Leading International Teaching Experiences: Negotiating Tensions, Contradictions and Discontinuities

Introduction

Intercultural competence is recognised as an important element underpinning the ability to live well in a globalised world. Along with the closely related term — multiculturalism — intercultural competence has become an established term in the education landscape of many countries, and is a matter of ongoing consideration and goal setting for higher education institutions. One popular way to develop intercultural competence amongst students is through international experiences. Such experiences encompass short stay mobility programmes of 2—5 weeks that frequently include practi-cum opportunities, and longer study abroad programmes of one semester duration or more where the focus is on course work in an overseas institution. In teacher education, a growing body of literature has investigated the affordances and limitations of international experience programmes in developing intercultural sensitivity and competence amongst pre- and in-service teachers (e.g. Alfaro & Quezada, 2010; Dantas, 2007; Parr & Chan, 2015; Santoro & Major, 2012). It is generally agreed in the literature that international teaching experiences require careful planning, and should incorporate a theoretically grounded and credit-bearing academic programme, adequate preparation, and supported critical reflection during the experience in order to fully exploit their transformative potential (Buchanan, Major, Harbon & Kearney, 2017; Dehmel, Li & Sloane, 2011; Stephan & Stephan, 2013).

While there is a significant body of research about the impact of study abroad and international experiences on students’ intercultural competence, there is very little that explores the experiences of academics who lead international experiences, or that considers the intercultural competencies they need to do this effectively. There seems to be an assumption that academics who choose to lead international experiences already have the requisite understandings and skills to successfully guide students towards deeper intercul-tural understandings and competence.

This chapter addresses this gap in the literature by reporting a project where the authors (all teacher educators) engaged in critically reflective work to explore their experiences as programme leaders for three international teaching experiences for student teachers from Charles Sturt University (CSU), a large regional university in New South Wales, Australia. The authors supervised international teaching experiences in Cambodia and the Solomon Islands (Jae), Vanuatu (Jenni), and Samoa (Matt) between 2011 and 2016. The key questions that guided this project are: What are the experiences of teacher educators who lead short-term international mobility programmes? What intercultural skills and competencies do teacher educators need to effectively facilitate such programmes?

The drive for internationalisation across the higher education sector is reflected in CSU’s commitment to broaden opportunities for students to experience and engage in and with other cultures. To this end, CSU has progressively developed a suite of international programmes for exchange, study or professional experience. Financial encouragement through travel scholarships is available for interested students so they may gain ‘international exposure and a competitive edge in the graduate market’ (CSU Global, 2016). Becoming an academic leader of an international experience at CSU is achieved by submitting an expression of interest to the faculty unit responsible for organising each experience. Factors that determine selection to lead an international programme include previous experience of travelling and living in diverse cultures, understanding of intercultural competence and diversity, ability to supervise teaching practice, and research connected to the programme.

In the next section, we summarise the literature related to faculty experiences of international mobility programmes. Then we outline key understandings of intercultural competence and critical reflection which underpin our understandings about the development of intercultural competence, before describing the design of the project and the processes of critical reflection used in data analysis. Findings are presented as narratives organised around three main themes that emerged from the data: international experiences as inherently contradictory, inter and intra-cultural competence, and personal challenges. From these narratives we discuss and elaborate Academic Intercultural Competencies identified by Kidman, Lang and Cacciattolo (2017) as necessary to effectively work with student teachers during international experiences.

 
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