Image courtesy of Livia Gerber
Image courtesy of Livia Gerber

Backpacking around Australia

Backpacking, as a form of temporary migration, blurs the boundaries between leisure travel and work. Through temporary visas, such as the working holiday maker (subclass 417) visa, the Australian economy seeks to attract young, well-educated, and independent travellers for temporary participation in the labour market.

For these young backpackers, work and travelling is a life-changing experience. Often, the working holiday maker visa is used during transitional periods in their lives before entering into higher education or the workforce in their home countries. Living in Australia for an extended period of time offers opportunities for language learning, skills acquisition, and cultural exchange. Gaining English language skills whilst travelling is envisaged as an integral part of a cosmopolitan identity formation.

Livia Gerber, PhD candidate at the Linguistics Department at Macquarie University, is conducting qualitative research to explore the language learning opportunities a working holiday gap year has to offer.

The focus lies on the transnational movement to and from Australia by young German-speaking backpackers. In 2015-16, over 24,000 young German nationals embarked on a work and travel gap year (DIBP, 2016), constituting the largest group of working holidaymakers from a non-English speaking background. An exploration of how these young adults navigate their language-related experiences in Australia, and how they position themselves culturally and linguistically within Australian society, are of importance to understanding how they position themselves in global hierarchies of temporary migration and language acquisition.

Ultimately, this knowledge is fundamental to understanding how young German-speaking adults’ language learning desires and experiences tie in with global discourses of privileged access to linguistic capital and transnational migration.

Livia Gerber was awarded an APA scholarship via the Master of Research pathway in 2016. Follow Livia via, Language on the Move (sociolinguistics research blog), or Twitter @GerberLiv.