Publication Date

Winter 2-15-2012

Degree Name

MA in International Education

First Advisor

Sora Friedman

Abstract

This study explores the extent to which students from the United States consult with cultural informants while abroad when experiencing what Taylor (1994a, 1994b) refers to as “cultural disequilibrium”. The study also explores how this strategy compares to other learning strategies and which informants students most frequently consult.

Two research methods were used: a survey of 85 students who recently returned from an international program and interviews with nine students from the same sample. The survey sought to explore strategies students employ when facing cultural disequilibrium while the interviews aimed at uncovering why students preferred some learning strategies over others.

Results showed that students use a variety of strategies when experiencing cultural disequilibrium and that consulting with cultural informants is a common practice employed on par with strategies like consulting with peers from the United States and observing local culture. It was also found that behavioral learning strategies tend to expand over the course of a program. Expatriates who were not from the United States and who lived extensively in the host country were identified as favored informants, and having a bi-cultural perspective was considered the most salient characteristic among informants. Social anxiety, on the other hand, was the biggest obstacle to more readily consulting with informants.

Findings support the implementation of a peer-matching program. They also support adding new content to existing on-site orientation activities to equip students with a theoretical framework for understanding the process of learning to become interculturally competent and the constructive role played by informants. Introducing students to basic ethnographic tools to better help them process data collected from informants is also recommended.

Disciplines

Bilingual, Multilingual, and Multicultural Education | Educational Psychology | International and Comparative Education | Social Psychology