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With a mandate from the US Department of Education to train future teachers to be culturally sensitive to students from diverse backgrounds, colleges of education are turning to study/teaching abroad programs as one means of helping future teachers develop more cultural awareness/sensitivity. This study explores whether pre-service teachers experiences in one teaching abroad program in Taiwan has helped to foster cultural awareness.
A grounded theory methodology was used in order to establish a theory of becoming culturally aware as perceived by the pre-service teachers themselves. Primary data came from focus groups and interviews with secondary data from classroom observations, and student evaluations. All of the pre-service teachers taught English for eight weeks in local Taiwanese schools and lived with Taiwanese families.
Common experiences that led the pre-service teachers to perceive of themselves as becoming culturally aware emerged from the data. Initial reactions to being immersed in a culture foreign to them were negative. Feelings of being different, sensing vulnerability, and being unable to communicate effectively emerged. Participants developed frustration, questioned their effectiveness as instructors and felt a lack of support from the program directors. Excessive tiredness due to an influx of new stimuli and a strong desire to hold on to something familiar also emerged. From this initial period of frustration, participants described having more empathy towards their students in Taiwan and students in general. A further common experience was an increase in pedagogical creativity as the pre-service teachers adapted their lessons to fit the needs of their Taiwanese students. A theory for how these experiences interplay to lead to cultural awareness for pre-service teachers was developed.
Colleges of education should continue to encourage pre-service teachers to participate in teaching (study) abroad programs, especially if they require immersion. Priority should be given to sending pre-service teachers to cultures that are vastly different than their own. Recommendations for further study include examining whether the pre-service teachers in the study demonstrate cultural awareness in their classrooms after beginning their teaching careers and doing further studies that examine immersive teaching abroad programs and their impact on creating culturally aware teachers.