International study visits and the promotion of intercultural capabilities: an exploratory study
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Internationalisation is high on the agenda of Higher Education in the UK, with the promotion of the students’ intercultural capabilities seen as key for their future careers and lives as global citizens. Within this agenda international study visits are considered beneficial for student teachers, giving those with limited exposure to cultural diversity an opportunity to learn first-hand about education in other countries. Taking a postmodern approach and using Facet Methodology, the research investigated the extent to which the pattern of study visits in a School of Education in a University in the South West of England was conducive to promoting the intercultural capabilities of the participants. Drawing on perspectives from Bourdieu and postcolonial theory, analysis of the University policies on Internationalisation and Teaching and Learning revealed a variety of positions towards international study visits and interviews with Associate Deans of a Faculty explored how far these were being manifested for the different professional disciplines of Education, Health and Social Care. The perspectives, views and attitudes of the student and tutor participants on a range of study visits were then captured through focus groups, interviews and writing frames. The study found that neither the students nor the tutors showed an awareness of the nature and importance of intercultural capabilities and therefore the approaches to study visits were patchy in developing them. It suggests that though such visits can be beneficial in promoting such capabilities in the participants, they will only do so consistently if there is in place a transformational pedagogy, informed by postcolonial theory, and implemented by knowledgeable tutors. This approach would include a planned programme of pre-trip, in-trip and post-trip activities encouraging reflection upon experiences, whether positive or disturbing, based upon an explicit contract with students to engage in intercultural learning as a central aspect of the visit.
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