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Becoming a student: multilingual university students’ identity construction in Simon Fraser University

Resource type
Thesis type
(Dissertation) Ph.D.
Date created
This study examines the identity construction processes of multilingual undergraduate university students taking the Foundations of Academic Literacy (FAL) course at Simon Fraser University (SFU). I conducted an ethnographic study with an interpretative approach to highlight the local contexts that the multilingual students, the FAL instructors and the researcher (i.e., myself) brought into the study. The data was collected through classroom observations of five FAL courses that took place over one semester; interviews with eight FAL instructors and sixteen multilingual students from diverse backgrounds and home countries such as Brazil, Canada, China, Hong Kong, India, Korea, and Turkey; and students’ writing assignments. The analysis of the data incorporated insights from identity construction, sociolinguistics and social practice theories and aimed to 1) see how university environments – more precisely, academic literacies and transnational, multilingual, and social practices reciprocally construct the students’ identities as learners, in other words, becoming a university student, and 2) to review and update the notion of English as a second language through the theoretical frameworks of multiple identities and the transnational nature of immigrants’ and English learners’ lifestyles. I found that the multilingual students’ everyday university experiences and their learning of academic literacies impacted on their self-image, and that their transnational and multilingual practices reciprocally constructed their identities as the students negotiated, accommodated, and performed various identities with a sense of struggle, nostalgia, superiority or challenge, depending on the context, time and space. Being agentive to fulfill their academic, social and professional needs and investing educational and linguistic capital to refashion their future, the multilingual students learned university discourses formally and informally. These experiences and their reflection of the past, present and future allowed them to sustain and develop multiple identities flexibly. I argue that the students’ transnational and multilingual activities and their efforts to earn membership in the university community should be recognized as useful resources, and these students should be viewed as having a rich set of resources, rather than being viewed as deficient and challenged.
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Scholarly level
Supervisor or Senior Supervisor
Thesis advisor: Marshall, Steve
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