K. Oga

Hokkaido University of Education (JAPAN)
This study reports how participation in a two-month study abroad program impacts on pre-service teachers’ development of intercultural competences. We examine whether such a program, conducted in a monocultural country, is effective for developing these skills.

The two-month study abroad program conducted in 2018 was an optional program for students who were 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 Japan. The program consisted of learning Japanese, auditing university lectures, school visits and volunteer teaching at local schools, and a homestay with host families. The program differed from other study abroad programs for language learning in that it was for students as pre-service teachers and there was no language requirement for participation. 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 fact that it was difficult to capture the participants’ development throughout the program by evaluating their Japanese language skills, we focused on their development in their intercultural competences.

We evaluated the participants’ progress in intercultural competences by conducting Intercultural Readiness Check (IRC) twice: when the program began in September and when the program ended in November. IRC is a questionnaire that assesses 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 1 (low) to 9 (high) range on a nine-point scale for each competence.

From the first IRC, we found that the results of the six participants differed across individuals and competences. Each participant had high/advanced and low/intermediate competence(s). This suggests that even though all the participants were raised in the same multicultural country and were in the same age group, their intercultural competences varied at the beginning of the program.

By comparing the first and second IRCs, we found that four out of the six participants experienced decrease(s) in the scores and that one of the two participants who did not experience a decrease did not show much development in the four intercultural competences, remaining in the lower range in the second IRC. These surprising results show that participation in a study abroad program cannot guarantee the development of the intercultural competencies, especially in the short term. Although they were pleased and satisfied with the program as a whole, some of them reported difficulties they experienced in communicating with people and working with teachers during volunteer teaching at local schools in their post-program questionnaires. These negative experiences may have made them lose their confidence in their intercultural competences.

In order to turn negative experiences into positive ones in the long run, we claim that it is important for program coordinators to provide participants with a post-program opportunity to reflect, digest, and share their experiences with their fellow participants and those who also participated in a study abroad program of the same kind in other countries.