The Major in Cultural Context: Choosing Liberal Arts in the Marshall Islands

  •  C. A. DeCoursey    
  •  Ewa Krawczyk    


Choosing a major is part of liberal arts (LA) education in American-accredited colleges across the world. In global second-language (L2) contexts, the choice of major is shaped by local cultural factors. This study of 192 undergraduates at an English-medium-of-instruction (EMI) college in the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) used a survey, content and Appraisal analyses to explore what the LA major means to RMI youth. Results showed they were positive about LA, but little engaged with it outside the classroom. This probably reflected the institution’s traditional concept of LA and outdated western teaching approaches, and a failure to incorporate elements of an authentic local culture of teaching and learning. Appraisal data indicated participants associated positive, congruent desire, interest and affection for the LA major, but also low utility and worth with LA class content, revealing a need to convey the utility of the LA skill set for employment. Finally, LA majors were intrinsically, whereas education, business and nursing majors were pragmatically motivated, reflecting the colonial heritage. Overall, results foreground the colonial character of current teaching practice, and the need to use authentic teaching and learning modalities, to support RMI students’ pragmatic needs, particularly given their emigration prospects.

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