Where did my English mojo go?

I’ve always been a believer in jumping into host cultures and trying to become ‘local’, especially as it often means not getting ripped off or stared at. Over the years though after doing this in many countries I’ve started to wonder about me, am I still English/British/United Kindomish? According to my passport I haven’t lived in the UK for quite a while and have been trotting the globe. Now, I feel more at home abroad and like being ‘the weird English bloke/teacher’. a few questions spring to mind:

1)What have I picked up from other countries?

2)What is my ‘culture’ now?

3)Is this common in the EFL world?

4)How can I teach English culture when I don’t feel a part of it anymore?

Actually, I’ve never felt happy with the stereotyped ‘beer, footy, kebab’ culture seen TV, I always thought English culture has so much more to offer. When I grew up the European influence started and I found myself more at home in a cafe chomping on strangely named cakes or in  an Italian eating with unpronounceable dishes but where everything seemed to require black pepper and parmesan. Now, I like to go to a tea house and have a British cuppa as I’m abroad. I guess distance does make the heart grow fonder. There is a lot of research to show that foreigners abroad assert their own culture more but apart from a drink and some odd biscuits I wouldn’t say I do.

I do feel at home now abroad, more than I did in the UK and I like teaching students ‘on their turf’. At the moment I’m adapting again to another context but have definitely retained things from the other countries. Whether this means I’m now ‘international’ I don’t know but I do wonder how other travelling EFLers feel, after all we are the ones taking English to the learners so they can connect from their own countries.


13 thoughts on “Where did my English mojo go?

  1. that’s an interesting perspective.

    mine is probably the other way around, in a way. Now teaching in London coming from a country that half my students don’t know the capital of, and that 99.7% of the students haven’t been to and will probably never be.
    Here, the main concern for me was not being able to answer a culture specific question, but it turned out they rarely come up. It’s true that by being here the students don’t really need this side of teaching too much because they can get the real thing as they walk out of the lesson.
    One thing though that I’m always asked is where to go in the city after they’ve done the mainstream sightseeing.

    Although it makes my job easier as a non-local, students’ lack of interest in my history is sometimes frustrating. There were many, many who didn’t even bother to ask where I was from, and in their minds I was British, which in the end shows me that it doesn’t really matter.

    • Cheers for the comment Willy. I was actually drafting another post which addresses some of your points and the ones Chiew mentions.

      It’s very interesting to see foreigners (sorry if it sounds negative) in the UK teaching us about our language and culture. I think it’s like with music perhaps in that England has created so many good artists and songs but maybe people abroad appreciate them more.

      I used to work in London too and had some of the same problems as you. Students used to actually tell me where to go. I even had several ‘discussions’ about my language and pronunciation not being RP as it had a northern edge.

      I think it would be nice if not very polite of students to show an interest in you but perhaps they are used to more distance, only interesting in studying or even are so used to London multiculturism that they take you as a local. After all, that’s what makes London great. I hope you’re enjoying it and if you ever fancy a student cultural trip I’d highly advise afternoon tea at Borough Market tea museum. Being a foreigner you may enjoy it as much as the students. Actually, that’s one of the gifts of teaching overseas students I think, we take so much stuff for granted and it’s not until a non-native says “hey, this is really…” that we realise it is.

      • Yes, it is indeed interesting to see the presence of ‘foreign’ EFL teachers, such as Willy & Chia, in London; I think it boils down to what I’ve been talking about – the globalism of English. It can only be a good thing when the time comes when learners seek an ‘international’ speaker rather than ‘native’ speaker as their teacher because, after all, what English do native speakers represent? (And I don’t mean to sound negative either!)

  2. Your title choice is intriguing, and how I pronounced it in my head initially makes it even more so. Mojo /’mɒhɒ/ is a typical Canarian sauce/relish which comes in different colours & flavours, but the most typical being the red mojo, which is the essential accompaniment to ‘wrinkled potatoes’.

    I suppose your usage is the Creole mojo, which has magical connotations…

    In either case, be it English sauce or Harry Potter, the world is indeed getting smaller, and its inhabitants more global. English is a global language, but the fact is, now, the language no longer belongs to the culture that conquered the world many centuries ago. Although there is still demand for the ‘native’ speaker, the typical Brit is less intelligible than other English speakers. Interesting, isn’t it?

    So, I’ve lost my line of thought as I rambled on… I guess what I wanted to say is that the more culture one’s managed to assimilate, the better a teacher one can be. And, perhaps, the only teacher who will survive in the future will be the ‘international’ teacher.

    • I’m hungry now Chiew, are you offering to cook?

      I like your idea that “the more culture one’s managed to assimilate, the better a teacher one can be”. I agree it’s good for learning perhaps but I tend to pick up habits and morals/values which seem to be good in one country but then when I move they don’t fit.When I left China and returned to the west I had a huge culture shock or rather reverse shock and now live in a very mixed environment but am trying to adapt again. In the classroom and at work it’s completely different again and with multilingual students who speak one language at home, another at school and possibly a third with their local friends I could be in a cultural mine field. The idea of ‘renting’ a language isn’t new but perhaps teachers who ‘rent’ different classroom cultural ways of behaving is worth thinking about the next time we step into a lesson.

      Hope this is a good reply. I’m drafting something on your main idea so I hope I can cover it in more depth later on. Cheers.

      • But, that’s just it, isn’t it, Phil? It’s being prepared. The more you have in your culture bag, the readier you are to to face the unusual and the shocking: the mojo or the mojos. When the bag is rich, you have the luxury of being able to pick and choose; it’s when the bag’s empty that you may have to worry, don’t you think?

        Regarding cooking, strange as it may seem, I never did learn how to prepare mojo! Must put that down on the list! 😉

  3. Yes Chiew the more the better but it’s still hard to accept new concepts if they challenge things you hold dear, I think but exposing yourself to new things, places, people etc is always good. The joy of being a teacher.

    I definitely agree with ‘global English teacher’s.Us natives are now in the minority, even at uni most of my profs weren’t English. David Crystal has been on about this for ages where English will be owned by other nations, seems it’s happened already and I like it.

  4. Good stuff I’ve often thought about, especially before I came back to Canada in 2003 after living in Seoul since 1998. There was a point where I thought I was unequipped to teach English since my own had been so influenced by the lack of sarcasm, idioms and reduced speech during the time there. One motivation to return to Canada was to remedy this.

    But like almost everyone who’s spent time abroad, coming home was no easy adjustment either. Sure, being around family, familiar streets and old friends was great, but they was the source of my discomfort too. No one shared my past 6 years but my partner. No one really wanted to immerse themselves in my experiences during that time. Everyone felt I was still the same Tyson I’d been 6 years earlier, before a changing world-view or gained expertise.

    It’s still a balance I have to consider when around family and old friends today.

    • Thanks for the comment Tyson. I do empathise after being in Asia, it’s such a huge difference.

      Yes, I think many of us feel others are still ‘the same’, places too. My home town is like the village that time forgot, nothing changes. Every time I go back I have all this new experience, ideas, beliefs and well, culture and it’s hard to relate to friends who have never left and still hang round in the same places with the same people. I know a few people who look down on these hometowners but just because they haven’t worked abroad doesn’t mean they aren’t cultured. I had 1 teacher in Asia who had never left the country or area but knew more about Europe than I do. I still find it interesting that the Chinese place such an emphasis on having ‘culture’ and people are respected for having lots of of a high level. I’m not sure if we still have that but maybe we should.

  5. I really identify with your feelings Phil, as I feel pretty much the same. Even though I currently live in the relatively nearby Belgium, I still feel ‘abroad’ as opposed to ‘at home’, and that’s where I plan to stay, whichever country that may be in.

    I’m interested in the idea that you no longer feel comfortable with the idea of teaching English culture when you don’t feel part of it anymore. I know what you mean, but at the same time I enjoy the fact that I have one foot on the outside as it gives me a more well rounded perspective on the culture that I supposedly represent.

    And I think that idea of representation is crucial, because whether you like it or not, you do represent the Old Country to them. There will be things in you, whether physical or verbal, that they will notice without you even recognising. Sorry to burst your bubble, but as much as we see ourselves as multicultural metropolitan global citizens, they see as a combination of Hugh Grant and Mr Bean!!

    One thing’s for sure though, my next trip to London will involve a trip to the Borough Market tea museum!

  6. Hi James,

    Very nice to see you virtually here.After years of commenting on other people’s blogs it’s weird to be on the other side of the blogging fence.

    Belgium?That’s abroad and almost considered as abroad as Africa here in France. I used to do an English culture lecture in London and found a map about London that showed anywhere out of Zone 4 is almost considered abroad.

    Yes, I purposefully carry an umbrella and drink tea just to create discussion about Englishness. If I walked round in rolled up jeans, a vest, carry a can of Fosters and wearing a hanky hat I doubt it would get the same response. I might try it though.

    Re: Hugh Grant/MR Bean

    I utterly, completely agree. They have created a horrible view of England and English men. Bumbling baffoons! Great for tourism maybe but do we really want people to see us as that? Perhaps it’s just another example of England being marketed to foreigners but then again how many foreigners would study English in London if their schools didn’t show red buses, Big Ben, the Tower of London and Beefeaters in their adverts. Would they enrol at ‘East End proppa English school’ or ‘Camden school of Funky English’.Probably not, they’d prefer ‘Cambridge London Oxford Notting Hill school run by a Hugh Grant lookalike who takes them on trips to tourist traps. When I worked in London I tried to provide students with a better understanding of real London with trips to places and meetings with locals. One was in Brixton with an amazing Caribbean woman who ran a youth centre. They found her fascinating.

    I have a friend from Ireland who once said that he goes to Irish bars to keep his culture because it is a part of him and he doesn’t want to lose it. I thought that was interesting. Me on the other hand, I often try to soak up the culture as much as possible and become local. Although it can be great there is something to be said about the expat life too of having people who understand you and who can relate to you but I sort of prefer something in between maybe, as perhaps the latter creates an ‘us and them’ mentality and you really might as well stay at home if you just want to speak English, eat English food and go to pubs all day. Sorry, to anyone who does these abroad, I’m just jealous!

    Bit long this one. Thanks again.

  7. Hear, hear to international mutts !

    Have enjoyed reading all of the comments above and specifically like the global, ‘English is all of ours’ direction.

    Phil, when you were in China what was the first question anyone would ever ask you… “where are you from” and then there were a string of questions that typically followed as well, but I had at least 10 different responses to that question depending on my mood. One of my favorites was “earth person” 地球人 and honestly, it not only got giggles but it often got respect and opened the conversation that much more. I think that’s what Chiew is hinting at with being “prepared” by being international.

    From a personal perspective, I do feel like an earth person. I’ve travelled half of my life and don’t know that I identify with any ‘national’ culture anymore. I do identify with a certain style of life, but it’s far from being rooted in any place. It’s rooted in a way of looking at the world.

    Merci 4 the interesting post ! -bradster

    • Oh yes, I had that conversation memorised as it was always the same. I just used to say I was a Beijinger and actually I wa smore Beijing than most ‘out of towners or 外地人. They’ve now outnumbered the locals 55% to 45% and it’s growing and with that the local dialect is diminishing. Shame but that’s progress and all the big money makers are moving abroad.

      My cousin-in-law is a mix of about 5 origins and looks pretty unique. He’s tried relating to all those cultures but now just says “I am me” which I think is pretty cool but probably the average person has to have something to lean back on. Like the Mao generation, they still worship him and follow his ideals, others confuscius but with Deng xiao ping in came consumerism and now you have some people with less values/religion/morals. I know we westerners freed ourselves from the church a while back but we still respect those values and moral code. When you take all that away then who are you and what can or rather can’t or shouldn’t you do? Hmmmm.

      P.S. Cheers for your great ideas Brad, you’re always a star in EFL.

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