acculturation experiences during their sojourns. A deeper and comparative understanding of the two groups of SAP learners can assist HEIs in offering richer practical intercultural support before, during and after students’ educational experiences abroad, and in improving intercultural pedagogy in future education, e.g. through foreign language education and SAP design. This ‘mirror-image’ investigation also offers beneficial information (e.g. facilitators, barriers, benefits and challenges) for both Chinese and British student sojourners and HEIs, enabling comparative insights on the experiences of their peers and partner HEIs (or other HEIs conducting similar programmes).

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: International students, foreign language learners, acculturation, Study Abroad Programmes, 'mirror-image' investigation.
Subjects: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
L Education > L Education (General)
L Education > LB Theory and practice of education > LB2300 Higher Education
Colleges/Schools: College of Social Sciences > School of Education
Supervisor's Name: Elliot, Dr. Dely and Fagan, Dr. Catherine
Date of Award: 2021
Depositing User: Dr Rui He
Unique ID: glathesis:2021-82185
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 14 May 2021 12:41
Last Modified: 28 Nov 2022 11:02
Thesis DOI: 10.5525/gla.thesis.82185
URI: https://theses.gla.ac.uk/id/eprint/82185

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