Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Intercultural Learning across Contexts*

Academic journal article International Electronic Journal of Elementary Education

Intercultural Learning across Contexts*

Article excerpt

Abstract

International youth work in Europe (i.e. non-formal learning) demands a renewal of the prominent intercultural theory and framework in the youth field in order to cope with contemporary questions concerning pluralism and global challenges. This article provides a new theoretical framework for intercultural learning that departs from a complex, multicultural, social reality. Furthermore, the article explores how young people today experience international youth exchanges as arenas for learning in relation to other learning arenas in and out of school. The data consists of interviews and participant observation of a Norwegian youth group preparing for, participating in and reflecting on their experiences in an international youth exchange programme. The findings show that participation in international youth exchanges, in addition to cultural knowledge, may contribute to increased motivation for learning, enhanced self-understanding and personal growth that seems transferable to other contexts. Furthermore, global youth culture plays a crucial role in young people's experiences of being like one another across national borders, cultures and social realities.

Keywords: International youth exchange, Intercultural learning, Cultural diversity, Intercultural communication, Learner-identity.

Introduction

Since 1995, one of United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization's (UNESCO) overarching goals for formal and non-formal education in Europe has been learning to live together in a multicultural world (Delors, 1995). Organizing international cultural exchanges for young people has a long history as a pedagogical tool for supporting the development of positive attitudes towards foreign people, cultures and nations (Fennes & Hapgood, 1997). The Council of Europe, the European Commission and many European states and civil society organisations have historically brought forward programmes and strategies to enhance the international mobility of young people and intercultural learning both in and out of school (Friesenhahn et al., 2013). Today, intercultural learning is one key competence for all education in Europe. Lauritzen (1998) claims that intercultural learning is a project of political socialization for a democratic multicultural society, which has the best conditions outside the classroom and in international exchange programmes. This article reports findings from a PhD study that explores how young people experience international youth exchanges as arenas for learning in relation to other learning arenas both in and out of school (Vasbo, 2011; Vasb0, forthcoming).

What primarily characterizes my study, in contrast to previous studies, is that it aims to respond to issues and challenges highlighted by researchers, youth workers and young people in non-formal learning contexts (Gomes, 2009; Gomes & Cunha, 2008; Otten, 2009; Ramberg, 2009; Titley, 2005; 2008). Previous research has largely understood intercultural encounters in isolation from other learning contexts. However, this study explores international youth exchanges as learning arenas interlaced with other arenas in which young people participate and as part of an individual lifelong learning trajectory. The majority of previous research reports personal change, personal development and personal growth only to be spin-off effects of participating in international exchanges of youth and students; consequently, elements of identity development are not included as part of the expected learning outcome of intercultural learning processes. One exception is a study performed by Shames and Alden (2005) that highlights identity development as a result of participation in student exchanges. Shames & Alden (2005) report that these intercultural encounters are powerful arenas for learning, especially for young people who for various reasons do not succeed in school; this is because the participants are given opportunities to re-position themselves as learners, both for themselves and for others. …

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