This paper reports findings from a longitudinal qualitative study that explored the ethnographic learning processes of 10 modern languages students who spent one full academic year abroad, having first completed successfully an Introduction to Ethnography course in the UK. It begins from the argument that although significant attempts have been made to integrate ethnography into modern languages undergraduate degree programmes, relatively little is known about its actual impact on modern languages sojourners. Drawing on active interviews and reflective diaries that were designed to investigate this impact from shortly before participants embarked on their year abroad to the moment they returned, the thematic and critical discourse analysis of the data focuses attention on two key themes: students’ perceptions of their host cultures and the impact of ethnography on students’ perceptions. Findings from the first theme reveal that participants’ perceptions were derogatory and that they used a number of mitigating discourse strategies to avoid creating a negative impression on the researchers. Findings from the second theme suggest that ethnography made little impact on most participants, given that their derogatory perceptions of the “foreign other” remained almost intact throughout the year abroad. The paper discusses possible reasons for these findings, arguing that the contextual nature of ethnographic inquiry does not always enable modern languages sojourners to dismantle the cultural generalisations they may make.
- modern languages students
- year abroad
- mitigating discourse strategies
- cultural generalisations