Reconsidering the Local After a Transformative Global Experience: A Comparison of Two Study Abroad Programs for Preservice Teachers

Jul. 01, 2014

Source: Action in Teacher Education, Volume 36, Issue 4, p. 283–304, 2014
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

This study utilized a comparative case study design to understand preservice teachers’ views on programmatic elements that led to transformative learning experiences in the areas of global and local diversity. Research questions included -
(1) What are preservice teachers’ experiences in two different study abroad programs focused on local/global diversity and pedagogy?
(2) According to participants, what programmatic elements contribute to transformative learning experiences in such programs?

The participants were seven preservice teachers from a public metropolitan university in the southeastern United States, who completed two abroad programs.
Two participants completed a 4-month student teaching placement in Sweden and five participants completed a 3-week intensive intercultural course with school observations in France.
Data were collected before, during, and after the participants traveled abroad.


The findings reveal that participants in both programs demonstrated a new or enhanced interest in global issues and a more nuanced understanding of themselves as educators, though the relationship between global issues and their identities as culturally competent teachers of diverse students varied between programs.
The Sweden study abroad program attracted students who were interested in increasing their knowledge of education in a global society and who valued cultural funds of knowledge. Similarly, participants in the 3-week study abroad course to France were drawn to the program based on their overall interest in global multiculturalism.

Participants also adopted a broader perspective of what diversity means, illustrating increased cultural competence.
They discovered that diversity reaches beyond race to include multiple and differing perspectives, learning styles, and abilities.
These program components offered them opportunities to experience a disorienting dilemma, reflect critically, and consider their changes with others.
The findings can be grouped into three primary categories: relevant and interactive assignments, hands-on experiences, and support for personal growth.

Relevant and interactive assignments
Participants explained that some assignments directly contributed to their development. These assignments, which they called “interactive” and “relevant,” offered opportunities for them to learn about local contexts, reflect on their experiences, participate in critical discussions of diversity, and make explicit connections between local and global ideas and communities.

For instance, participants in the Sweden program realized the importance of readings and discussions in global context.
Though they valued the international education course they took the semester before studying abroad, they still found contextual understanding lacking upon arrival.
In contrast, students in the France program felt they understood the French cultural and educational context, specifically related to issues of immigration and ethnicity.
These findings, then, argue for a balance of context-driven assignments before and during preservice teachers’ study abroad programs.
Participants also mentioned the importance of critical, diversity-themed discussions and meaningful instructor feedback.

Hands-on experiences
The participants stressed the importance of being exposed to a new international community.
In particular, visits to schools, the opportunity to teach students there, and related out-of-school cultural tours ranked as the most frequently mentioned influential program elements across data from both programs.
These opportunities offered students clear connections between theory and practice.
In addition, the participants in the France program seemed to appreciate that tours included visits to neighborhoods, markets, museums, and other historic sites that were not tourist centric.

Support for personal growth
Finally, participants continuously spoke of “dreams fulfilled,” of the opportunity to see more of the world and learn more about themselves in the process.
Thus, of importance for program design is providing the support and time for personal growth during international experiences.
For instance, participants’ commentary reflected their positive views of program elements that encouraged collaboration and development of a peer community.


Comparing these two study abroad programs shows that a program that enables preservice teachers to engage with more local students and colleagues (as in Sweden (and challenges them to think explicitly about issues of global/local dynamics (like in France( would provide the best opportunities for preparing them to understand issues of local/global diversity and pedagogy.

In sum, the authors argue that the critical elements of such programming are relevant and interactive assignments, hands-on experiences, and support for personal growth.
These elements, according to participants, provided opportunities for them to engage in critical reflection, an analysis of their assumptions and understandings of cultural competence and diversity, and collaborative discussions with peers.
Additionally, this study has reaffirmed the importance of diversity-focused courses, whether in the United States or abroad, including critical reading, reflection, and a range of assignments in such classes, such as journals, collaborative endeavors, videos, blogs, and community-based activities.

Updated: Mar. 26, 2015