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K. Oga

Hokkaido University of Education (JAPAN)
In today’s globalized world where most people are exposed to some form of intercultural interaction, schools often need to educate students with multicultural backgrounds. Educators are required to have global-mindedness and be interculturally competent so that they can prepare their students for communicating and working with people of different backgrounds in their future careers.

This study discusses a pilot project of the impact of participation in a two-month study abroad program on pre-service teachers’ development of intercultural competences. We examine how such a program, conducted in a monocultural country, is effective for developing these skills.

The two-month study abroad program conducted from September to November in 2017 was an optional program for students enrolled in a Bachelor of Education program at a university in an English-speaking, multicultural country. Six students participated in the program hosted by a university in Hokkaido, Japan. The program included learning Japanese, auditing university lectures at the host institution, school visits and volunteer teaching at local schools, and a homestay with host families. The program was different from other study abroad programs that prioritize language learning in that it was exclusively for students as pre-service teachers and there was no language requirement for participation. Five of the participants had no knowledge of Japanese when they arrived, and the communication among the participants, faculty and staff members at the host university, their host families, and teachers at schools was conducted mostly in English.

Given the lack of experience of Japanese learning before their arrival and the limited length of their stay, it was difficult to capture the participants’ development throughout the program by evaluating their Japanese language skills. Therefore, we needed to turn our focus to how they developed their intercultural competences. In order to evaluate the participants’ progress in intercultural competences, we conducted an Intercultural Readiness Check (IRC) twice: when the program began in September and when the program ended in November. IRC is a questionnaire for assessing people’s four intercultural competences: Intercultural Sensitivities, Intercultural Communication, Building Commitment, and Managing Uncertainty. The questionnaires were scored by the IRC Center and the results demonstrated that scores were in the 2 (low) to 8 (high) range on a nine-point scale for each competence. The six participants took the first IRC, and four of them took the second IRC.

From the first IRC, we found that the results of the six participants differ across individuals and competences. Each participant had high/advanced and low/intermediate competence(s). This suggests that even though all the participants were in the same age group and from the same multicultural country, their intercultural competences varied at the beginning of the program. That is, not all pre-service teachers who were raised in a culturally diverse country are equally interculturally competent.

During the conference, we will report the results of the four participants’ results of the second IRC, conducted in November 2017, and compare the first and second IRC to see how their intercultural competences changed during the program.