In this interconnected world, there are benefits for everyone involved in participating in and delivering the international classroom: the students, you – their teachers, and the support staff in administration. Here we provide some materials which you might find an interesting starting point to stimulate a knowledge sharing discussion amongst the relevant stakeholders, perhaps with the view to developing best practices.
Exercise for discussion with other study abroad stakeholders / colleagues
1 — What are your thoughts about the effects of an international classroom on intercultural awareness? What do you see happening around you when international students arrive at your university? What information do you have about the experience of your home students when they go on study abroad and how have you historically become aware of this? Are you acting as mentor for your students?
A hot topic at the moment within research looking at levels of intercultural development is the need for cultural training and mentoring (Pedersen, 2009, p. S74; Pedersen 2010, p. 79; Jackson, 2009, p. S69; and Vande Berg, 2009, p. S21).
2 — Do you have any views about the optimal duration of study abroad?
Researchers measuring levels of intercultural sensitivity through a tool called the IDI have found that duration of study abroad was significantly associated with IDI gains abroad (Vande Berg, 2009; Pedersen, 2009).
3 — What housing do your home and host study abroad students find? Is there any assistance for them with this? Which type do you think most fosters the acquisition of language and cultural awareness? What measures are in place at the home and the host universities to facilitate international and home university students getting to know each other? Are international students ‘invisible’ to the local peer group?
It is not just the duration of study abroad that appears to have an impact. Researchers hoping to create the circumstances for the optimal development of cross-cultural sensitivity and acquisition of French as a second language, considered length of stay of the sojourn but also type of housing, required language use and language exchange with a local student (Engle & Engle, 2004).
4 — Mobility of students is not now primarily about students majoring in learning languages sojourning elsewhere to develop their linguistic skills. What support does your university offer students to learn the local language?
41% of Erasmus students study language or philology (Collentine, 2009, p. 221).
5 — In your view, are students in an international classroom curious about the other cultures that they find themselves coming into contact with? What examples could you give of their motivation or lack of motivation to find out more? Have you any experience of students completing an international classroom with reinforced stereotypes rather than increased cultural sensitivity? What attitudes have you heard expressed? What guidance is in place for when students finish an international classroom, for example return home from study abroad?
Some studies which have found students returning home with higher levels of ethnocentricism (Jackson, 2009, p. S59 citing Jackson, 2008). Tusting, Crawshaw, & Callen (2002) entitled their study: “I know ‘cos I was there!: how residence abroad students use personal experience to legitimate cultural generalizations.”
6 — Do you have the sense that the international classroom – particularly study abroad – is still an elitist programme with participant students from more affluent / professional families? Or, have things moved on and there are now students from all backgrounds taking up the opportunity for this experience? What can you do to facilitate this change and support those who go on study abroad without existing experience of travel / cultural differences, and lacking strong language skills?
Back in 2002 Murphy-Lejeune explored European student mobility and found evidence of a ‘migratory elite’. She referred to the skills these students arrived with as ‘mobility capital’. This capital included specific attitudes and capacities relevant to living abroad which they had by virtue of frequent overseas travel, expatriate professional parents and/or families of mixed language heritage.
7 — What does your university do in relation to ensuring that cultural awareness of those returning from study abroad does not wear off? Have you any post- sojourn reflection activities organised?
The extent to which the cultural beliefs of a group of Catalan/Spanish learners of EFL changed after a 3 month study abroad programme was looked at by the SALA Project in a longitudinal study (Merino & Avello, 2014). Intercultural awareness was found to increase immediately following study abroad, but to decrease 15 months after the participants’ return from study abroad.
8 — Do you have any insights into whether an international student profile is something that is of interest to recruiters? Are you giving your students any assistance in ‘selling’ their international classroom experience when writing their CVs and attending recruitment fairs?
9 — Do you think that the idea of the international classroom is an exciting one? Is it a reality for your students? What benefits or disadvantages have you witnessed? Where does the lingua franca sit in all of this and what effect do you think this has on the dynamics of the classroom and cultural learning? In your view, is there as much for a student to gain from an international classroom at home as an international classroom during study abroad?
Aptekin (2002, p. 62) argues that it is a global culture that we should consider incorporating into language teaching rather than overloading on lingua franca cultures: American, English and Australian…
10 — What about the internationalised curriculums of your FI language classes – are these within the international classroom concept for you? What more could be done for these FI students to maximise their international experience?
Imagined intercultural contact encounters were considered to have the potential to challenge stereotypes and intergroup dynamics in a Japanese study of 120 EFL students (Rivers, 2011, p. 850).