Language, culture, and identity negotiation: perspectives of adolescent Japanese sojourner students in the Midwest, USA

Reiko Akiyama, Purdue University


This qualitative research highlights the voices and lived experiences of adolescent Japanese sojourner students and their mothers residing in the Midwest. The central goals of this research are to understand what adolescent Japanese sojourner students’ school experiences in the U.S. are like—particularly in areas with small Japanese populations—and how their experiences in the U.S. shape their current identities as cultural and linguistic minority students. This research also aims to learn how the students’ sojourning experiences influenced their mindsets as future returnee students. I conducted an in-depth case study with a phenomenographic approach as the theoretical framework to deeply investigate the lives of adolescent Japanese sojourner students. The findings of this research revealed that the Japanese sojourner students—who were also considered cultural and linguistic minority students—encountered various difficulties and challenges at their local schools due to cultural differences and the language barrier; these issues often prevented the students from establishing friendships and expressing themselves at their local schools. At the same time, I found that several sojourner students and mothers valued the students’ local school experiences for the opportunity to learn authentic English and cultivate cultural awareness. The research findings suggest that the Japanese students’ sojourning experiences impacted their identity development—namely, identity negotiation and maintenance. Additionally, I extracted six prominent findings that are specific to sojourner residents in areas with small Japanese populations that are likely apply to any sojourner living in any area of the United States with a small Japanese population.




Phillion, Purdue University.

Subject Area

English as a Second Language|Multicultural Education|Education

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