A Catalyst for Learning or Reinforcement of Inequities: Using a Critical Hope Lens to Understand the Potential and Limitations of Short-Term Study Abroad in Fostering Students’ Ability to Effectively Interact Across Differences
Gudrun Nyunt https://orcid.org/0000-0002-6338-4270
Mac Benavides https://orcid.org/0000-0003-2828-1644
Date of this Version
Published in Journal of Diversity in Higher Education, 2022.
Study abroad is often hailed as a unique and important learning experience that fosters students’ ability to engage in effective and appropriate interactions in a variety of cultural contexts. Scholars, however, have not only questioned the learning that occurs in study abroad but have also highlighted problematic aspects such as the potential miseducation of participants and harm to host communities, particularly for short-term study abroad (STSA) experiences. Utilizing the lens of critical hope, the purpose of this study was to critically assess the potential of STSA in fostering cross-cultural learning, while also examining its limitations and potential harm. Based on interviews with 18 participants 1 and 2 years after their STSA, we found STSA has the potential to be a catalyst for learning and growth related to the attitudes, knowledge, and skills needed for effective cross-cultural interactions. However, when participants approached STSA with a colonial attitude and failed to connect learning to cross-cultural experiences after STSA, that learning was minimal and STSA reinforced ethnocentric viewpoints. Participants’ race and ethnicity shaped their learning. Black, Indigenous, and People of Color participants who had positive experiences abroad felt inspired by STSA to seek out additional cross-cultural interactions, which led to further growth. The white participants who experienced more growth had passions and interests related to cultural learning prior to STSA and engaged in meaningful cross-cultural experiences after STSA. In our Implications section, we discuss ways to maximize the potential of STSA to foster cross-cultural learning and serve as a catalyst for social change.