This study was motivated to provide a thick narration (Christou, 2006; Shenhav, 2005) of life experiences of English language learners and users from one of the Kachru’s (1990) Expanding Circles, Indonesia. The Indonesian government’s official political position dictates that English be granted a foreign language status. Within these sociocultural and political circumstances, the study examined the life histories of seven Indonesians regarding their identity construction, language ideology, and their transnational experiences. The participants were undertaking their doctoral degree in Indonesian universities and came to a US large university in the Midwest for a semester-long study abroad program called PKPI. The study utilized narrative inquiry (Clandinin & Connelly, 2000; 2006) and case study (Merriam, 1998; Stake, 1997) methods in its attempt in understanding the meaningful real life events (Yin, 2011) in their landscape of action and consciousness (Brunner, 1986) throughout the participants’ life-long and life-wide (Duff, 2012) experiences as English language learners and users. This study contributes to a better understanding of EFL learners and users’ unique, profound, and rich stories from a periphery context regarding their identity constructions, language ideology and transnational experiences to fill the voids in SLA, TESOL and related fields (e.g Firth & Wagner, 1997; 2007; Kumaravadivelu, 2012; Pavlenko, 2001).
The scholarship of identity and identity construction has been at in the center stage in the L2 research in the last few decades (e.g. Block, 2007; 2009; Gee, 2001; Norton Peirce, 1995; Norton, 2000; 2007; 2013). In this study, the participants’ identity construction is described through the themes of (1) the emergence of identities, (2) moments of realization, and (3) establishing membership and affiliation. Throughout the themes, the participants indicated that the stories of their identity construction were complex, multiple, contradictory, a site of struggle, and constantly changing; and that assertion of agency and investment were crucial in the identity construction process (Norton Pierce, 1995; Norton, 1997; 2000; 2007). The participants often found themselves in immense struggles in their legitimate peripheral participation essentially because their “claim to competence” (Wenger, 2010) was perceived as insufficient, or incompatible with the accepted norms of the global English users’ landscape Community of Practice (Lave & Wenger, 1991).
In terms of language ideology, the study argues that the interplays of language ideology between the participants’ perceptions, values, and aspiration toward the English language with the larger ideologies at work at the local, national, regional and international are extremely complex. The participants constantly found their practices within the tensional liberatory and oppressive power of English (Alexander, 2003; Canagarajah, 2000); the victims and the beneficiaries of the ideology of English as a global language (Gee, 2010) that possesses the high-status knowledge (Apple, 1990). Furthermore, with regard to the tensional relations between the Indonesia’s conservative outlook on English language and the cultural values associated with it and English global hegemonic power, the study found that English, Bahasa Indonesia, Arabic, and other ethnic languages were constantly in contested spaces within and beyond the participants’ lived experiences. Despite all the odds, through many years of accumulated efforts, English had transformed into forms of capital for the participants (Bourdieu, 1986). In this regard, the participants’ language ideology mainly served as instrumental in securing the economic, cultural, and, social, and symbolic capital English has to offer.
The PKPI as a transnational experience the participants were engaged in was suggested to be one of the participants’ landmarks in their trajectories as English language learners and users. Three major themes emerged from the participants’ experiences before, during and after the program. First, the program had presented valuable opportunities in engaging the participants into some of the academic and research practices at a US university as well as social and cultural engagements (Allen, 2010; Alfred, Byram, &Flemming, 2003, Kinginger, 2008; 2009). Second, the participants indicated that the challenges regarding the requirement to produce manuscripts for international publication were enormous (Hyland, 2016). Lastly, the group dynamics showed that the imbalanced status differentials had caused a major conflict involving lawsuit threats. This conflict, as well as others of different issues involved, had negatively affected the group cohesion (Forsyth, 2009; Wageman, 1995).
The trajectories of participants’ lived experiences entailed that identity, language ideology, and the transnational experiences were interconnected in nature. Upon examining the larger sociocultural and political contexts of how these intersected, the study inferred that first, participants’ identity and the language ideology espoused by the multiple levels of institutions in Indonesia significantly impacted their identities as EFL learners and users. Second, it was evident that EFL as a literacy practice assumed the valency and polycentricity of English language (Blommeart, 2010). Lastly, there had been multiple sponsors and campaigns in EFL literacy practices (Brandt, 2001), ranging from the individual participants, institutions of various scales, to the multinational and international entities that ran their campaigns to serve their purposes and ideology. The study conferred that the most powerful sponsors for the participants were the self, the Indonesian government with its apparatus, and the English hegemonic power (Phillipson, 1992; 1994; Pennycook, 1994).
Through detailed and nuanced analysis and discussion, the study has demonstrated the pervasive influences of English in the participants’ lives. That said, the participants’ life trajectories as EFL learners and users remained to be observed in the legitimate peripheral participation (Wenger, 2010). The tensions and contradictions would be most likely to remain, and the struggles continue. Some important theoretical, pedagogical, and methodological implications were drawn to stimulate further research and discussion.