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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Transforming student perceptions: the Casa Guatemala experience Stewart, Jeffrey Todd


Teaching students to have a “global perspective” is one of the key aspects of global education. Curriculum used to develop such a perspective at the high school level rarely involves experiential cross-cultural programs which take students to the “Third World”. One such program, the Casa Guatemala Project in British Columbia’s Richmond School District, sends a small group of grade eleven and twelve students to Guatemala each year for two weeks to work at a childrens’ orphanage. This study looks at how the experience transforms the students’ perceptions of Guatemala, North America and themselves. This investigation focuses on the substance and dynamics of changes in the students’ perceptions using Mezirow’s (1991) theory of the transformative dimensions of adult learning. The research follows six students as they go through the program from September of 1992 to April of 1993. Semi-structured and open-ended interviews, student journals, researcher observations and available documentation suggest that the students’ perceptions and worldview are altered as a result of three key dynamics: a) conflict and dilemma, b) selective perception, and C) group dynamics and dialogue. When the students return to Canada they experience an intense period of alienation from their own community and society as they attempt to comprehend, assimilate and accommodate solutions to new understandings generated by the experience. The possible benefits of structured preparation and debriefing sessions are explored, as are implications for other experiential learning programs of a similar nature.

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