"We filtered each excursion or assignment. If it didn’t connect to the learning outcomes, then we just didn’t do it."
~Eric, Business Professor
Myth vs. Reality It's tempting to think that there's plenty of time for intercultural learning during a study abroad program. But making time for intercultural learning is easier said than done.
Accreditation and degree requirements often force faculty prioritize disciplinary content over intercultural learning (Drake et al., 2015; Gordon, 2014; Meier & Smith, 2016; Niehaus & Wegener, 2019; Rusnak et al., 2019). Additionally, supporting students' well-being and navigating the daily rigors of travel take up valuable time during the experience. As a result, intercultural learning is frequently deprioritized in education abroad courses.
Fitting intercultural learning into study abroad courses is difficult. To create space for intercultural learning, faculty have to design courses that effectively schedule and prioritize intercultural learning (Laux, 2021).
The Research New research explores how faculty successfully create space for intercultural learning in education abroad courses (Laux, 2021). The research reveals 4 key findings:
Making time for intercultural learning is not optional; it is a requirement of helping students navigate different cultures
Faculty report that effective prioritization and scheduling are critical to supporting intercultural learning
Successful scheduling incorporates academic needs as well as students' social, emotional, and physical well-being
Faculty believe that prioritizing intercultural learning is worthwhile, even if some disciplinary course content is reduced
The Solutions To help students build intercultural competence, faculty need to effectively create space for intercultural learning in study abroad courses. The 5 design principles help faculty meet that goal. Getting started is easy. Faculty can:
1. Incorporate intercultural learning outcomes into the course.
"The primary learning outcomes make sure that students get credit for the course, but the secondary learning outcomes demonstrate cultural awareness."
~Melissa, STEM professor
2. Use the outcomes as a filter for prioritizing content and activities.
"I cut out certain aspects [of the course] that aren’t important so that I can include aspects that are more aligned with the culture."
~Rebecca, performing arts professor
"We learned really quickly that we were traveling too much. These spaces were great, but we decided to take away some of the visits."
~Chris, engineering professor
3. Consider students' physical, emotional, and mental health in the course design.
"It begins when they get there. One of the first activities is to negotiate their way to the hotel. When they get there, the hotel is not ready. So they have to get out very early into their neighborhoods. Then they get to know each other and have a meal together. They get really tired. They’re sleepy."
~Heather, African studies professor
4. Create a schedule that includes intercultural learning.
"When we were on the road all the time...I just don’t think that intercultural learning happened. For instance, when I took a group to Europe, we went to 2 countries. It was a really interesting experience, but I don’t know that there was much cross-cultural learning. I don’t think there was time. It takes time."