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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Narratives of student experience, reflection, and transformation in experiential, cross-cultural learning Tuffo, Kelly Marie


This study is an investigation of the process of experiential, cross-cultural learning. Through in-depth interviews, twelve U.S. undergraduate students discussed their experiences in semester-long experiential cultural immersion programs in non-industrialized countries approximately one year after returning home. They recounted their experiences and reflected on the ways in which these experiences led to personal transformation as a result of experiential, cross-cultural learning. The study also examined critical elements of this learning process and the conditions that led to an increase in the intensity of cultural immersion. Three main areas of the learning process were examined: 1) critical relationships developed during the time abroad that provided students with opportunities for cross-cultural dialogue and emotional support 2) critical incidents and crises that challenged students’ cultural values and meaning perspectives and created feelings of cultural marginality, and 3) consequent changes in students’ meaning perspectives resulting from their experiences and critical reflection. Theories of experiential learning, experiential, cross-cultural learning, and Mezirow’s (1991) theory of transformative learning form the theoretical framework for this thesis. This learning process is found to have significant formative and transformative effects on students. Some changes that students experienced included increased self-awareness, value clarification, improved levels of self-confidence, transformed meaning perspectives or world views, development of feelings of human and cultural reciprocity, and commitment to career goals. The analysis of this learning process of young adults leads to some modification of Mezirow’s theory. This study provides in-depth insight into the student viewpoint of the experiential, cross cultural learning process, and informs the larger field of study abroad in terms of the experiential dynamics of all cultural immersion programs. In addition, this study sheds light on the application of Mezirow’s transformation theory to the learning of young adults.

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