Please Mind the Culture Gap: Intercultural Development During a Teacher Education Study Abroad Program

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Feb. 15, 2011

Source: Journal of Teacher Education, 62 (1), p. 35-47
(Reviewed by the Portal Team)

The authors of this study chose to explore a preservice teacher’s intercultural development over the course of a semester-long teacher education study abroad program in London, England.

The following research questions provided the overarching focus of this study:
(a) In what ways does a preservice teacher’s intercultural development evolve during a semester-long teacher education study abroad program in London, England?
and (b) What aspects of the study abroad experience and program challenged and/or supported her intercultural development?

Method
This authors describe a case study of one preservice teacher, Ana, who was enrolled in a teacher education study abroad program, called the London Program.
Data were collected through participant observation and in-depth interviews.
The methodology and findings reported here encompass the 15-week study abroad program in London.

Discussion

The significance of Ana’s immersion experience at North School highlights the importance of such experiences in study abroad programs that seek to influence students’ intercultural development.
Ana experienced cultural dissonance during her immersion in the cultural context at North School, where her own culturally based assumptions about teaching and learning did not adequately explain what she was experiencing within the foreign school context. Having to learn how to interpret and negotiate working within this experience, she became more culturally conscious and sensitive to fundamental cultural differences

Ana’s international immersion experience provided her with the opportunity to step outside of her dominant cultural context and have the experience of being a cultural outsider for the first time in her life. It is the feeling of not fitting into the dominant culture that creates the need for preservice teachers to examine and consider the ways culture influences school contexts and interpersonal relationships.
However, Ana’s program took place in London, where she did not face a significant language barrier. Furthermore, she was able to begin working as an assistant teacher as soon as she began her internship at North School.

Furthermore, study abroad students need a cultural translator and intercultural guide to provide support for their intercultural growth.
Ana’s intercultural development during her study abroad experience highlights the need for programs to create supportive environments that foster critical cultural reflective thinking.

Conclusion

The study highlights how teacher education study abroad programs can be transformative for preservice teachers, leading them on a path toward an ethnorelative worldview and culturally responsive approaches to teaching. Teacher educators must find ways to integrate study abroad programs and other cross-cultural experiences into teacher preparation programs.

Teacher education study abroad programs can be powerful vehicles in teacher educators’ efforts to prepare preservice teachers for work with culturally diverse students, providing a unique opportunity for them to learn how to “mind the culture gap” that can exist in school contexts.

Updated: Feb. 08, 2012
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