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Study abroad as contested space of global and local discourses : Japanese male students’ study abroad experiences in Vancouver Takayama, Keita

Abstract

This qualitative study examined Japanese students' study abroad experiences in Vancouver. I conceptually framed study abroad as contested space where global and local (national) discourses converge and shape these students' experience. Based on this conceptual understanding of study abroad, I reviewed three global and local (national) discourses that were relevant to Japanese students' study abroad experiences: neocolonialism, "internationalization," and nihonjinron (discussions of Japanese uniqueness). These three discourses were monitored throughout Japanese students' study abroad experiences to examine how they would shape these students' experiences and how these students would negotiate to construct their experiences in the midst of these discourses. Furthermore, as the sub-theme of the study, I examined Japanese students' study abroad experiences in terms of Edward Said's (1995) hope for the creation of non-essentialist, nondominative, and non-coercive form of knowledge. I examined the possibility of study abroad experience as a transformative educational experience that helps students decipher the hegemonic and ideological limitations on their knowledge of "race" and nation. From May to November 1999,1 conducted participatory observations and semi-structured interviews with seventeen Japanese male students who had resided in Vancouver for more than six months. The data suggested that the three discourses of necolonialism, "internationalization," and nihonjinron (discussions of Japanese uniqueness) were manifested to shape the Japanese students' experiences. I argued that as a consequence of the manifestation of these three discourses, the Japanese students rendered "Canadians" into the "Other." Furthermore, this bi-polar and essentialist understanding of "Self and "Others" led to their objectification and commodification of "Canadians" as a medium for "internationalizing" themselves. I conclude that study abroad experiences in Vancouver was not effective in helping the Japanese students go beyond the global (neocolonial) and local (national) ideological discourses. Rather, the study suggested that the Japanese students' study abroad experiences reinforced their preconceived sense of human difference, leading them to view "Canadians" as discontinuous from "us," which enabled them to commodity them merely as a medium for "internationalizing" themselves. Given the findings of the study, I suggest for employing a postcolonial perspective in the examination of foreign students' study abroad experience. I also call for critical re-evaluation of study abroad experiences of foreign students, in particular, Japanese students and for the attempt to turn study abroad into a transformative learning opportunity that helps students move beyond hegemonic imperial discourses of "race" and nation.

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