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Representing the Self and the Other

American College Students in Mytilene, Greece.

Vasiliki Galani-Moutafi

Over the last several years I have been lecturing to American students visiting the north-eastern Aegean island of Lesvos, where their study abroad programme is based – in the town of Mytilene – via its association with the University of the Aegean, where I teach. Having had the opportunity to know closely several of these students and to be the recipient of their reactions to their self-experiences, it became evident that their crossing into another cultural context provided occasions for reflexivity. In line with the argument that a heightened awareness is a feature of ‘incomerness’ and of the meeting of ‘others’ (Kohn 1994: 19), the students’ relative linguistic incompetence, combined with their anxiety to conduct themselves in culturally ‘appropriate’ ways – not only for the purpose of handling practical matters, but also in order not to stand out awkwardly nor to offend those ‘others’ close to them – placed them in a liminal situation, one that prompted reflexivity (Babcock 1980). It appears that they struggled with the anxiety-ridden task of what Bourdieu calls ‘practical mastery’ (1977) in order to achieve some basic engagedness. Interestingly, the students would often label this socialisation process as ‘work’, wishing perhaps, through the metaphoric usage of the term, to emphasise the stressful and exhausting effect on the body and mind of this constant trial-and-error effort. I approach the students’ endeavour as a potential ‘journey of self-discovery’, focusing my analysis on their efforts to grapple with the problem of difference and strangeness, especially for the types of selfimages they reveal.

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