I am excited that I have decided to share my reflections on my writing development and crafting an academic identity over the years in my doctoral program! I hope this experience will be beneficial to you as much it will be to me! I invite you to share ideas, provide your insights, give comments on my writing and experiences please! I look forward to hearing from you!
First, I would like to start sharing some parts of my earlier writings about how I am crafting multiple cultural and academic identities:
Developing a positive identity as a professional scholar is an essential task for a doctoral student (Austin & McDaniels, 2006). Students who experience two different cultures especially with minority status, may feel caught between the dynamics of these cultures, and have a conflicting self identity, values, attitudes, beliefs, or loyalty to a particular cultural group, which may be problematic (Lee, 2006). Doctoral students, especially international students, need to be adequately prepared to navigate the full range of roles and identities that comprise academic discourses. Situated in a social and cultural perspective, the theory of multi-literacies suggests that people participate and interact through many modes of communication (e.g., email, blogs, twitter), and engage in specific academic and professional discourses. Moje and Luke (2009) argue that academic identity is shaped by certain kinds of discourses and literacy practices; in the same manner, the ways in which we communicate, and are engaged in discourses can have an impact on how we are recognized as human beings, and how we craft our identities especially for people who experience life as minorities on the basis of racial, ethnic, religious, or other social categories (Pufall-Jones & Mistry, 2010). This paper addresses my own continual journey towards crafting an academic identity through the lenses of biliteracy and multiliteracies. Nancy Hornberger defines biliteracy as a continuum: ‘any and all instances in which communication occurs in two (or more) languages in or around writing’ (Hornberger, 1990: 213); and the notion of continuum is intended to convey that although one can identify (and name) points on the continuum, those points are not finite, static, or discrete. In this paper, I discuss the significance of biliteracy, how living in constant state of transition and overlapping cultural representations between Turkey and US significantly shapes my self-awareness between two cultures. In turn, this self-awareness shapes how I participate in academic and professional activities and discourses, that contribute to my bicultural and biliterate academic identities.
Changing the perceptions about literacy and me as a literate person:
the purpose for this presentation:
I studied in an English medium university, in other words, a university that supported biliteracy. Biliteracy, as theoretically framed by Hornberger (1989), is viewed as a result of overlapping interactions between its contexts (i.e., micro-macro level, oral-literate, and the monolingual-bilingual levels). Although dimensions of bilingualism and literacy are expressed in polar opposites such as Ll versus L2, monolingual versus bilingual, oral versus literate, when biliteracy is considered, these continua are interrelated dimensions of a highly complex whole.
Starting my doctoral degree in the USA, I had to function as a biliterate person in an academic environment—I was from Turkey, but now living in the US. This made me question all my previous notions and definitions about literacy and biliteracy. In Turkey, in English as a Foreign Language (EFL) contexts—literacy technically means “reading” and “writing”. However, as a biliterate international student, I realized that communicating in another language was not only about reading and writing for academic purposes, but also involved social and cultural matters. Being biliterate meant that I had to learn about the US culture which shapes my expression, and thinking, and seeing the world. As a doctoral student, I reflected on how I function and perform in specific discourses (as opposed to the contexts in which I use my native language), and constantly compared my literacy practices in these two cultures, the value people attached to these practices, and the ideologies that surround them.
How am I Redefining literacy?
When I was asked to define “literacy” in a doctoral course, at first I could not understand why the term needed to be redefined I understood it from a cognitive perspective as I had learned it in Turkey—reading and writing–and separated it from its social context. However, I realized from different class readings and discussions with participants from varied multi-cultural environments that different cultures value different literacy skills and that literacy cannot be divorced from the culture in which it is embedded. In Gee’s (1996) words, “people do not read and write to engage in abstract processes; rather they read and write particular texts of particular types, in particular ways because they hold particular values”. The way certain societies use a range of texts, including multimodal, can differ across cultures and their related contexts. My identity as an junior scholar began to emerge as I read and interacted with others about what literacy is, my own biliterate assumptions about language, and the possibilities of crafting an academic identity that was social, cultural, and multimodal.
Why do I embrace multiliteracies / multimodality as a research interest?
Brian Street (1984) argued that literacy practices depend on the context, and they are already embedded in an ideology and cannot be isolated or treated as neutral. Therefore, it made more sense to me to embrace “multimodality” and “multiliteracies” to frame my own research interests.
Multimodality refers to many modes that comprise the way people communicate, and multiliteracies refers to “the many and varied ways that people read and write in their lives” (Purcell-Gates, 2002, p. 376). A theory of multiliteracies considers agendas that advocate social change. Because my aim is to provide equal and democratic education for all, a theory of multiliteracies has a potential of cultivating biliterate identities by tapping in people’s cultural capital or “funds of knowledge” (Molls et al., 1992), while multimodality allows me to express meaning across modes (not just reading and writing). Thus, I can empower biliterate identities for myself as well as others.
Crafting my identity through conferences
When thinking about crafting my identity as a scholar, I have noted several understandings about theory and practice that have shaped my journey. Sociolinguists like Street and Gee suggest that literacies are more than a means for sharing information; they are intimately connected with identity, or what Gee calls Discourse. Discourses are identity kits that include not only spoken and written language and other means of symbolic expression, but also aspects of identity like dress, body language, and actions that signal underlying beliefs and values of a community. As such, I understand the multiplicity of cultural identities that are expressed through literacies, and my attendance at professional conferences. I have participated in local, national, and international conferences; each has its own discourse communities. Besides conveying the content of my presentation, I learn how scholars interact with participants through spoken language, when I should respond to speakers, and what types of questions participants ask. I also notice other communication such as dressing, gestures, and manners. I learn how people from diverse cultures negotiate different discourses and respect each other, thereby portray confident profiles in these intercultural and academic spaces.
A second way my academic identity is shaped is through my participation in scholarly organizations including Alpha Upsilon Alpha Honor Society (AUA), International Reading Association, Georgia TESOL, Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages Inc. (TESOL), American Educational Research Association (AERA), and Middle East Institute. For me, scholarship is fundamentally social. At GSU, AUA, which is a leadership organization, allows me to participate in a community of learners who provide me with a truly socialized environment for my scholarship. My active engagement with these professional communities reinforces my professional identity. For example, I review conference proposals, [YY2] and develop what Bonny Norton calls an “imagined identity” as a future editor of a well-known journal[YY3] . Also, my developing relationships with my academic advisor and faculty, friends, family, and academic networking sites online provide me the support for navigating through different cultures and forming a scholarly identity.
Shaping an academic writerly identity for publications:
Membership in organizations and taking opportunities that my advisor and other professors offer is a third way that help me shape an academic identity as a writer. For example, annually, we as members of AUA host an writing retreat to develop identities as scholarly writers. We are writing a manuscript that focuses on how AUA is cohesively aligned to doctoral requirements and serves as a vital support to students in the areas of scholarship, leadership, and service. I also work with my advisor and other professors on research and write towards publication. For example, I am the Media Facilitator for Global Conversation in Literacy Research (GCLR) research team[YY4] . In this role I edit and moderate seminars and write biographies for the website. In April 2014, I will moderate Brian Street’s seminar. This is a huge honor and contributes to shaping my academic and professional identity. Moreover, I write my own blog where I communicate with other professionals and receive feedback. I agree with Kirkup (2010) that “blogging [YY5] could play a useful role in professional development ” (p. 76). I reach an immediate audience from all around the world. I also participate in several ESL communities online where I share my resources. I realize that professional identities can be reinforced not only with real people in immediate, local educational settings, but also with virtual people in global platforms such as ELT and literacy communities online. In brief, I rely on multiple individuals for support beyond my academic advisors or peers. Participation in these discourse communities as a writer enriches my life, knowledge, and personal capacity but also that of those who are involved in the exchanges as well.
Improving my identity as a global and local worker through academic and personal connections:
Advisor support was associated with a stronger sense of belonging and academic self-concept (Cutin et al., 2013). My advisors often dispensed professional and socializing advice, and even emotional support for me. My constructive relationships with them have been key aspects of satisfaction in the doctoral program, and the development of my professional identity. They treated me as a junior colleague, not as a student. I was fortunate to work with two academic advisors who come from different cultural backgrounds, Korea and Bahamas, as they contributed to my local and global perspectives as a candidate teacher educator. For example, one of the advices that I received was to define myself and other non-native speakers as multilingual people rather than learners or teachers of English as a Second Language. I understood what my advisor meant when I read about the deficit perspectives associated with the term English as a Second Language. I realized that accepting English as my second language did not help gain more competent view of myself as a candidate teacher educator who would teach in English in a context different than my home culture. I questioned the dichotomies of non-native versus native speaker (Canagarajah, 2007). I decided that acquiring a multilingual identity was crucial for my success in America, which was part of the global community (Yi, 2013).
My second advisor taught me how I should recognize the power of language in both local and global contexts such as home and school if my goal was to contribute to democratic education (Tinker Sachs, upcoming). I understood that being successful cannot be achieved only by developing local identities but also by being shaped as a global worker. For example, one inspiring conversation with her took place when she described how she visited local communities such as immigrant parents, listened to their problems, identified what was powerful about them by being a good observer, and brought their stories to classroom, leaving the deficit lenses behind. I also learned that appreciation of differences in the local context does not mean that I needed to ignore global-mindedness in the world. I have a global identity as well because I recognized some similarities in various local communities. For example, I support culturally responsive pedagogies and curriculum like my two advisors and many other professors in the world. This recognition help improve my sense of belonging in academic communities. I have the ability to participate in a local conversation at one urban school in the US because I know, read and learn more about their culture. At the same time, I can take part in an international community, or a group with international perspectives, and share my ideas for the goal of social justice as I did in one of my classes this semester.
Apart from academic connections, my personal relationships reinforced my academic and cultural identity. I am married with an American, which helped better understanding of the target culture because I had a chance of discussing my confusions, tensions, or conflicts between Turkish and American culture with my husband. In addition, my personal connection with friends supports my journey. For example, I belong to a Facebook group whose members are all Ph.D students at the same program that I am enrolled at my university. In this “Critical friends group” (Franzak, 2002), we share our resources, ask each other questions, and give advice on how to progress with our schedule or the academic program. The theoretical foundation for Critical Friends Groups is that teachers belonging to a group learn to collaborate by participating in professional development activities such as examining student and teacher work (Franzak, 2002). Although we don’t review our academic work in this group, we still support each other by communicating about the issues of coursework, schedules, assignments, and any other subject related with social and academic life. In other words, through this critical group, I found a safe place where my voice joined with others to work through my own academic and social identity crisis.
Being an integrated scholar through academic and personal connections:
When I started my doctoral degree, education was only one part of my life; but now I understand that becoming a real scholar is living the scholarship in every aspect of life: personal, social, and academic. Accordingly, I have begun to see myself as an integrated scholar, which means that I maintain professionalism in every aspect of my life, and dedicate myself to a course of life-long learning, and advance the role of institutions that I work for in educating, serving, and inspiring the others.
In conclusion, I will continue trying on multiple professional selves to see how well they fit me. I acknowledge that becoming an educator and a role model for future scholars in my field is an evolving process. Identity formation is evolving and fluid as well. My aim is to be responsible, imaginative, insightful, rigorous, and committed in my social and academic roles. In light of research in how universities define the professions and multiple identities (Brint, 1994), hopefully, this paper will support and extend scholarship in the area of international students’ bicultural self-efficacy.
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