The Importance of Intercultural Learning in Study Abroad

The Importance of Intercultural Learning in Study Abroad

Steven T. Duke (University of Nebraska, USA)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-9279-2.ch043


College graduates in the 2010's will work in a world that is more globalized than ever before. Graduates need to be prepared to work with people from many parts of the world. Study abroad programs offer an ideal context in which teachers-in-training can learn about intercultural communication and different patterns of culturally-based behavior. This chapter first defines a series of key words; including culture, intercultural communication, intercultural communication competence, and intercultural learning. The chapter then provides an in-depth look at intercultural learning programs and courses developed and implemented by a variety of United States universities and study abroad organizations. Intentional, holistic, and research-driven methods of instruction are described. Suggestions and recommendations are also provided. This chapter also advocates that institutions implement cultural mentoring for faculty who lead study abroad programs.
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It is useful at the outset of this chapter to define several terms that will be used throughout this chapter. Dozens of definitions and descriptions of “culture” have been written over the years. R.M. Paige’s definition (2006, p. 43) was written with study abroad in mind:

Culture refers to values, beliefs, attitudes, preferences, customs, learning styles, communication styles, history/historical interpretations, achievements/ accomplishments, technology, the arts, literature, etc. – the sum total of what a particular group of people has created together, share and transmit.

As this definition suggests, a culture can include any group of people who share common values, behaviors, assumptions and habits. Although certain patterns exist at the national level, many cultural patterns develop among smaller groups of people. This includes people living in the same region of a country or who share certain things in common, such as employment, education, athletic or artistic pursuits, racial or ethnic similarities, religion or religious persuasion, and even gender. In other words, when the authors talk about cultures in the plural sense, they are talking about groups of people and how they act and interact with each other, with their environment, and with other individuals in society. Paige’s definition above suggests that such groups share and transmit the unwritten rules of social behavior for individuals in those groups. Hofstede, Hofstede and Minkov (2010) agree, calling culture “software of the mind” and “mental programming” and asserting that “culture is learned, not innate” (p. 6). Trompenaars and Hampden-Turner (2012) describe culture as “the way in which people solve problems” (p. 8).

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