Encounters with Difference: Student Perceptions of the Role of Out-of-Class Experiences in Education Abroad

Encounters with Difference: Student Perceptions of the Role of Out-of-Class Experiences in Education Abroad

Encounters with Difference: Student Perceptions of the Role of Out-of-Class Experiences in Education Abroad

Encounters with Difference: Student Perceptions of the Role of Out-of-Class Experiences in Education Abroad

Synopsis

Laubscher explores how students use their out-of-class time to enhance their learning about cultural differences while enrolled in a formal academic program abroad. Taxonomic analysis of the interview data using the means/end semantic relationship postulated by James Spradley supports the hypothesis that, when left to their own devices, students abroad naturally employ ethnographic methods to learn about the host culture. This suggests that students abroad will gain more from the out-of-class domain if that domain includes programmed opportunities for participant observation and personal interaction and if the students have the skills and guidance to capitalize upon those opportunities fully. The students' detailed discussions of their activities and experiences provide insights upon which educators can base their development of a programmatic approach to making the noncurricular dimension of education abroad a more integral part of the overall learning process. By combining ethnographic method with the principles of experiential learning, students abroad can reconceptualize the world around them and gain a greater appreciation of the existence of cultural differences in a multicultural world.

Excerpt

I think it is the best thing I've done in college and I would recommend it to anyone.

It was the best experience in my life. More people should do it.

It was one of the best experiences of my life! I wish I could do it again.

Deciding to travel and study abroad was one of the best decisions I'll ever make. I wish everyone could try it.

These quotations represent student reactions after having participated in education abroad programs administered by the Pennsylvania State University during fall 1990 in Nice, Rome, Chichester, and Leeds, respectively. Drawn from written program evaluations submitted after the programs' conclusions, they typify students' general assessments of their experiences while on a study abroad program. Even when they criticize particular aspects of their programs, they still speak highly of the overall experience: One student, for example, subjected her Taiwan program to a scathing attack, only to conclude, "I would do it again in a second. I loved it and I learned more than can ever be expressed in such a short space."

What is it about study abroad that leads to these kinds of conclusions? The students obviously believe that something significant has happened to them, even though they may have difficulty articulating just what that is. In spite of such difficulties, their perceptions of the experience will help educators gain valuable insights into what happens to students while enrolled in an education abroad program. Armed with such insights, educators can then make more informed policy decisions about how to . . .

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