Our workshop ran on 4 November 2015, with speakers and delegates from the University of Southampton and a number of other institutions. The day went very well with valuable contributions, discussions, and suggestions for the future of ethnography, language learning and the residence abroad.
Prof. Marion Demossier, Dr. Lisa Bernasek and Claire St John Eve (Director, Deputy Director and Project Intern for the Ethnographic Encounters Project)
|Invited Speakers Roundtable: Ethnography, Intercultural Learning and Residence Abroad
· Professor Celia Roberts, King’s College London
· Dr Robert Crawshaw, University of Lancaster
· Dr Patricia Romero de Mills, University of Southampton
|Presentation by EEP Students
• Workshop A: Cultural Encounters, Ethnography and the Student Researcher
• Workshop B: Connecting Language Acquisition and Intercultural Learning in the Year Abroad
(led by Dr. Patricia Romero de Mills)
|Feedback and Closing Discussion
Chaired by Prof. Rosamond Mitchell, University of Southampton
Celia Roberts started the roundtable by outlining her previous work on an ESRC-funded project about ethnography and the Year Abroad, which then evolved into the LARA project. This project was one of three funded by the FDTL on the residence abroad in the 1990s, running in tandem at various institutions.
She emphasised the natural link between ethnography and language learning, and asserted that we should be trying to bring together the experiential, intellectual and affective elements of the year abroad to engage students with the personal and project based experiences abroad. The learning of ethnography broadly encourages reflexive and relativising habits that are useful beyond the period of residence abroad, and goes further than intercultural competence – quoting Hymes, “we are all born ethnographers”.
She questioned how we might promote this kind of learning in the current times, changing and adapting our approaches to encourage ethnography and intercultural learning abroad. She also noted that linguistic ethnography had recently been made a special interest group within the British Association of Applied Linguistics, and challenged attendees to develop what we mean by linguistic ethnography.
Robert Crawshaw then spoke briefly about his own experiences in earlier projects, such as the Interculture Project, the Pragmatics & Intercultural Communication (PIC) project and the EU LANQUA Project. He explained how these projects are still relevant today through their websites. He went through some of the activities that are used to prepare students before, during and after their year abroad, emphasising that it was not expensive to introduce ethnography into the residence abroad. He questioned how well we do integrate the year abroad project into provision after the year abroad and also how we might define an ethnographic project.
He then went on to discuss what has gone wrong with the year abroad, such as issues with assessment and a focus on outputs. He proposed a new type of assessment in the form of a creative project consisting of a documentary with written commentary, which links the students’ ethnographic, digital and personal experiences and gives them free reign over their project. This type of project would give students a creative and engaging way to “make sense of what they see”.
Patricia Romero de Mills detailed the project she was involved in, LANGSNAP, which was based on research with 50+ ML students, and studied their language acquisition and social relationships and networks they maintained whilst abroad. It gave her an opportunity to see students on the ground, as sometimes you can become detached from the year abroad experience itself, not understanding the limitations of the residence abroad.
One of the main findings was that all students, regardless of situation, improved their L2 proficiency during the year abroad. They also found that students’ personality was maintained during the year abroad even through emotional ups and downs.
She emphasised the learner agency of students before they go abroad, but that students’ level of engagement is not just up to students but also the environments they find themselves in once abroad. The virtual connections while abroad need consideration, as Facebook can act as a huge safety net for students abroad. The variety of student experiences and of student goals and expectations can mean that ethnography is not for everyone.
• Can ethnography or creative projects be assessed/how is this being done?
• How can we focus specifically on the ‘encounter’ rather than ‘culture’ when we talk about the residence abroad?
• What has been the impact of these 3 projects on the residence abroad from the 1990s, and how can we adapt the idea of a year abroad research project to the changing environment we’re in now? How do we incorporate the needs of students coming from degrees in other disciplines (e.g. business) or the needs of international students at UK universities?
Lisa Bernasek summarised the main objectives of the Ethnographic Encounters Project, how it was delivered to students and some of the outcomes of the project.
Sarah Beeken took part in the Ethnographic Encounters Project and has just returned from her year abroad. She explained how useful the ethnographic training before going abroad had been, as she hadn’t really heard about this method before. She was able to have her questions answered, and had the benefit of feedback during the year abroad on methods and direction of her project. She found it difficult to study a topic about which not very much was known.
Claire St John Eve wrote her project one year before the Ethnographic Encounters Project, and is currently working as an intern on the project. She chose ethnography so she could talk to people as part of the research, making connections and meeting new people. She got a lot out of the year abroad project despite difficulties with the new language.
• What did participants get out of these encounters? Was there a two way interaction?
• Did the topic arise as a result of being in the country? How did you manage your time?
After lunch all participants took part in a group discussion based around the general topics and questions proposed. Workshop participants started with a discussion of the idea of the ‘cultural encounter’ – what do we think of this term? Often we can mistakenly put experiences down to ‘culture shock’ which also happen in the home country; it may be more helpful to think about interactions with individuals rather than generalised experiences. Students might also make sense of their experiences abroad by reflecting on critical incidents during their final year, perhaps alongside 2nd year students. Reflecting would include asking oneself, why did this happen? What was this encounter all about? Students often separate the different elements of the year abroad in their minds – what they learn through research and what they learn through living abroad does not always link up for them.
Reflection on the student’s own position and own culture was important in shifting the attitude from stereotypes to a better understanding of encounters abroad, but this happens after returning, by drawing on the knowledge/analysis gained through final year modules. The year abroad was discussed as a transitory, liminal period – and how to connect those moments and knowledge to the experience in the final year, the fact that more abstract concepts become more relevant and immediate during and after the year abroad.
What do students expect from their year abroad? Do they think about how they can contribute to the society they’re in? There is a generally instrumental approach to the year abroad focussing on linguistic and employability skills. How can we integrate the idea of being self-aware, self-reflexive in the face of this instrumentalism? This brought about a discussion of the identity of ML, and the suggestion that we should perhaps introduce a compulsory ethnography unit, supported by collaboration among institutions.
Finally a MOOC was suggested to help encourage this collaboration between ML departments, focussing on ethnography, the year abroad and preparation for the year abroad.