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Generally, it can be concluded that when defining the intercultural competence needed in teachers’ work, my research subjects were not talking so much about specific skills or knowledge but more about ‘a holistic way of thinking and acting’. It can thus be argued that for most of the teachers in my data, intercultural competence is, above all, an ethical philosophy that, at its best, can guide reflection and action.

5.2 Teachers’ intercultural learning as diverse, life-long processes

This chapter summarises the main findings on intercultural learning and discusses its nature, characteristics and some of the life experiences that seemed to be especially important for teachers’ intercultural learning on the basis of my empirical results.

A central finding concerning the nature of intercultural learning in this study is that teachers’ intercultural learning is a varied and multifaceted process. Three theoretical aspects to intercultural learning that were introduced in Chapters 2.4.1 to 2.4.3., rather than being mutually exclusive, offer various perspectives to intercultural learning and emphasize different aspects of that process. An individual’s learning process can be approached from various theoretical perspectives, but it is possible that a certain type of learning is more visible in a particular life story. Teachers’ intercultural learning can take place either formally or informally (article IV, p. 160;

article V).

In relation to transformative learning (see Chapter 2.4.1.), there are different types of culture shock experiences in various phases of the selected teachers’ lives.

The experiences of studying, living and working in developing countries particularly trigger powerful transformative learning processes. The culture shock not only took place in the foreign country, but upon returning to one’s home country, a person could also experience re-entry shock, especially when an individual’s world view had changed. These experiences prompted teachers to critically evaluate and reflect on their own values as well as those of their own culture and country. Re-entry shock could also include the feeling of being an outsider, if the experiences could not be shared with anyone or if others did not understand the meaning of these experiences (article IV, p. 154; article V, p. 14).

In considering the various types of reflection (reflection, critical reflection and critical self-reflection) that are part of the transformative learning process (Chapter 2.4.1. in this summary), on the basis of my results, all three types of reflection seem to take place in the data. I found it methodologically very challenging to evaluate critical self-reflection and whether or not the perspective transformation had indeed occurred, or when and how it happened, because people tell about their past experiences from a current perspective and their experience afterwards can be very different from what it was during the actual process of transformation. However, teachers’ stories on changes in their world view imply that critical self-reflection was also part of their intercultural learning process. Teachers talked a lot about the importance of becoming critically aware of one’s own assumptions and especially being aware of how their community and background had affected them and their ideas on diversity. They also described situations in their life when the new experiences could not be explained through their existing meaning perspective, which led to reflections on their taken-for-granted ideas. Teachers also analysed the many feelings (e.g., frustration, fear and relief) related to this transformation process (article III, p. 201; article IV, p. 151; article V, p. 14).

Taylor’s theory on transformative intercultural learning (Chapter 2.4.1.) clearly assumes that learning is triggered by moving to or staying in another country for an extended period of time. This was also the case in some of the stories in my research.

In addition to experiences in developing countries, other transformative experiences for teachers involved study as exchange students or living in a foreign country and culture during exchange studies. On the other hand, transformation processes also took place in other contexts such as teaching practices and other internships. Some of the teachers expressed that through their internship or practices, they found a new perspective on life and their studies and future career. Some teachers also said that certain study units had really made them aware of intercultural and global issues, and changed their whole way of thinking. For example, doing Master’s thesis could be a transformative experience, if studying a certain topic made a student of teaching change her conceptions and even values (article V, p. 9).

For some teachers in my data, moving from an education setting to a work environment was an experience that they described as a shock or a form of culture shock. The intercultural philosophy that was, at least to a certain extent, internalised during the education did not seem to be familiar to colleagues, and intercultural aspects could not be found in school practices at all. Some teachers felt that they were alone with their ideas since the supportive network that existed during their education had disappeared (article II, p. 77; article III, pp. 199–200; article IV, p.


While the transformative intercultural learning described in the previous chapter usually assumes that the learning process is triggered by a dilemma or crises, on the basis of the findings of this study, intercultural learning can also take place cumulatively, through many different kinds of life experiences without any major sudden changes in life. This was the most common pattern in my data in terms of how teachers described their intercultural learning. This was also the most common way in which teachers described their intercultural learning visually when I asked them to draw a picture of their learning process: they drew a path that included various life phases and experiences. In this type of learning, the lifelong aspect and the informality of learning were highlighted (article IV, p. 160; article V, pp. 10).

This type of everyday intercultural learning does not require big crises or turning points. When looking at intercultural learning from the perspective of an experiential, lifelong process in my data, intercultural experiences can be rather small and prosaic; they could, for example, come about through discussions with someone who has different religious beliefs or by reading someone’s biography. On the basis of my data, many of the intercultural experiences tend to be more informal than formal. Even during teacher education, informal experiences and discussions with other students and tutors outside ‘official’ learning situations were considered to be important. Moreover, during study abroad, various everyday life experiences, such as sharing an apartment with diverse people, were usually seen to be more significant for teachers’ intercultural learning than academic studies (article IV, p. 153). Considering the types of everyday intercultural learning (unconscious hidden learning, self-directed/goal oriented learning and learning by experience, see Chapter 2.4.2. in this summary), it is difficult to say much about the first type, because it is not possible to discuss something that is unconscious. However, there were examples in my data where teachers claimed that they had only realized the meaning of, for instance, certain childhood experiences later on, after studying those issues or reading about the issues during their education. The reflection process thus started or continued many years after the experience and changed the learning experience from being unconscious to conscious (article IV, p. 150; article V, p. 8).

Self-directed intercultural learning was visible in my data. This type of learning appeared as teachers’ willingness to live abroad (e.g., as an exchange student and au pair) to develop their intercultural competence, learn languages and make different kinds of friends and participate in volunteer work. These experiences seemed to particularly affect teachers’ intercultural knowledge and awareness, empathy and attitudes towards diversity. Some of the teachers had already gained these experiences before undergoing education, while others started to develop their intercultural competence more consciously or actively during or after teacher education (article IV, pp. 153–156; article V, pp. 10, 15, 18–19).

In addition to transformative and experiential cumulative process, it is important to examine intercultural learning through sociocultural lenses, as a process that is mostly affected by other people, culture and environment. Some of my research subjects could be described as third culture kids. For these teachers, it seemed that cultural diversity had never been an astonishing, strange or new thing as it had been for some of the other interviewed teachers, who had grown up in a so-called monocultural environment. Still, many of the interviewees emphasized that even though geographical and cultural environment play a role in intercultural learning, it is still the people around them who really affect their learning. Some teachers pointed out that although their living environment was multicultural (during childhood), their family more or less interacted with people from a relatively similar type of background. Being a third culture kid or having a multicultural background does not, thus, automatically lead to the development of intercultural competence and intercultural awareness (article V, p. 12). In intercultural encounters, we naturally learn through other people and with other people. The role of other people in teachers’ intercultural learning is discussed more in the next chapter.

5.3 The meaning of emotions and significant others in the process of teachers’ intercultural learning One finding of this research was the remarkable role of emotions in teachers’ intercultural learning processes. It seems that reflection not only takes place on a cognitive level (as assumed in early transformative theory) but that there is a strong link between reflection and emotions. Intercultural experiences are often charged with strong feelings, such as excitement, dissatisfaction, fear, anger, joy, insecurity and so on, which are significant triggers of critical reflection. It can also be the case that it is relatively easy to reflect and reason or be aware of something on a cognitive level, but if our emotions do not change, it is very likely that our actions will not change either. Cognitive reflections are thus insufficient without recognizing one’s emotional states.

It was usually other people who triggered these strong emotions in teachers’ intercultural learning processes. This links intercultural learning clearly to the area of sociocultural learning (Chapter 2.4.3 in this summary). I will now turn to discuss what kind of role significant others played on teachers’ intercultural learning on the basis of this research. A significant other refers to the person who has somehow affected my research subject – changed her perspectives, thinking or action. A significant other is someone who has challenged the teacher to think differently and has usually prompted rather strong feelings, such as inspiration, love, disappointment, confusion or even anger, in the teacher. A significant other can also be someone who has been there when the teacher needed support or care. Finally, a significant other might be a role model (article IV, p. 149). In their life stories, teachers naturally mentioned numerous people who had affected their intercultural learning in one way or another. People who were chosen to be part of the teachers’ life stories included family members, relatives, their own partner (in some of the stories the partner was someone from another culture), teachers, tutors, friends, study mates, colleagues, their own children, their own students and so on. In many cases, these groups also form an important community of practice (Chapter 2.3.5 in this summary) that clearly share some common aims, are learning from each other and are constructing meanings together.

One meaning that was given to significant others in my study was their role in transforming attitudes towards diversity. Primary socialization naturally plays an important role in attitude formation. When we learn about diversity, we are guided by those paradigms and interpretations that the environment offers us. This was also clear in my study. Most of the teachers pointed out that their interest in other cultures and general openness towards diversity originated from the values and ideas of their childhood environments, often family members. On the other hand, some of the teachers articulated that when they learned to understand diversity and intercultural issues better, they realized that some of their parents’ attitudes towards, for example, certain minority groups were actually one-sided and even stigmatizing (article IV, p. 150).

The emotions that were involved in that process of transforming attitudes towards diversity were varied. There were a lot of positive emotions such as joy and happiness that ensued from becoming friends or even falling in love with someone from a different culture or background. There were lot of stories describing mutual learning and new ideas and experiences that these friendships brought to my research subjects’ lives (article IV, p. 154; article V, p. 17). In addition to friendships, multicultural and diverse work communities were viewed as a source of inspiration and support that truly enabled real collaborative learning and made everyone’s work easier (article V, p. 16). The teachers’ own students were also seen as an important source of everyday intercultural learning (article III, pp. 189–199;

article IV, p. 159; article V, pp. 9–10). The emphasis in many of the stories on intercultural relationships was that the different ethnic or national culture is not such a big issue after all. Rather, it is the characteristics, common interests, shared values or belonging to the same subcultures that have caused two people to become friends or to fall in love with each other.

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