Last summer I went back to Saint Petersburg to conduct a study with my former colleagues — Russian teachers of English as a foreign language — on effects of exchange programs on their professional life back in Russia. Having participated in such programs myself, I often think about the role they played in my life, so I was wondering what other participants in similar programs think about their experience. My conversations with Russian colleagues opened my eyes not only on the diversity of perspectives, but also on shared concerns and issues returnees had to face once they came back to Russia.
This Saturday I am presenting at BC TEAL conference here in Vancouver and I am hoping that my research would provide an insight on professional study abroad programs and allow Canadian teachers learn from Russian experience.
This presentation seeks to examine the effects of the year abroad experiences of EFL teachers who have participated in professional exchange programs. While the general view of these programs is often romanticized, the results of this study suggest that study abroad has both positive and negative impact on teachers’ professional identities. Inspired by my own participation a year-long professional program in the US, I have conducted a small case study in which I aimed to explore the impact of this experience on my colleagues — Russian teachers of English who have participated in professional international exchange programs, but have returned to Russia to continue teaching English. Having selected eight instructors (alumni of various study abroad programs), I conducted eight semi-structured retrospective interviews, which provided important insights on the actual effects these exchange programs had on instructors’ pedagogical philosophies and practices. Studies on foreign teacher participation in exchange programs suggest that this experience has both positive and negative impact on teachers’ professional identities. Due to their participation in international exchange programs, instructors, whom I have interviewed, might seem to have entered into an imagined global English language instructor community of practice. They participate in best practices exchange through webinars and trainings; they share methodological teaching materials, and are often aware of global trends in English language teaching methods. Interviews reveal, however, that in reality this is a romanticized view. Instructors’ narratives contest this perspective. They reveal struggles as teachers constantly mediate between learners, administration, and their own changed assumptions about their profession.