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three students looking at a book togetherMultilingual Life on a Monolingual Campus:
A project exploring the linguistic experiences of international students in English language-medium universities

Meet the researchers.

Over the 2021-22 academic year, the LCJ Hub is delving into the experiences of Brandeis’ international students around language use and language attitudes. Director of Programs in International Justice and Society Leigh Swigart has assembled a research team of both undergraduate and graduate students from Brandeis who will spend the year preparing and administering a survey to Brandeis international students, conducting follow-up interviews with a smaller number of participants, and then analyzing and summarizing the findings.

The project aims to shed light on how our international students use all the linguistic resources at their disposal and respond to language challenges and opportunities, in both their academic and social lives, in a space that is predominantly English-speaking. This group constitutes an important component of the Brandeis population. In Fall 2020, 20% of Brandeis undergraduates and 33% of graduate students were international, with China being the first source country in both categories. Various other Asian countries were among the top ten source countries.

Multilingual Life on a Monolingual Campus (MLMC) will be enhanced by running in parallel with similar studies at Macquarie University in Sydney, Australia and the University of Birmingham in the UK, both of which, like Brandeis, are English-dominant spaces with large international student populations. The LCJ Hub will act as the coordinator of this multi-country study. The Brandeis student research team will interact online with the other teams, share ideas for the survey design and the subsequent interview process, and compare their findings. The project will culminate in a virtual presentation of the research by all three teams in late Spring 2022.

Given the recent increase in anti-Asian sentiment, an unfortunate and misguided response to the COVID pandemic, the Hub believes this is an opportune moment for institutions of higher education to turn their attention to how students hailing from other countries, and in particular Chinese students, navigate their multilingual lives on largely monolingual campuses. Swigart noted, “It is important that we understand the challenges that international students face and how the pandemic, in particular, affects how they choose to communicate in public.” Macquarie-based scholar Agnes Bodis, who conducted doctoral research on the discursive construction of international students’ language proficiency in Australia, said of the joint project, “Understanding the lived experiences of international students is essential for the creation of a truly inclusive higher education.” University of Birmingham's Prof. Karen McAuliffe added, “This is a unique opportunity for students to work on a truly interdisciplinary and international project, which will shine a light on the experiences of international students across three continents.”

The Hub hopes that Multilingual Life on a Monolingual Campus will help the entire Brandeis campus become aware of its attitudes around languages and their speakers, and to better appreciate and understand the multilingual members of our community.

Want to learn more about some of the ideas underlying this project? Review a short list of resources.

The MLMC research team

Ji Chen
Ji Chen

Ji is a junior majoring in Anthropology and minoring in IGS and Linguistics, and an international student from Fuzhou, China. Being an international student and an English learner herself, Ji is super excited to be part of a research project that she has tremendous personal linkages with. Within her majors and minors, she is specifically interested in sociocultural and linguistic anthropology, as well as language acquisition. The intersection between language and culture has always been a fascinating topic for Ji, and she wishes to expand her research experience and hone her research skills in exploring a topic that genuinely intrigues her. Ji looks forward to promoting language and cultural diversity through unpacking the multilingual experiences of international student communities, and she can’t wait to see the enormous influence on language and racial justice that this project brings to the Brandeis campus.

Nhi Le
Nhi Le

Nhi was raised in Lancaster, Pennsylvania and earned her bachelor's degree in Classics from the University of Vermont. Since graduation, she has spent several years working abroad as a Teacher's Aid for a special needs school in Ecuador, as an Assistant English Teacher in Japan, and, more recently, as an Education Specialist with the Peace Corps in Thailand. She is pursuing a master's degree in Anthropology to expand upon her experiences in linguistic anthropology, cultural relativism, identity, and personhood. Her enthusiasm for languages stems from growing up bilingual in English and Vietnamese, and this led her to study Latin, American Sign Language, Spanish, Japanese, and Thai. Multilingual Life on a Monolingual Campus aligns with her personal and professional research interests to explore the intersections of language and identity and how intercultural empathy plays a role in communication between people from different backgrounds.

Anh Nguyen
Anh Nguyen

Anh is originally from Vietnam and is currently an MA student in the Sustainable International Development program at the Heller School for Social Policy and Management in Brandeis University. Their research and professional areas of focus include education and justice for marginalized groups, namely ethnic minorities, girls, and LGBTQ+ individuals. Having visited several countries in Asia, South Africa, and Australia, as well as living and working in Vietnam, Hong Kong, and the US, they take both personal and professional interests in understanding the complex cultural and linguistic dynamics in an intercultural space within unique local political and social contexts. They are new to tomato gardening and enjoy sketching and reading in their free time.

Ella Russell
Ella Russell

Ella is a senior from Cambridge, MA, majoring in International and Global Studies and minoring in Legal Studies and Mathematics. In the summer of 2019, she went to The Netherlands on the Brandeis in The Hague study abroad program to study international law. There Ella developed an interest in communication challenges that arise in international courts, where linguistic differences can play a significant role in the outcome of a case. Her experiences in The Hague inspired her to assist Leigh Swigart as she launched the Language, Culture and Justice Hub in 2020. She is excited to join the MLMC project and looks forward to studying the experiences of multilingual students on campus and thereby gaining insight into an increasingly multicultural world. Ella will also serve as the MLMC Project Coordinator over 2021-22.

Angela Self
Angela Self

Angela is a senior at Brandeis University, majoring in Anthropology and minoring in Religious Studies and Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies. The reason that she wanted to become involved in the MLMC project stemmed from her involvement as a tutor to English language learners in Waltham, mostly adults whose children were in the Waltham Public School System. Angela was in awe of their ability to grasp language so quickly despite the barriers they faced living in a foreign land. This led her, in turn, to become interested and involved in this campus project and she is excited to see what the group’s research will uncover.

William Simmons
Will Simmons

Will (he/they) is an International & Global Studies major and Hispanic Studies minor from Portland, Oregon. He is Taiwanese-American and lived in Asia for several years before moving to the US. As part of the Hispanic Studies program, and having recently worked with a non-profit focused on international education, he is very interested in the intersection of postcolonial theory and intercultural experiences of education. Growing up in multicultural, multilingual environments, Will also has personal experience with and interest in dynamics of language, culture, identity, and experience. He is familiar with a variety of methods of understanding and expressing experience, including oral history, ethnography, and analysis of spatial practices. He is hoping to bring a focus on the theme of visibility to the MLMC project.