Identity and Study Abroad

Authored by: Brandon Tullock

The Routledge Handbook of Study Abroad Research and Practice

Print publication date:  June  2018
Online publication date:  June  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138192393
eBook ISBN: 9781315639970
Adobe ISBN:


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In recent years, identity has become increasingly prominent as a construct of interest in study abroad (SA) research. This has occurred for several reasons. First, SA is a type of border-crossing experience involving immersion in a new cultural and linguistic context that brings about identity-related challenges. As Block (2007a) notes, “when individuals move across geographical and psychological borders, immersing themselves in new sociocultural environments, they find that their sense of identity is destabilized and that they enter a period of struggle to reach a balance” (p. 864). Second, since SA often involves a second language (L2) learning component, for many sojourners, it represents an opportunity to transition from learner to user of the target language, which in itself implies identity work. Furthermore, SA is often the first time sojourners are forced to grapple with self-construction through new linguistic and other semiotic means in situated interactions with real-world consequences. Third, SA is assumed to provide ample opportunities for engaging in rich, high-quality interaction with speakers of the target language, which will, in turn, propel learning benefits. However, as has been shown for language learners in such other naturalistic contexts as migration, access to the social networks of target language speakers and opportunities for legitimate peripheral participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991) within host communities is not a given but must be negotiated within the context of inequitable power structures, and this often requires learners to exercise considerable agency to reframe their relationship to their interlocutors and thereby resist marginalization (e.g., Norton, 2013). Finally, contemporary discourses surrounding international education conceive of identity-related personal growth as a benefit of SA, which overlaps with other expected linguistic, cultural, and professional outcomes (Kubota, 2016). For all of these reasons, SA lends itself well to the study of identity.

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