In the case of Martina, the Czech immigrant, her English proficiency placed her in an inferior position at work when she related to her coworkers as simply another employee. However, when she reframed her relationship with these people, her workplace identity, to that of “mother,” she was able to claim more power in that social situation. This scenario led me to reflect on not only experiences of first generation immigrants, whose abilities are constantly doubted because of the language barrier, but also that of their children. Having seen their parents struggle because of the language barrier and resulting cultural differences, how would these kids chose to relate to their parents’ culture? Would they preferentially engage with their national identity over their cultural identity?
A second vignette dealt with power dynamics in the classroom that dealt with cultural knowledge. The words, the language, to be interpreted in this situation dealt with the shooting of some thieving monkeys. This scenario, interpreted by its audience of apartheid era scholars, is fraught with implications of racial tensions. The different cultural understandings of the text were only brought to light in the classroom setting when the instructor took on a learning role by respecting her students’ differing cultural knowledge. This interplay of language and identity results in different interpretations of the text. Thus, the formation of a new identity as an immigrant is unique to that individual. Their interpretations of their new environment will vary in accordance with their cultural background. The third vignette dealt with the concept of “investment” in terms of assimilating into a new culture, in this case, through language. Often unintentionally, immigrants are alienated from their new culture by the very people who are trying to help them engage with it. What particularly struck me was the ways that Mai felt that her ESL class had failed her, such as structuring lessons on their past experiences rather than the language that is needed to adapt. If possible, I think this would be a fascinating area of education to research while abroad, dealing with the question “can a national identity be taught?”