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There are studies that view intercultural learning as a process that occurs when a person moves to another country to live, study or work to for a considerable period of time (Bennett, 1993, 2009; Landis & Bennett, 2004; Taylor, 1994). In these approaches, cultural differences are highlighted and culture shock has been considered to be a significant trigger for intercultural learning. The early studies on culture shock tended to highlight the negative aspects of exposure to another culture ( Furnham & Bochner, 1994; Marx 1999). The adaptation process was seen to be characterised by strong mental and physical reactions and there was a strong clinical orientation in these early culture shock studies (Ward, Bocher & Furham, 2001, p. 36). Later on, the researchers started to question the assumption that crosscultural contact is so stressful as to necessiate medical treatment (Zhou, JindalSnape, Topping & Todman, 2008, p. 64). The new perspective emphasised culture shock as a dynamic learning experience: people are not passive victims but they are actively responding to and resolving problems stemming from change (Ibid., p. 65). Thus, culture shock can be a positive experience; it sensitises an individual to the new environment, evokes enthusiasm and increases motivation to cope with the situation (Berry, 1990; Salakka, 2005). Intercultural learning theorists naturally approach culture shock as a possibility for learning, although the process may include crises. Furthermore, they emphasise the importance of preparations and orientations to a new cultural experience, as well as possibility to reflect one’s own feelings during and after the change.

One of the most referred to models of intercultural learning is Milton Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (Bennett, 1993; also Landis & Bennett, 2004). The basic assumption of this model is that intercultural sensitivity can be developed through intercultural experiences, the trigger being the cultural differences that we encounter. There are six different stages in Bennett’s model and the idea is that through different experiences, training and support, a person gradually moves from ethnocentric to ethnorelative stages when encountering cultural differences.

There are also studies in the area of intercultural learning that focus on the impact of rather short-term pedagogical interventions on students’ intercultural learning such as study units, web-courses (or other types of information technology uses), exchange studies and internships (e.g., Helm, 2009; Jackson, 2009; Munro, 2007;

Pelkonen, 2005; Chaput, O’Sullivan & Arnold 2010; Teräs, 2009). Intercultural learning has also been discussed from the perspective of second language education when the focus has been on the cultural dimension of communication (e.g., Atay, 2005; Byram & Grundy, 2003; Kohonen & al., 2001).

In my study, intercultural learning is seen from a bit different perspective as during the research process I have started to consider it to be a process that may already begin during childhood and continue throughout life. Both long- and shortterm cultural experiences as well as language learning play an important role in this process, but intercultural learning also includes other kinds of experiences.

The assumption in this study is that intercultural learning can take place in formal, informal and non-formal settings and that it can be planned or incidental.

Incidental learning is understood as learning that takes place as a by-product of some other activity, such as interpersonal interaction (Marsick & Watkins, 2001).

In intercultural interactions, this kind of learning is typical: when interacting with diverse people, we often unconsciously learn about various types of verbal and nonverbal communication, for example. According to Marsick and Watkins (2001), incidental learning takes place everywhere, but people are not always conscious of it, while informal learning is usually intentional though not highly structured.

Informal and incidental learning are often the result of a significant unplanned or unexpected event.

In the following chapters, various learning theories (transformative, experiential and sociocultural) are discussed as approaches that illuminate the different dimensions of intercultural learning. Although intercultural learning has mostly been situated in the context of adult learning, in my research, I study intercultural learning as a process that may already begin during childhood.

2.4.1 Intercultural learning as transformative process

When we learn, our knowledge, skills or attitudes change in one way or another.

According to Kegan (2000), transformative learning not only changes what we know, it also changes how we know. Through transformative learning, people start to see phenomena and the world differently; they become critically aware of their own tacit assumptions and expectations and those of others, and assess their relevance in coming up with an interpretation (Mezirow, 2000, p. 4). Similarly, in intercultural learning as well, the central idea is that we start to see ourselves, our lives and the world differently than before.

Taylor (1994, 1998, 2007) is among the few researchers who have clearly related intercultural learning to a learning theory that attempts to describe what happens in that process, and he has placed it within the framework of transformative learning (Mezirow, 1991, 2000, 2009). Transformative learning theory has been developed mainly in the context of adult education and it explains how acquired meaning structures (i.e., beliefs, attitudes and emotional reactions) are transformed during a lifetime. These meaning structures are frames of reference that are based on the entirety of an individual’s cultural and contextual experiences and they influence how one behaves and interprets events (Mezirow, 2009; Taylor, 1998; see also Salakka, 2005).

According to Mezirow, a certain ‘precondition for change’ is needed for perspective transformation. Mezirow refers to the ‘disorienting dilemma’ as a catalyst for learning during a life crisis or a significant transition in life (Mezirow, 1995a, p. 50). In intercultural learning, culture shock could be considered as one such crisis. When this precondition for change takes place in peoples’ lives, in order to change their meaning structures, learners must engage in critical reflection on their experiences, which, in turn, leads to a transformation of perspective (Mezirow, p. 1991, p. 167). Mezirow has divided the reflection of transformative experiences into three categories: reflection, critical reflection and critical selfreflection. While reflection makes one conscious of one’s own ways of perceiving, thinking and experiencing different situations, critical reflection goes further to the validity testing of these premises, their sources and consequences. Critical selfreflection includes the evaluation of one’s meaning perspectives and the ways of questioning them (Jokikokko, Lamminmäki-Kärkkäinen, & Räsänen, 2004, p. 334;

Mezirow, 1995b, p. 46).

Perspective transformation is thus the process of becoming critically aware of how and why our assumptions have come to guide the way we perceive, understand and feel about the world. In intercultural learning, this process of becoming critically aware of our assumptions, and especially aware of how our community and background have affected us, is considered to be essential in order to understand and appreciate other cultures, to take on perspectives and to look at issues through another person’s eyes (Andreotti & Souza, 2008; Bredella, 2003, p.

39; Bennett 1995, p. 261; Noel, 1995, pp. 269–270).

Freire (1972, 2000) can also be considered an advocate of transformative learning. For him, the focus in transformative learning is social justice, and the transformation process should not only take place in an individual, but also on a societal level. Both Freire and Mezirow agree that adult education should lead to emancipation (Braumgartner, 2001). For Freire, emancipation means learning new perspectives through consciousness-raising (conscientization) that helps people act to transform their own life and society (Freire, 2000). For Mezirow (1990, p. 14), emancipation means a ‘more inclusive, permeable, and integrative perspective’ in one’s own life achieved through the critical self-reflection described earlier.

When looking at intercultural learning from the perspective of transformative theory, it starts with a disorienting dilemma when people interact with other people or cultural settings that are somehow unfamiliar to them. According to Taylor (1994), what is happening to ‘a stranger’ in the initial phases of the intercultural experience is that his or her new cultural experiences cannot be explained in light of his or her pre-established meaning schemes and meaning perspectives. These experiences are even more difficult to comprehend if individuals are unaware of how their perspectives have been shaped by factors of their own culture and are constraining their understanding of the new culture. At this point, ‘a stranger’ is attempting to make sense of his or her experience and is going through a phase of ‘self-examination with feelings of guilt or shame’ (Mezirow, 1991, p. 168). As intercultural events continue to unfold, the process of critical reflection begins, which is essential to perspective transformation, whereby people begin to challenge personal constructs built on prior experiences and knowledge. It is essential for people to develop a broader world view. Not only must they become aware of their long-standing and taken-for-granted meaning perspective (cultural and personal constructs), but they must also question their very validity through critical reflection. In addition, a person must begin the questioning of personal and social ideologies (Taylor, 1994, p. 402). As Taylor points out (Taylor, p. 403), critical reflection alone will not lead to a perspective transformation. Transformation needs to take place in conjunction with action and discourse. A person needs to explore and experiment with new roles in new intercultural situations and be in dialogue with others.

An important question is: what conditions are needed in order for critical reflection to begin? Some people are unwilling or unable to view culture shock as a learning opportunity or to conduct ongoing discourse with other people. In educational settings, transformative, intercultural learning and reflection can be encouraged but in informal learning situations, the reflection process is not necessarily supported. The conditions required for critical reflection to take place are discussed more in Chapter 6.3. of this summary.

Mezirow’s transformative learning theory has been claimed to be too individualistic and cognitive centred and that it ignores the affective, emotional and social aspects of the learning process (Braumgartner, 2001; Taylor, 1998, 2007). However, in his recent work (2000, 2009), Mezirow has acknowledged the importance of feelings and social context in meaning-making processes. Mezirow (2000) has redefined his idea of transformative learning by stating that ‘learning occurs in the real world in complex institutional, interpersonal and historical settings and must be understood in the cultural orientations embodied in our frames of reference’ (p. 24, see also Mälkki & Lindblom-Ylänne, in press). Institutional, interpersonal and sociocultural settings as well as feelings are also important in the process of teachers’ intercultural learning as explained in Chapter 5.2. of this summary.

Furthermore, in different studies that have discussed transformative learning in various contexts (Taylor, 1998, 2000), it has been argued that transformative learning is not as linear of a process as Mezirow originally conceptualised it, but that it can be fluid and recursive. Taylor (2000, p. 300) also points out that the disorienting dilemma, which was originally conceptualised as a single, dramatic event, may actually be a ‘long cumulative process’. This is also something that my research on teachers’ intercultural learning strongly supports: it is more often a cumulative series of incidents rather than a single event that promotes intercultural learning. This is discussed more in Chapter 5.2. of this summary.

2.4.2 Intercultural learning as experiential process

Learning by experience is a very broad concept that includes different types of theoretical starting points. The roots of experiential learning originate from various fields of education: Dewey’s progressive pedagogy (Dewey, 1958, 1960), Piaget’s developmental cognitive psychology (Flavell, 1970) and Lewin’s social psychology (Lewin, 1951) are some of the most significant theories contributed to the experiential learning. Later on, e.g. Kolb (1984) and Jarvis (1987) have developed the theory of experiential learning further. Kolb has constructed his wellknown model of experiential learning on the basis of the work of Piaget, Dewey and Lewin (Kolb, 1984, pp. 21–24). Although Kolb’s model has been criticised (Jarvis 1987; Tennant, 1997) it is still found in many of the studies in the area of adult education as well as life-long learning and informal education.

According to Tuomisto (1998), learning by experience takes place at home, in our spare time, at work and through other societal actions. In institutional contexts, the term ‘experiential learning’ is used to refer to a wide range of educational approaches in which formal learning is integrated with practical work and informal learning in a number of settings (Kohonen & al., 2001, p. 23). Learning by experience is a natural part of intercultural learning as certain types of intercultural experiences are always needed in that process. According to Kolb (1986), experience can be defined as acquiring knowledge and skills followed by direct participation in a certain action or situation. Kolb’s idea of experiential learning includes many elements that are similar to Mezirow’s model, such as the significance of reflection and that the learning begins with some sort of trigger. However, in Kolb’s model, this trigger can be ‘a daily’ experience, not just major life crises. For Kolb, the assumed starting point for experiential learning is experience as such, while in transformative learning it is usually assumed that reflection (and learning) requires some sort of disturbance or crisis (see Mälkki & Lindblom-Ylänne in press).

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