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The rites of transition : voices of Hong Kong exchange students in Canadian tertiary contexts Shen, Margaret Yin Man

Abstract

This study aimed to explore the complexity and interrelationships of language, culture and identity from the learners' perspectives. The focus of the study was on the exchange experiences of five Hong Kong students in the Canadian tertiary contexts. The participants were bilingual learners. They came from an educational background which emphasized English as a medium of instruction. In Canada, the students had the language competence to integrate into mainstream courses during their one year stay. This study questioned whether language was also their passport into a new culture. The study was divided into two phases. The first phase was a pilot study (January 1997- May 1997). Emergent themes from the pilot study guided the research questions in the second phase of the study ( October 1997 - July 1998). The methodology employed in this study emphasized a naturalistic inquiry approach and co-authorship with the participants. The research focused on a multiple case study approach with an ethnographic link to highlight the interpretive and sociocultural perspectives of the study. Research strategies included direct and participant observation, home visit, e-mail, phone conversation, informal interview, intensive discussion, secondary informant, artifact and metaphor. Personal narratives were central to the discussions in data analysis. Data collected in the study support the learner agency framework on the issue of social identity. Themes which emerged from the research process suggest multiple voices, multiple interpretations and multiple realities in the process of language socialization. Many interactive variables in the social contexts influence the construction and reconstruction of knowledge on language, culture and identity. Language socialization is a complex interweave of meanings between the individual and the environment. Ambivalence, contradictions and uncertainties are recurring themes in the rites of transition. Learners are empowered by their awareness and agency in their struggle. They are active agents of their identities, roles and status in changing sociocultural settings. This study urges the need for language educators to include voices of the learners in language research and to re-examine the notions of language power, cultural diversity, social access, claim of ownership, learner investment and human agency in language pedagogy.

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