Background/Context: The article examines how international field experiences promote cross-cultural awareness in U.S. American preservice teachers through experiential learning. The findings presented here are based on a 6-year study of a short-term study abroad program in Honduras that included an international field experience component and took place from 2003 to 2008.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of the Study: This article examines questions that contribute to the field of teacher education and the effort to prepare future teachers for culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms as early as the preservice level. Several questions guide this study: How do international field experiences prepare preservice teachers to teach in diverse settings? How does experiential learning in an international context complicate preservice teachers’ cultural knowledge? What are the pedagogical implications of increased cultural awareness among preservice teachers for classroom practice? How do international field experiences open preservice teachers to future opportunities to explore and work in culturally diverse communities?
Participants and Setting: The current study presents a study of 49 preservice teachers from a Midwestern university enrolled in a short-term study abroad program to Honduras as part of an international field experience. During this field experience, students were placed in a local elementary or a secondary school, were enrolled in two required courses, visited rural and urban schools, and visited archeological sites.
Research Design: The qualitative collective case study employed data that included questionnaires, interviews, focus interviews, course assignments, discussions, journal reflections, and researchers’ observations and field notes. Analysis sought to triangulate findings from the multiple data sources for accuracy and reliability when reporting the findings.
Conclusions/ Recommendations: Findings from the study demonstrated that experiential learning in an international setting is key to developing preservice teachers’ cross-cultural awareness. Application of cross-cultural concepts during field experiences provided preservice teachers with theoretical understandings and practical applications for teaching culturally diverse students. Recommendations include international field placements for providing a unique and critical site for promoting cross-cultural awareness through experiential learning; more cross-cultural opportunities for preservice teachers that provoke questioning of conventional teaching and school knowledge; and international field experiences in diverse classrooms that promote preservice teachers’ understanding of themselves and how to teach culturally and linguistically diverse students.