Learning activities for use with the Interculture Project Database: Students' Accounts of Residence Abroad

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Adapting the activity

There are various ways of running this activity, depending on the context, time available and resources.

The activities can be made country-specific or general, depending on the make-up of the group. 

Depending on your particular circumstances, a more focused list of topics could also be produced.  For instance, a leaflet could be produced relating to strategies for succeeding in a given work placement, as an assistant or as a university student.  Or in a teaching situation focusing on language, a leaflet could be produced relating to strategies for successful intercultural communication.

If returnees and outgoing students are brought together for this activity, the returnees can comment on the advice generated by working with the database.  Do they agree with the advice or not?  What sorts of successful and unsuccessful intercultural experiences did they undergo, and how did they deal with them?  What sort of advice did they wish they had been given before they went away?  What advice were they given which was misleading?

Similar questions can be addressed from a slightly different perspective if home students and overseas students work together on the activity.  What strategies have overseas students found to be successful and unsuccessful in intercultural encounter in Britain?

Fictional Diary

Asking students to produce creative writing pieces based on the database can help them to develop skills of putting themselves in someone else's position, and imagining what experiences they might have.  This activity combines reflection on the self with research about others' experiences.  By drawing on their previous knowledge about their responses, they are helped to see their previous experience as a resource which they might draw on during the period of residence abroad.  It can be used with students who are going to be asked to keep a diary of their time away.

1.  Students are asked to reflect on experiences which they have had in the past which bear similarities to their period of residence abroad.  For example, coming to university is an experience in which students need to learn to integrate into a different culture, and may involve leaving home.  What did they find easy or difficult about that experience?  What strategies were successful and unsuccessful?  What does this teach them about the way they respond to intercultural experiences?  Can they detect patterns of similarity in their response to events?

2.  Students are introduced to the diaries in the database.  (The diaries can be read in their entirety by searching under any topic; selecting an entry from a diary; jumping to 'beginning of sequence'; and reading through, either one text unit at a time or by using 'This text in context'.)  They are given time to read through a few diaries.  What changes do students write about?  Are their responses to situations different at different times?  What factors influence the ways in which they respond to events?

3.  Students write fictional diary entries, drawing on the information in the database and what they have discovered through reflecting on their usual patterns of response.  These can be for different times in their stay:

on arrival
two weeks after arriving
three months after arriving
just before going home.

Or they can write about events or emotional responses that might occur during their stay, such as:

feeling homesick

feeling euphoric

meeting someone new

feeling lonely

trying a new activity

having an argument

having problems communicating

making linguistic progress

4.  Students share their entries.  Have they written about similar or different issues?  Do they think they would find it useful to keep a diary while away?  What are the advantages of writing about their experience?  What have they learned about how they respond to events?

Intercultural Incidents

'Critical incidents' have been used for a long time in intercultural education and training.  Instead of offering a finite set of incidents to work with, the SARA database can be used as a resource on the basis of which students generate intercultural incidents which can be exploited in various ways.  This can open a space for discussion of the multiple possible interpretations of incidents which students report as being problematic.  Students can be introduced to the idea that reflection on problematic incidents can both offer new interpretations, and help them to develop strategies for repair.

1.  Students are introduced to the concept of the 'intercultural incident'.  This is an incident which involves people from different cultures and is experienced as being problematic in some way.  The reasons for the problems are not expressed in the incident, which is written without causal explanations.  Examples of intercultural incidents produced by the project can be found on the ICP website.

2.  Students are split into pairs or groups and asked to find extracts of the data which can be used as the basis for writing new intercultural incidents.  Each group can be given a different topic to research.  These topics could be related to the structure of the database.  For example, searching under the 'What was the culture like? Aspects of society' head in the database generates data on dress, greeting, eating and drinking, time, hygiene, minority groups, religion, gender relations, family, politics, shopping and humour, each of which could be the theme for one or more intercultural incidents.  Each pair or group then writes an incident, based on extracts from the database.

3.  These incidents can then be exploited in various ways.

Discussion of the incident.  What interpretation of the incident could account for the problems?  How could they have been avoided?  How was the incident interpreted by the student(s) involved?  How was it interpreted by the host culture member(s) involved?  What other interpretations are possible?

Dramatisation of the incident.  Students act out the incident, one taking on the role of the student involved, others the role of the host culture member(s), and others the role of a neutral observer.  Each then puts forward their interpretation of the situation, discussing the reasons for the difficulties experienced, ways in which these difficulties could have been avoided, and ways to 

Work with host culture members.  In a situation where students can work together with representatives from the host culture, they can discuss their interpretations of the incident.  How would the host culture members have interpreted the interaction?  Are there disagreements between host culture members?  What can they suggest as strategies for repair in a similar situation?  How could the problems have been avoided?

Work with returnees.  Returnees can offer their own perspective on the interpretations of the incident.  They can also share their experiences of similar incidents, strategies for repair and the longer-term effects (if any) of such incidents on their relationships.

Rewriting the incidents.  Students rewrite the incidents from the point of view and in the voice of the different agents concerned: the student, the host culture member.

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