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Intercultural exchanges in Australia for French academic sojourners constitute a recent phenomenon as French students were traditionally involved in primarily European exchange programmes under the auspices of associations such as ERASMUS and formerly SOCRATES. Numerous studies have been carried out on academic sojourners, however, much of the research to date has focused on the academic dimensions of their experience. By comparison, few studies have addressed issues relating to the social and cultural dimensions of the exchange process. These dimensions are however of central importance to understanding the nature and impact of the study abroad experience. This dissertation has investigated the impact of the acculturation and repatriation processes and the language experiences of French academic sojourners on their perceptions of cultural identity. When sojourners enter a new society with distinctive cultural norms and values, it stands to reason that identity changes may result from intercultural contact between visitors and host society members, as identity transformations occur in response to temporal, cultural and situational contexts. When sojourners are required to adapt to an unaccustomed socio-cultural milieu over an extended period of time, they need to learn new cultural repertoires and competencies. Adjustment to an unfamiliar culture necessitates changes in cognition, attitudes and behaviour, without which culture shock and acculturative stress may occur.
This thesis emerged from the close observation of a group of French students who were experiencing difficulties during their academic sojourn in Australia and were concerned about their re-entry. This was because once they had traversed the difficult stages of culture shock and reached the stage of full recovery (adjustment), they no longer wished to go home. For this reason, the cyclical journey of these sojourners was of great interest to this project. This dissertation was based on three substantive themes: culture shock, reverse culture shock and cultural identity issues. Of significance was the notion of perceived identity because the issues in this study revolved around the way the respondents think about themselves rather than developing an external view of others’ identities. Therefore the discourse of the respondents about their own culture has been respected and their views have been taken as evidence of what they wished to project rather than as information about their original culture. It will be shown that the French respondents in this study belonged to and traversed a complex multiplicity of cultures both within and across societies. They were largely ill-prepared for this journey. The end result was a dynamic move away from stereotypical national cultural perceptions toward a newly created identity. However, cultural identity, seen in terms of national identity, remains important for these sojourners, even though they have rejected aspects of what this identity represents. Even having chosen to live outside France, they still understand themselves in terms of the ‘Frenchness’. Clearly, pre-departure preparation from participating institutions and the individuals themselves, both on a linguistic and psychological level can be seen to impact significantly on the adaptation experiences of academic sojourners.