Turning Cross-Cultural Contact into Intercultural Learning

Milton J. Bennett, Ph.D.

“Turning cross-cultural contact into intercultural learning” (2012). Proceedings of the Universidad 2012 8th International Congress on Higher Education, The University forSustainable Development, Feb. 15, 2012, Havana, Cuba.

This topic addresses the central topic of the internationalization of higher education in the current international economic context facing neoliberal globalization. As institutions of higher education continue to internationalize, the number of exchanged students and professors climbs ever higher. Over a quarter of a million US higher education students were studying abroad in 2010/11, a 4% increase from 2009/10. The Erasmus program in Europe sponsors a similarly growing number of participants – 180,000 in 2009. Wherever they are able to do so, it appears that students are seeking international experience as part of their higher education program. The implicit and often explicit expectation by both students and sponsoring institutions is that study abroad generates educational value. But is this true? There never has been any compelling evidence that study abroad is superior to study at home in terms of the acquisition and comprehension of knowledge or concepts. Rather, educators have believed that having some kind of international experience was part of being “an educated person.” Central to that belief is the assumption that cross-cultural contact generates “international sophistication” that can be used by students in their subsequent lives and careers. However, increasing evidence shows that simple cross-cultural contact is not particularly valuable in itself. For the contact to acquire educational value, it must be prepared for, facilitated, and debriefed in particular ways. The paper summarizes the case for why intervention into educational exchange is necessary to change simple cross-cultural contact into intercultural learning.

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Turning Cross-Cultural Contact into Intercultural Learning


Milton J. Bennett