Overseas Institutional Visit at Pennsylvania State University, USA 

By Robert Sharples (Education Pathway, University of Leeds) 

Robert SharplesI spent the past autumn at the Pennsylvania State University as a visiting scholar in the department of Applied Linguistics. The visit was a great opportunity to meet internationally leading researchers and to experience another academic culture, with its own disciplinary boundaries and approaches to the questions I am investigating. I applied to visit Penn State to work with a leading researcher on migration and language (Professor Suresh Canagarajah, who hosted the visit). My own work explores the experiences of young migrants as they arrive in the UK education system, trying to move beyond the assumption that all these young people need is English-language proficiency, to understand how young migrants bring their experiences, assumptions and skills to bear in their own education. Professor Canagarajah’s work on migration has been crucial in allowing me to make a theoretically robust argument to support this shift in focus, and the opportunity to visit Penn State and share my work with scholars in the department, attend workshops and seminars with leading researchers, and to get feedback on ideas as they developed, has been invaluable.

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The ESRC’s support also allowed me to make the most of the time abroad: I was able to visit researchers in New York, Philadelphia and Toronto, Canada (where I was hosted by Professor Heather Lotherington) to see how the latest research into multilingualism, migration and education was being applied. In New York I was able to visit the CUNY-NYSIEB initiative, where researchers from the City University of New York and schools from across New York state have been working together to improve outcomes for emergent bilinguals. In Philadelphia I met with leading researchers from linguistic anthropology, an antecedent of the research tradition that I am part of in the UK, which deepened my understanding of the discipline and generated new insights into the methodology I am developing. In Toronto, working with Professor Lotherington and her colleagues from three universities I was introduced to digital research methodology and to school-university partnerships across the city. Each of these has an impact on a different aspect of the work I am involved in back home, and the ESRC’s generous support allowed me work with researchers in a range of disciplines that would otherwise have been impossible.

The visit has made a huge impact on my PhD research. First, it has allowed me to bring in a wider range of influences, engaging personally with the scholars whose work I have studied and incorporating their feedback into my research. It has also enabled me to build international links with researchers, doctoral students and practitioners across North America, laying the ground work for future collaborations. Finally, it has made me think carefully about impact, about what is unique about the UK context and what needs to be distinctive in my own work to support young migrants when they arrive here. I would wholeheartedly recommend the OIV, and am very grateful for the ESRC’s support.