Identity, belonging, and the transmigrant experiences of adult ESL learners enrolled in an intensive English program
This dissertation reports on the narrated experiences of nine adult ESL learners enrolled in an Intensive English Program (IEP) as they negotiated a sense of belonging to new linguistic communities of practice outside of their home countries. In this qualitative multiple-case study, I analyzed first-person accounts of the language socialization process by which the learners’ participation in new social communities resulted in shifts in their social positionings and changes in their self-concept. In my analysis, I drew upon theoretical frameworks that view learning as a situated social practice in which individuals form new identities as a result of their (non)participation in communities of practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991; Wenger, 1998). In order to investigate the research problem, I conducted ethnographic forms of data collection over a six-month period. I became a participant observer in an advanced level Listening and Speaking course during one semester and conducted regular formal classroom observations. In addition to observations, I conducted individual in-depth interviews with the learners, and they participated in a photo-narrative assignment in which they documented their experiences through photography. This camera project culminated in a formal, narrative presentation to the class, which was recorded and used for analysis. The five women and four men who became the focal participants of the study were diverse in age, academic and professional ambitions, and cultural and linguistic background. The findings of the study presented in this dissertation represent my interpretive analysis of the participants’ narratives of departing their home countries and negotiating a meaningful sense of self vis-à-vis the host community as well as the various transmigrant communities that were important to them. The findings show that, through the process of L2 learning and transmigration, the participants constructed migrant identities (Block, 2007), and these identities could be both expansive and restrictive. Additionally, the findings show the ways in which these language learners were agentic in accessing L2 communities and forging attachments within them, and how these moves were designed as “answers” to how they were discursively positioned within the worlds that were important to them.