An Intersectional Analysis of the English-Competency Experiences of International Teaching Assistants




English competency, international teaching assistants, intersectionality, teaching experiences at US universities


International graduate students serving as teaching assistants constitute a major component of the teaching of undergraduate students at US universities, particularly in engineering. Prior literature on these international teaching assistants (ITAs) generally characterizes their linguistic experiences as challenges. This characterization can be attributed to an institutional environment that is reluctant to accommodate diverse ways of speaking English. This study applies an intersectionality framework to explore the variations in ITAs’ English-language experiences and the influence of the academic context on these experiences using semi-structured interviews and weekly reflections collected from seven engineering ITAs over a semester. Results of data analysis suggest that ITAs’ English proficiency varies based on their prior exposure to English in their home countries, and their English competence improves through their teaching experiences in the US. Participants’ experiences also highlight a perceived expectation to not only use English while teaching but also adapt to American English.

Author Biographies

Ashish Agrawal, National Institute of Technical Teachers Training and Research, Chennai, India

ASHISH AGRAWAL, PhD, is a visiting faculty member in the Centre for Curriculum Development, Planning and Coordination at National Institute of Technical Teachers Training and Research, Chennai, India. His major research interests lie in the areas of faculty development, student and faculty experiences in STEM, sociology of education, and critical pedagogies. It should be noted that all work for this paper was done by him at his prior institutions—Virginia Tech and University of Cape Town. He can be reached via email at

Lisa McNair, Virginia Tech, USA

LISA D. MCNAIR, PhD, is a professor in the Department of Engineering Education and director of the Center for Educational Networks and Impacts (CENI) at Virginia Tech. Her major research interests lie in the areas of transdisciplinarity, liberatory makerspaces, STEAM outreach and broader impacts, and reflective practice. She can be reached via email at


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How to Cite

Agrawal, A., & McNair, L. (2021). An Intersectional Analysis of the English-Competency Experiences of International Teaching Assistants. Journal of International Students, 11(4), 950–969.



Research Articles (English)