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Culture and Identity in Study Abroad Contexts

After Australia, French without France

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Marie-Claire Patron

This book examines the effects of a study abroad experience on students’ culture and identity and the impact of these effects on their readjustment to their home culture. It explores issues of culture and identity from the perspective of French students studying in Australia. Issues of perceived cultural proximity between France and Australia, a relative lack of prior knowledge of the host country before the period of study and the impact of distance all influence aspects of these students’ experiences. Employing long-term and cross-sectional studies focusing on culture shock, reverse culture shock and cultural identity issues, the author investigates the cyclical journey of French academic sojourners and examines the impact of the acculturation and repatriation processes and the language experiences on their perceptions of cultural identity. Once the students had traversed the difficult stages of culture shock and reached the stage of full recovery (adjustment), they no longer wished to go home. What impact has this process had on the returnees who faced the insularity of their home society once they returned home? Is the French community beginning to acknowledge the start of a brain-drain of the educated French overseas? What are the implications for borderless higher education? What value should be placed on pre-departure preparation from participating institutions and the individuals themselves, both on a linguistic and a psychological level? This book poses questions relating to these issues.

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Introduction 15

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Introduction The recent phenomenon of intercultural exchanges in Australia by French academic sojourners raises key issues concerning borderless higher education, such as, for example, implications of brain drain, competition between home and foreign providers of e-learning, effec- tive international collaboration between institutions, and cultural identity remodelling. Numerous studies have been carried out on academic sojourners, but much of the research to date has focused on the academic dimensions of their experience (see Hofstede, 1980; Liberman, 1994; Shade and New, 1993). By comparison, few studies have addressed issues relating to the social and cultural dimensions of the exchange process (e.g. Blackledge and Pavlenko, 2001; Storti, 2001b; Weaver, 1994). These dimensions are however of central importance to understanding the nature and impact of the study abroad experience. This book investigates the impact of the acculturation and repatriation processes and the language experiences of French academic sojourners on their perceptions of cultural identity. When sojourners enter a new society with distinctive cultural norms and values, it stands to reason that identity changes may result from intercultural contact between visitors and host society members, as identity transformations occur in response to temporal, cultural and situational contexts (Ward, Bochner and Furnham, 2001). When sojourners are required to adapt to an unaccustomed sociocultural milieu over an extended period of time, they need to learn new cultural repertoires and competencies. Adjustment to an unfamiliar culture necessitates changes in cognition, attitudes and behaviour, without which culture shock and acculturative stress may occur (Taft, 1988). My interest in French...

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