Cross-Cultural Engagement: Avoiding the Tourist Trap
Students studying abroad can easily fall into the trap of superficial sightseeing instead of true cross-cultural engagement. To help them process their learning, they complete two "bookend" assignments that lend themselves to progressive analysis of the culture and to development of a deeper understanding of underlying beliefs and mores.
The first assignment, completed before leaving for the host country, consists of a series of introspective questions designed to help students begin to recognize aspects of culture and cultural difference they may never have been aware of.
While abroad, students continue the learning process, both formally, during classes and excursions, and informally, with host families and friends. However, until the second paper assignment most have not taken the time to really reflect upon and analyze their experience abroad.
The final assignment requires students to review their initial responses and reflect on how their perceptions may have changed. Then they are told to try to see the host country through the eyes of a native and explain it to an American. They must discuss the beliefs and values that are important in the host country and explain how those beliefs are made manifest in products, people, and social practices, using concrete examples. The assignment prompts students to recognize that concrete illustrations of culture are physical manifestations of beliefs and values.
Keywords: Cross-Cultural Engagement, Study Abroad
Dr. Cynthia Slagter
Associate Professor, Spanish Department, Calvin College