DiariesDiaries have been used by The Interculture Project both as a data collection instrument and as a recommended aid to intercultural and linguistic awareness raising.
In the case of Lancaster University, students have been encouraged to write free-form diaries covering the first three months of their PRA. You can download a copy of the letter sent to students with the diaries, as an RTF file. (15K)
A review of different diary formats in current use within the UK and recommendations on best practice have been the subject of a detailed sub-project, Diaries as Learner Support for the Year Abroad conducted by The University of Sheffield. This sub-project also developed a range of diaries which are available in downloadable form - see below. See also Data Gathering
The Sheffield DiariesThe diaries listed below have been developed by Tim Lewis and Ursula Stickler at the Modern Languages Teaching Centre, University of Sheffield, as part of the sub-project "Diaries as Learner Support during the year abroad" and are downloadable for use as Word files.
There are also proposed assessment criteria (22K) for use with these diaries.
Residence Abroad Diary for general use
General purpose front pagesResidence Abroad Diary for use in First Semester
Residence Abroad Diary
for use in Second Semester
General purpose (English)Residence Abroad Diary for Work PlacementsFrench
EnglishDiary including front page (371K)FrenchDiary without front page (211K)German
Residence Abroad Diary for Foreign Language Assistants
EnglishDiary including front page (209K)
Diary extracts can act as the basis for preparation learning activities. Examples of different types of intercultural issue as recounted by individual students can be given to different groups of students going abroad. Each group can evaluate the standpoint of the narrator. What had gone wrong in the situation concerned? Whose fault was it? Was it avoidable? Would they have reacted in the same way? What kind of preparation would have made the person better able to cope?...
Study the diary extracts on the theme you are looking at. Select at least one extract and answer the following questions. Note: each extract corresponds to a different author.
1. How would you describe the personality of the author of the extract?
2. What is it about the author’s language which suggests what type of personality she/he has?
3. In the situation described in the extract, who do you think is responsible for things going badly or well?
4. If you had found yourself in the same situation as the one described by the author, how would you have reacted?
5. What would you advise as the next step?
6. What - if anything - might have been done to prepare the author for the situation described in the extract?
7. Does the extract
tell you anything about the author’s expectations before going abroad?
If so, what were they and were they realistic?
1 SOCIAL CONVENTIONS
1(a) ‘Jo’ (France) 'French women don’t understand!’
If you are female, you have to be really careful what you wear. If you come from Britain, you are used to being able to wear short skirts and vest tops without being hassled. There’s no way you can wear things like that here if you don’t want blokes approaching you every 100 metres down the street. I know a couple of people who have been grabbed in the street by strange blokes who have then run off. French blokes won’t hesitate in asking you out for a coffee after having said "hello" to you in the street, and when they realise you are foreign they are even worse. I never really realised how much I would miss British lads! French women don’t really realise or understand - they only wear tops up to their necks and long skirts or trousers. According to them, if you wear a low cut top, you are encouraging men, and the only reason you might wear a low cut top is that you want men to ogle you.
1(b) ‘Fran’ (Italy)‘The University atmosphere doesn’t seem as loose’
I don’t feel as threatened as a woman wandering around at night alone, but I still go around mostly by bike so I feel safer. The women I know don’t dress up particularly and it’s not as sexist as one is led to believe. On the subject of sex it seems much rarer to go out ‘on the pull’ as in England and the university atmosphere doesn’t seem as ‘loose’ as in England, maybe because that, on a practical basis, nearly everyone in Italy shares rooms and not everyone’s pissed all the time. One nice thing I’ve noticed is that Italian blokes don’t have to live up to the same laddish image as their English counterparts. It is not a social faux-pas for an Italian man to drink a glass of red wine in a bar/pub and they don’t have to drink 8 pints a night to prove their masculinity. In the groups of friends I’m in, a ‘girls’ night out’ wouldn’t happen and the group is a mix of girls and blokes.
1(c) ‘Kath’ (Austria)‘I don’t know anybody who has afternoon tea!’
I was also annoyed because when we were talking about foods she’d told the group that the English eat this strange thing called jelly & that it’s disgusting and terribly unhealthy! I said that I had to disagree! The Austrians seem to be very preoccupied with colourings in food, but seeing as jelly can be sugar free I think there’s far more unhealthy food that kids can eat - like all the pork & Würst that people eat here! Now who’s being defensive!? Things have been said before too. I know that they’re said with an element of jest & to raise a laugh, but that’s raising a laugh not only at the expense of another country, but actually at my expense! Sometimes I’ve felt that Frau B. (& the other teachers) must think that Britain is this really bizarre little island. Sometimes I’ve felt like they think we’re really weird people. I just think it’s a bit unfair when you outnumber someone so much. I’ve also said that the whole idea of the English sitting down for afternoon tea & sandwiches exists only to satisfy tourists - but Frau B. thinks I’m wrong because when she lived for a year in London more than 30 years ago with an upper-class family they had tea & guests in the afternoons! I don’t know anybody who has afternoon tea! I don’t know anybody who has the time! If you can afford servants to do the housework, look after the kids, & make tea & cakes then maybe. Maybe! Most people I know have jobs or other commitments. Anyhow, maybe I’m meant to keep my mouth shut and support the stereotypes! I’ve asked myself if I’d make fun of Austrian culture in the same way if I had an Austrian ‘Assistänt’, & I’d like to think that I wouldn’t.
1(d) ‘Sandra’ (Spain) ‘They call a spade a spade, even if they reduce you to tears’
On a different tack, culturally speaking, I’m only just beginning to find my feet and cope with the fact that the Spaniards are not only very extreme in their emotions (in comparison to the British, I suppose) but also very open about them. They call a spade a spade even if they reduce you to tears by doing so. It’s been tough to learn that if someone flares up in your face and shouts angrily at you for something, an hour later, it will be as though they’re your best friend in the world and the earlier outburst doesn’t count for anything.
1(e) ‘Alison’ (France) ‘The French like their paperwork’
I was informed that French bureaucracy is a nightmare, and this is so true!
Every time you ring/ask a person a question about anything which involves
a form to fill in, you get a different answer. Nobody has a clue. Saying
that the French like their paperwork is true, but they are really crap
at it. However, I do know some people who haven’t had any problems at all,
so obviously some people do know what they are doing. The main problem
for me, and I imagine for any assistant, is the Carte de Séjour.
You need to apply for one as soon as you get here, but for that you need
a social security number, which you don’t get until you get paid - which
is difficult because you have to wait 2 months until pay-day. We found
a way round it though, but, to be honest, I don’t think that means we’ll
get the Carte de Séjour any sooner. The most important thing to
get as soon as you get here is a bank account, so your money has somewhere
to go once you get paid. I haven’t actually been paid yet - although I
did get an advance of about 75%, which my school put me in for without
me even knowing. I feel that I should have been informed that you could
have to wait 2 months before being paid. I was told that the average amount
of money to bring over was about £500, but I needed about £700
- £800 because out of that I had to pay 2 months rent and then be
able to eat.
2(a) ‘Christine’ (France) ‘People speak too fast’
Ate lunch with Sandrine and Michelle. It was awful! They spoke really quickly and I kept getting lost and they were talking about a woman who I don’t know so I couldn’t join in anyway. It left me feeling quite teary and depressed regarding my French. However, after explaining this to Sandrine and having a laugh with her, I felt much better and realised that it’s just going to take time and already it’s getting easier.
2(b) ‘Sally’ (France) ‘Lunchtimes are the worst’
Lunchtimes are the worst for this. They all sit together gossiping about things you know nothing about (i.e. childcare) and speak so quickly that you can’t keep up. It’s good practice for listening though! I assume this will get easier in time. I hope so! One on one lunches are fine or even in a three but any more and it’s hell. Luckily you have your food to concentrate on. If I can’t bear to eat in a big group, I go to the shopping centre next door and have a sandwich and look round the shops.
2(c) ‘Vicky’ (Germany)‘Why can’t they pronounce things properly?’
I’ve just ordered a pizza over the phone, because it’s too cold outside to go into town. I had difficulty in ordering what I wanted though. I wanted a Margherita, but when I said this, the man didn’t understand. I tried saying it again, but he still didn’t understand me. So I ended up saying it’s a pizza with just cheese & tomato on top. And then he said ‘Oh a Margherita!’. But he said it with a German accent. I always seem to have this problem. When I want to say a word, that isn’t of German origin, I’m only understood if I say it in a German accent.
2(d) ‘Nicola’ (Germany) ‘They ought to speak Hoch Deutsch’
A problem I had at the beginning was with older people when, as a foreigner, I would have thought they would try to speak nearer to high German in order for me to understand yet refuse to and carry on speaking Swabish which is basically impossible to understand. Naturally there is an accent here, but that isn’t a problem. All the pupils speak hoch deutsch but with a Swabisch accent. It’s the dialect in its full entirety that is hard to comprehend. Apart from some - not all of the old people are stuck in their Swabisch ways (and I don’t know many old people anyway!) - there’s been no problem - well almost. Even the pupils outside school speak using Swabisch words but clear enough that I can just about understand!
2(e) ‘Sarah’ (Spain) ‘I’ve always managed to make myself understood!’
I’ve managed to get by despite the fact that my Spanish is so non-existent. I haven’t got a clue how, but somehow, I’ve always managed to make myself understood! It helps tons living with this family as they speak no English and so when we do speak, it’s always in Spanish. Also all of my friends are Spanish and so that’s good too. The only time I speak English is in school to four teachers, but even then sometimes we go into Spanish. So far, I’ve not had any misunderstandings, oh, part from arranging to meet someone and mistaking 8.00 for 5.00 or something like that! However, I found that it turned out to be a blessing in disguise it proved to be a talking point and made everybody laugh!
2(f) ‘Karen’ (France)‘She laughs at me!’
If I make a mistake
in French she corrects me quite harshly and laughs at me. I don’t mind
the correcting but I hate her laughing at me. I get upset and lose a lot
of my enthusiasm for speaking French. My French seems to have got worse
since she started doing it so I’m quite glad that she leaves tomorrow.
She’s my age and treats me like I’m 3 years younger. That really annoys
3 MEETING PEOPLE
3(a) ‘Roy’ (Germany) ‘I have no close friends’
I have been here for three months and I have no close friends. There are five people whom I regard as friendly, however I would not choose them as my friends. I have of course been out with them many times and I am very grateful for their company. They have been very friendly and helpful and I realise that I cannot ask more from them: it’s hardly their fault that I don’t feel completely at ease with them. So, the lack of friends has been a disappointment, but even more so has been the unwillingness of some people to even return my efforts to make friends. It may be interesting to note at this point that some language difficulties may have hindered my attempts, (but I doubt that). For example, if I fail to understand the first thing that a new person says to me, they get an immediate first impression that my German is not good and that it is therefore difficult for them to converse with me. This reaction is often betrayed by their facial expression, which naturally dismays me, and which then leads to the unhappy conclusion that the next time I see them we exchange merely the daily pleasantries that are normal here. Once people begin to think that I am by nature a very quiet person who says very little, it is difficult to break that image.
3(b) ‘Florence’ (France) ‘They tend to stay in with their family’
I’ve been here 2 months now and I’m only just starting to get to know people at the gym. When I say to get to know them I mean, well enough to say ‘bonjour’ etc. but not to go out with as they’re all mostly middle-aged people, there aren’t many young people there. The gym is closed on weekends so I find weekends a problem. I can go a whole day without speaking any French which worries me greatly as when I get back to [home university] I think that everyone else will speak French a lot better than I can. I don’t really know what else I can do to meet people and speak French. I can’t afford to join any other club (not that there are many in Auray) to try and meet people. I ask my students what they do at night and at weekends and they say they just stay in and watch TV. They don’t have that much free time because they’re at school 8am-5pm during the week and then Saturday morning as well. So they don’t have much time to do anything. They tend to stay in with their family. It’s very difficult to be in a country which is geared towards the family when you haven’t got a family or any friends here.
3(c) ‘Robert’ (Germany) ‘I deliberately chose strange hobbies’
I would tell new assistants
not to be afraid to write their own material and explain that they don’t
have to do a new lesson every time if you have classes from the same year.
My hobby activity is for pairs who have to do an action in front of the
class to explain a hobby described in a piece of text which includes idioms
which they then have to explain to the class… after the class has guessed
the hobby. I deliberately chose strange hobbies, eg going to car boot sales,
trainspotting, taking part in battle re-enactments etc.. In the evening,
I decided to go along to the local driving school Sprechstunde in town.
Road safety is my area of study and I fancied learning the highway code
here before having a go in a left-hand drive car. The driving school rep.
was v.friendly and gave me a teaching book for free.
4 RELATIONS IN THE WORKPLACE
4(a) ‘Anne’ (France) ‘Today started off horribly!’
Today started off horribly. Sometimes I really wish that I was anywhere but in France. Everyone here assumes because I’m English that I don’t understand. I explained to a woman who works here that I’d searched through every possible file on the computer but couldn’t find the original of a letter written two months ago by someone else. She then asked me if I’d looked properly on the computer and could I go back and find it. I was so angry! I felt like saying "I've already looked, I'm not stupid, I do understand!". Things like that really upset me and make we want to turn round and go back to England.
4(b) ‘Debbie’ (Austria) ‘Frau D. really irritated me’
Frau D. really irritated
me for the first time ever! She had this idea that everyone had to sing
and so she said that we were all going to sing ‘The twelve days of Christmas’!
She had a video with it on. The video was terrible. The song was far too
long, the visuals were dull and very poor and unimaginative and the voices
were not all clear to hear. It was dire! I thought it was a really bad
choice. She would also ask someone to present their topic eg ‘crackers’
and then after two lines she would cut them off with a question or anecdote
of her own, or even tell the history herself. I’ve never noticed it before,
but she’d do it to me as well on some of the topics I’d written about.
I began to wonder why I was there giving up 4 hours of my Friday evening!
The final activity was that the students had to split up into small groups
and so and watch videos and answer questions about how useful it would
be in the classroom, what criticism they had etc. etc.. Anyway, it appeared
that one of the groups had gone home at some point – they were not to be
found anywhere!! Frau D. was really annoyed. It all ended with Frau D.
telling everybody that the course was over half an hour early intending
to keep them the extra half hour tomorrow. I ended up staying until 8 pm
listening to her saying ‘What did we do wrong? We must learn our lesson’.
To begin with I wasn’t overly happy about accepting responsibility if it
had gone wrong! I’d done what I was asked to. I told her that sometimes
no matter how hard you try you can’t motivate people if they won’t co-operate.
I said that basically they’re tired and all they want to do is go home.
She said I was wrong and that it was her fault, it’s all a question of
method. We weren’t going to agree. She asked for my opinion on what could
be changed. I told her, as subtly as possible, that ‘T.12.D.O.C’ hadn’t
been a good idea but she immediately got defensive.
5 MISSING HOME
5(a) ‘Sharon’ (Germany) ‘Go away. I’m only allowed to speak German’
In the ‘preparation course’ before I left [home university], we were told to avoid all English or English speaking people. When I arrived, the first person I met apart from the family was an English au pair! At first I was pleased, she introduced me to more English people and I didn’t feel so alone. The family were very nice and kind, but everything was so new and strange, it was just a relief to talk to and understand completely what someone else was saying. However, I soon realised it wasn’t a good idea as they had said on the course. I knew it at the beginning too really, but it is not so easy to tell people ‘Go away, you’re English, I’m only allowed to speak German’. Especially since I was sure I was going to be homesick.
5(b) ‘John’ (France) ‘We don’t and I don’t want to!’
Though we were told on the stage to cut ourselves off from English people a bit, we don’t and I don’t want to. These people with all their advice underestimate the power of loneliness and homesickness and having such friends who are experiencing the same thing is essential.
5(c) ‘Susan’ (Austria) ‘I really, really want to stay’
It’s snowing today.
By this afternoon everywhere was white over. I’m not a fan of the snow,
but as I looked out of the window onto the mountains I must confess it
looked rather romantic! I’m dreading May coming round. I know the time
is going to fly by & I’m terrified already. I’d love to do a Verlängerung.
I really, really want to stay, but I’m not sure how happy my mum would
be, or how it would work out at Uni. Part of me says however, that it’s
my life & opportunities come once & you should take them while
they’re there. Homesickness is not in my vocabulary - I’m suffering from
the exact opposite! (Oh - I should stress that I love my mum, & my
home very much, but I guess I’m just an independent person now trying to
find my place in the world. I’m tempted to say I’ve found it! I’ve never
wanted to live somewhere as much as I want to live here. It was a dream
come true coming back this year. When I left after my Au Pair year, I just
couldn’t imagine how I’d get back. Maybe another opportunity will present