The investigators employed a qualitative methodology for this study based upon phenomenological and grounded theory approaches (Age, 2011; Moustakas, 1994). Owning our interest in an indepth, richly detailed profile of participants’ perspectives of the lived experiences studying abroad, the theoretical framework worked well for grouping participants’ reflections into themes (as evidenced by the process-orientated analysis type selected). The
Qualitative Analysis of Experiences 135 investigators examined the ways that participants engaged in this experience, seeking insight into their developing global attitudes from both emerging professional and more general perspectives. Students’ daily journals were the primary data source that depicted emerging understandings reflexive of their daily experiences in Malawi (Moustakas, 1994; Matua & Van Der Wai, 2015).
The investigators engaged in a cyclical, ongoing process of collaboration and deliberation as outlined by Age (2011). Investigators began the cyclical process of data analysis with an “attitude of openness” (p. 1600), as we explored and discussed emerging concepts. Investigators then explored and discussed emerging concepts in cyclical rounds as well. The coding process occurred through five overlapping cycles. In the first cycle, each of three coders identified themes that appeared repeatedly through reading and rereading student participant journals. Emerging themes were documented, including code families of themes or constructs, plausible code names, code descriptions, illustrative quotations, related literature, and theoretical memos from each coder. Finally, the coders categorized, then refined, sub-themes through collaborative discussions until data analysis reached saturation. The investigators then began the theoretic writing process in which “all the details of the substantive theory are brought together in an overall conceptual description that is then integrated with |...| the extant literature on the subject” (Age, 2011, p. 1600). Because of multiple investigators and constant comparison, an audit trail was employed to ensure the trustworthiness of the outcomes (Guba & Lincoln, 1981).
Results and Discussion
Analyses revealed that working and being in Malawi helped teacher candidates understand the values and benefits of this international, educational experience. The data analysis addressed both research questions stated earlier in the background (purpose and significance) section of the chapter. Five overarching themes emerged in the saturation process: (a) othering, (b) communication and language, (c) disorienting/eye-opening experience, (d) similar/different cultural experiences, and (e) two-way learning experience. Investigators discuss each of these themes and include participant statements below. Pseudonyms used in this chapter ensure the confidentiality of study participants.
Students expressed an idealized impression of the country and people of Malawi, particularly during the first week of the study abroad experience. Comments such as “it’s like a dream” and references to movies, such as “The Lion King”, illustrated this theme. Woolf (2006) observed that study abroad participants sometimes view people from non-US cultures as exoticor romanticized; others support these findings. Participants themselves felt like “the other”, because of a lack of knowledge of social norms, as well as linguistic miscommunication.
Natalie, “1 remember looking outside at the Malawi airport and thinking that I had just landed in paradise. The people smelled like warm corn, and they smiled and helped me haul our luggage into the van”.
Beverly, “When we went to visit and tour the school it was like I had stepped into a story or movie”.
Melanie, “I don’t feel like I am in Africa. It’s like a picture. It is not what I expected... It was amazing”.
As they wrote about initial feelings and reactions to the immersion experience (e.g., grateful, compassion-filled, dissonant, and disoriented), teacher candidates described themselves as “outside” of the culture/people ofMalawi; revealing perceptions of being the “other” (Woolf, 2006). A common reaction of study abroad students visiting cultures vastly different in terms of disparities that vary from their own, is a desire to do something; they want to help or save those they have met and encountered. Some scholars refer to his attitude as the “White Savior Complex” (Cole, 2012; Machado, 2016). This way of thinking does not always cause one to stop and reflect on whether this desire to “help” would meet the needs of the people or community. Consequently, study abroad encounters can reinforce romanticizing, presuppositions, and prejudices rooted in privilege that lead to dispositions of othering (e.g., engaging as a spectator). While the teacher candidates started their stay in Malawi with this perception, the characterizations of their lived experiences and reflective discussion content with faculty, as well as with their peers, later begin to shift.