Sites of belonging: fluctuating and entangled emotions at a UAE English-medium university

Sarah Hopkyns*, Christina Gkonou

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

10 Citations (Scopus)


English-medium education in multilingual university settings (EMEMUS) hosts a complex concoction of emotions amongst stakeholders. English-medium instruction (EMI) dominates higher education in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). For students, EMI creates both affordances and pressures resulting in pride, confidence, anxiety, guilt, shame, and (un)belonging. For university teachers, navigating EMEMUS can be an ‘emotion-laden process’ involving shifting identities, energy-intensive teaching methodologies, intercultural demands and ‘emotional labor’. This article presents findings from a phenomenological case study involving ten transnational university teachers and 110 Emirati undergraduate students at a UAE EMEMUS. Through metalinguistic reflections, participants discussed emotions and levels of belonging. Thematic analysis of the data revealed shifting positionalities which led to complex and entangled emotions. Intersecting identity aspects such as English proficiency, linguistic background, and language ideologies influenced emotional experiences. The article argues for greater recognition of stakeholders’ emotional labor and sociolinguistic lived realities rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to EMI.

Original languageEnglish
Article number101148
JournalLinguistics and Education
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2023


  • Belonging
  • Emotional labor
  • Emotions
  • English-medium instruction (EMI)
  • Phenomenology
  • United Arab Emirates (UAE)


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