"Some students would engage in intercultural learning. But my experience is that students are less likely to want to."
~Daniel, Gender Studies Professor
Myth vs. Reality For decades, educators believed that intercultural competence was a byproduct of education abroad programs (Bloom & Miranda, 2015). They assumed that students automatically built intercultural competence through serendipitous, informal encounters with a different culture (Elverson & Klawiter, 2019; Fitzgerald et al., 2018; Hauerwas et al., 2017).
But don't be fooled! Research shows that serendipity isn't enough (Laux, 2021). While informal encounters with a different culture can help, students need courses that are intentionally designed to support intercultural learning.
The Research New research explores faculty members' experiences with intentional and serendipitous intercultural learning (Laux, 2021). The research revealed 4 key findings:
Faculty report that intercultural learning is most effective when it is intentionally designed into the coursework
Many students are reluctant to engage with different cultures, increasing the need to integrate intercultural learning into education abroad courses
While serendipity can create opportunities for intercultural learning, informal interactions are not enough to help students build intercultural competence
Strategic pedagogical intervention is needed to help students understand and use cultural experiences
The Solutions Serendipity is not enough to support intercultural learning. Students need courses that are intentionally designed to build intercultural competence. The 5 design principles help faculty meet that goal. Getting started is easy.
1. Recognize that students probably won't engage in intercultural learning on their own.
"I have to shove them into it. Students would much rather stay insulated within their own group and not reach out into the community. As a result, I make it mandatory. They have to do it."
~Rebecca, performing arts professor
2. Intentionally include intercultural learning in your course.
"Serendipity is a wonderful thing, perhaps best discovered when one travels alone. But students often travel in packs. They get caught up in the college student scene and don't experience much of the culture. By providing structure to at least one intentional weekly intercultural activity, students have a good overview and gain self-reﬂective insights."
~Jason, economics professor
3. Identify serendipitous learning opportunities as they happen.
"My job is to facilitate the conversation and to provide perspective and insight. The students think of what they would do in the United States. Providing context and structure allows students to build [intercultural competence]."
~Jason, economics professor
4. Intervene in serendipitous and intentional learning experiences through course activities.
"Many students were the only person in their family who has ever left the country. The experience was so unique there was a need to help them process the experience."