Being "good company" to students on their journeys toward intercultural maturity: A case study of a study abroad program
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In an increasingly interconnected global society, study abroad is often seen as an effective way to prepare students for the challenges of the 21st century but recent studies have questioned the effectiveness of study abroad. The purpose of this qualitative case study of the Maryland Social Entrepreneur Corps Study Abroad program – an 8-week summer program in a Latin American or Caribbean country with a pre-departure and a debriefing course – was to explore how educators can shape the learning environment in a study abroad program to promote students’ development of intercultural maturity. Data collection included semi-structured interviews with student participants and the instructor of the pre-departure and debriefing courses at the beginning and end of the program; a focus group with student participants; observations of the pre-departure and debriefing course sessions; document analysis of recruitment materials, course syllabi, and student assignments; and participants’ scores on the Global Perspective Inventory, a quantitative tool. The study’s findings indicate that participants experienced some growth in all three dimensions of development– cognitive, intrapersonal, and interpersonal – though most did not reach the mature level of the intercultural maturity. Educators in the study abroad program fostered students learning by integrating participants in the day-to-day lives of host families and other host nationals and portraying culture as complex and contextual, but also missed opportunities to do so. Educators struggled to balance encouraging participants to take initiative and bring in new ideas with providing guidance and leadership. Time for reflection was limited and educators missed opportunities to take reflection to a deeper and more critical level that could have helped participants make sense of their experiences and learning abroad. The study adds to the literature by (a) connecting study abroad outcomes to overarching goals of higher education in the 21st century; (b) advancing a conceptual model that combines King and Baxter Magolda’s developmental model of intercultural maturity with Baxter Magolda’s learning partnership model; and (c) by providing feedback for King and Baxter Magolda’s developmental model of intercultural maturity.