The Benefits and Limitations of a Short-Term Study Abroad Program to Prepare Teachers in a Multicultural Society

The Benefits and Limitations of a Short-Term Study Abroad Program to Prepare Teachers in a Multicultural Society

Heejung An, Carrie E. Hong, David Fuentes
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1057-4.ch020
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This chapter describes a group study abroad program in which 12 U.S. participants (6 pre-service and 6 in-service teachers) traveled to South Korea to enhance their cultural awareness of Korea and to then develop curricula pertaining to Korean history, the arts, area studies, and literature. The authors describe what the program focused on and how the curriculum activities were designed and implemented. Further, an overall theoretical framework for the project and a summary of research findings is presented. Overall, findings note that the participants' level of perceived cultural awareness was not significantly altered through participation in the program. Additionally, this chapter reports whether and how participants' future perceived pedagogical practices were changed as a result of participating in this program. Suggestions for how to diversify the U.S. teacher workforce are also discussed.
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U.S. classrooms are becoming increasingly diverse with each passing year. Consequently, classroom teachers are expected to interact with a rapidly changing student population. In New Jersey, Asians are one of the fastest growing groups among the state population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau (2011), New Jersey is home to 747,620 Asians, accounting for 8.5% of the state population. Likewise, Koreans constitute about 9.7% of all Asians in the U.S. and 12.8% of Asians in New Jersey. The approximately 96,000 Koreans who live in New Jersey represent 1.1% of the state’s population (U.S. Census Bureau, 2011) and have become the third largest Asian student body in the New Jersey school system.

However, in New Jersey, there is a disparity between the growing K-12 Korean student population and the small number of Korean educators who could ideally serve as role models for students of Korean ethnicity. Worse yet, studies suggest that there is a lack of understanding of this population’s unique cultural needs (Jung, Stang, Ferko, & Han, 2011), along with teaching resources about the Korean Peninsula written in English that P-12 teachers can use in their classrooms. Accordingly, in order to better develop pedagogical practices for effective teaching and learning, there is a need for training and curriculum development that addresses current gaps (Bennett, 2001). For instance, Gay (1995, 2000) contends that teachers should be aware of the richness, complexity, and vitality of American cultural diversity, the cultural experiences, values, characteristics, and learning styles of different ethnic students, and develop concrete skills relative to curriculum design, instructional strategies, and interaction abilities. Teachers also need to be aware of the subtle but powerful forms of cultural discrimination and how cultural overtones affect class dynamics and ultimately, students’ cognitive and affective learning (Tidwell & Thompson, 2008).

Rightfully, there have been several approaches to tackle this issue in teacher preparation programs, such as culturally responsive teaching, study abroad programs for preservice teachers, international field experiences or student teaching that provides pre-service teachers with opportunities for acquiring multicultural competencies (Hasslen & Bacharach, 2007; Sharma, Phillion, & Malewski, 2011; Valentin, 2006). Among various approaches, research has indicated that despite curricular and institutional efforts made to address diversity in many teacher preparation programs, pre-service teachers most value guided exposure to “real-world” cross-cultural interactions and observations. There is thus a call for approaches that move beyond the isolated-course approach (Jennings, 2007, Ngai, 2004, Taylor & Sobel, 2003). To address this, the U.S. Department of Education has advocated for more immersive international experiences, through the provision of new grant opportunities, such as the Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad Program (

Key Terms in this Chapter

Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad Program: Awarded by U.S. Department of Education, this program provides grants to support overseas projects in training, research, and curriculum development in modern foreign languages and area studies for teachers, students, and faculty engaged in a common endeavor. Projects may include short-term seminars, curriculum development, group research or study, or advanced intensive language programs (U.S. Department of Education, 2016).

Study Abroad Program: A program for pre or in-service teachers to go overseas and learn or experience different cultures or languages.

Cultural Awareness: Developing sensitivity and understanding of another ethnic group. This usually involves internal changes in terms of attitudes and values. Awareness and sensitivity also refer to the qualities of openness and flexibility that people develop in relation to others. Cultural awareness must be supplemented with cultural knowledge ( Adams, 1995 ).

Korea: An ancient country in East Asia, forming a peninsula between the East Sea and the Yellow Sea. Since World War II, Korea has been divided into two sovereign states, commonly called South Korea and North Korea.

Global Education: Global education is much more than having international campuses or exchange programs. It is an educational focus that extends students’ awareness of the world they live in by opening them to the heritage of human thought, action and creativity, by cultivating their capacity to read, write, and think critically, and by promoting ethical, mathematical, scientific, cultural and information literacy ( Fairleigh Dickinson University, 2016 ).

Multicultural Competence: The ability to question one’s own beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions; identifying practices that are biased; and changing one’s perceptions of self and others ( Sharma, Phillion, & Malewski, 2011 ). It is defined as a set of congruent behaviors, attitudes, and policies that come together in a system, agency, or among professionals and enables that system, agency, or those professionals to work effectively in cross-cultural situations ( Cross, Bazron, Dennis, & Isaacs, 1989 ).

Cultural Knowledge: Familiarization with selected cultural characteristics, history, values, belief systems, and behaviors of the members of another ethnic group ( Adams, 1995 ).

Multiculturalism: A concept that addresses the co-existence of diverse cultures.

Experiential Learning: Experiential Learning Theory defines learning as “the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of experience. Knowledge results from the combination of grasping and transforming experience” ( Kolb, 1984 , p. 41).

Cultural Immersion: The act or an instance of immersing in a culture.

South Korea: Officially the Republic of Korea. It is a sovereign country in East Asia, constituting the southern part of the Korean peninsula.

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