A Sense of Place: Creating Spaces for Intercultural Learning in Study Abroad

A Sense of Place: Creating Spaces for Intercultural Learning in Study Abroad

Ann Warner-Ault, Isabel Maria Kentengian, Jon W. Stauff
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-3796-1.ch006
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Popular study abroad locations present challenges for faculty seeking to provide opportunities for meaningful engagement with the host community. The authors describe how a medium-sized state college in the Mid-Atlantic region of the U.S. and the Universidad de Alcalá (UAH) partnered to develop a transformative semester-long study abroad program, promoting community engagement, language acquisition, and personal development. They describe how a resident faculty director can create spaces for intercultural learning in both traditional classrooms and off-campus sites through projects that develop an ethos of sustained engagement and deep reflections, thereby empowering students to immerse more deeply in their host community. Insights from Lave and Wenger's social learning community of practice model provide a novel way to frame study abroad praxis. The authors' experiences suggest that a study abroad community of practice, rather than serving to isolate members from the local community, can serve as a safe-space and catalyst for active engagement with it.
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Solving the most pressing issues of our time requires new approaches to help develop the thoughtful and interculturally competent citizens our global era requires. Although frequently working toward the shared goal of increasing students’ intercultural abilities, the fields of international education and language education do not always have the opportunity to inform one another. For instance, overlapping paradigms from both fields emphasize the importance of critical reflection for intercultural learning. The purpose of this chapter is to provide a model of practice for the creation and ongoing collaboration between a World Languages department, the Center for Global Engagement at the college, and an already existing study center in Spain to provide a transformative semester-long study abroad experience to undergraduate students.

In this chapter we describe how we developed a program led by an on-site faculty director to guide students’ intercultural learning to augment the already rich offering by the host institution. Over the past seven years, language faculty serving as faculty directors have utilized paradigms from both language education and global education to develop and deliver intercultural coursework, to provide cultural mentoring, and to foster community partnerships in order to strengthen opportunities for engagement with the local community. These interventions have helped cultivate spaces for deep intercultural learning, as students engaged in a variety of community service and research projects. Written and oral reflections were an essential component in facilitating students’ deepening intercultural awareness and fostering an ever-evolving community of practice. This community of practice, in turn, promotes students’ sense of agency and intercultural learning during their semester abroad.

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