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International Study Tours and the Development of Sociocultural Consciousness in K-12 Teachers

This research study examined the long-term effects of a professional development study tour to Southeast Asia that took place in 2001. Participants included ten public school teachers from Western Massachusetts, which has a significant population of people of Vietnamese and Cambodian descent. Funded by a Fulbright-Hays Group Projects Abroad grant, the purpose of the study tour was to increase teacher awareness, knowledge and understanding of contemporary Southeast Asia so that they could more effectively address the educational needs of students representing diverse cultural backgrounds, particularly immigrant and refugee youth, through the development of culturally relevant curricula and lesson plans. From 2007 to 2009, this researcher conducted a series of phenomenological interviews with nine of the original participants to investigate more deeply how their personal and professional lives were impacted by the study tour experience. The decision to interview using a phenomenological approach was based on the belief that in order to more fully understand how and why individuals constructed meaning(s) from certain experiences, it was essential to have some contextual knowledge of that person's life, including those formative episodes that helped establish their original worldview. Analysis of study tour impact areas revealed areas of personal and professional growth particularly as it pertained to the development of sociocultural consciousness, cultural understanding, sensitivity and empathy towards students of diverse cultural backgrounds. Another finding was that the experience of being an "outsider" in another country provided the context for teachers to explore and critically reflect on issues related to their own social and cultural identities. Further analyses revealed that the overall impact of the study tour varied based on the participant's prior intercultural and life experiences. Participants with less experience and practical knowledge of issues of multiculturalism and identity were more likely than their counterparts to come away from the experience with more profound changes to their worldview. This study is theoretically grounded with research in multicultural education, experiential education, transformative learning, global education and study abroad.
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