Culturally Responsive Pedagogy: The Role of International Field Experiences

by Emily Liebtag

While the student population grows increasingly more diverse, the pre-service population is becoming more homogenous, creating a cultural mismatch between teachers and the students they teach.  One challenge for teacher preparation programs arising from this mismatch is to facilitate intercultural sensitivity and learning among prospective teachers (Causey, Thomas, & Armento, 2000). International student teaching programs are a potential solution for the mismatch of teacher and student cultures and provide an opportunity for pre-service teachers' to experience cultures outside of their own (Blair, 2002).

International student teaching programs provide an opportunity for pre-service teachers to experience cultures outside of their own (Blair, 2002) and develop some of the skills necessary to teach diverse learners. Unfortunately, less than 5% of education majors are getting exposure to people or cultures unlike their own through an international experience (education majors ranked eighth on a list of 12 of the most popular majors according to the 2013 Open Doors Report). Those that have participated in an international field experience over the past 30 years, however, have consistently indicated that the experience helped them increase awareness and develop cultural skills to teach diverse learners (Stachowski & Sparks, 2007; Sleeter, 2001).  The GTE site provides other resource on impacts of international field experiences - including a summary of research on international field experiences in an annotated bibliography and a literature review of the impact of international field placements on pre-service teachers.  This purpose of this article is to review findings from select research that is directly related to how international student teaching helps to develop the awareness and skills most closely linked to culturally relevant pedagogy, an area not widely explored to date


Culturally responsive teachers are effective at cross-cultural communication and at establishing meaningful relationships with their students, because they are aware of the aspect of culture and the role it plays in the classroom (Gay, 2002). This awareness is at the crux of what it means to be interculturally competent.

A common goal of placing pre-service teachers in diverse classrooms for field experiences is to provide them a chance to learn and teach in a setting that may be unfamiliar for them, with the assumption that teachers will develop a deeper understanding of themselves and their own cultural beliefs (Malewski, Sharma, & Phillion, 2012). This is essential, because teachers bring their own beliefs, values, attitudes, assumptions, and influences into the classroom that may inhibit them from seeing the true needs of diverse students.  In their 6 year collective case study of 49 pre-service teachers who completed a student teaching experience in Honduras, researchers found participants felt their international experience led them to better understand how unprepared they actually were to teach in a diverse setting and helped them to develop their ability to understand learners from different backgrounds (Malewski et al., 2012). This cultural disequilibrium and unfamiliarity, caused by being in an international setting, is notably heightened when teachers study abroad and there is greater possibility pre-service teachers will realize their cultural unconsciousness and how that can influence their understandings and perceptions (Hammer & Bennett, 1998).

In a study of 60 pre-service teachers by Laura Stachowski and Edward Brantmeier (2002) (30 were overseas and 30 on a Navajo reservation), participants reported over 278 changes in perceptions about participants’ “home culture” at the end of their cross-cultural student teaching experiences. Many had never thought about their own culture and were challenged to think about how their home culture impacted their experiences and encounters with their host families. These examples highlight how international experiences can develop an increased awareness of owns own cultural perceptions as well as attentiveness to others.


Jennifer Mahon and Kenneth Cushner (2002, 2007) have found that international student teachers have shown an increase in skills that are key to culturally responsive teachers, including understanding pedagogical approaches and educational philosophies as well as intercultural sensitivity skills. On numerous occasions, Stachowski has presented her research on the international student teaching placements she has coordinated as the Director of the Global Gateway for Teachers program (formerly the Cultural Immersion Projects) (Stachowski & Sparks, 2007). She has reported that when surveyed, former participants stated they developed leadership, public speaking, cross-cultural communication, and problem-solving skills as a result of their international teaching experiences. Her work adds to the growing body of literature – including a recent blog by GTE’s Executive Director – that supports pre-service teachers begin to develop global competency skills when they have meaningful experiences abroad or are pushed outside of their cultural comfort zone.

In another study by of 66 students who completed an overseas experience in 2004-2005, participants noted the following changes: being more savvy travelers, ability to work with more colleagues, increased skill developing classrom resources, ability to determine their own strengthns and weaknesses, and a greater appreciation of multiple perspectives (Stachowski, Bodle, & Morrin, 2008).

Intercultural Competence as a Gateway to Culturally Relevant Pedagogy

In sum, many pre-service teachers' who complete an international experience benefit from gains in their level of intercultural competence. More specifically, research has shown a heightened level of awareness in pre-service teachers about their cultural backgrounds and biases. This awareness is a key characteristic in being an effective culturally responsive teacher. In addition, pre-service teachers' who have completed an international experience have shown and demonstrated growth in intercultural competence skills; such as the ability to interact and communicate with people of different cultures.  While an additional body of research exists that may also support the importance of international field experiences in providing pre-service teachers the opportunity to develop skills that will lead them on a path to becoming culturally responsive teachers, the research cited here starts the discussion.

Reyes Quezada (2004) sums it up effectively when he states: “Providing overseas student teaching experience is the key ingredient if the US wants its future teachers to be cultural and globally literate to meet the challenges of this new age (p. 462)”.

Discussion Questions:

Have you conducted research that suggests international field experiences may contribute to the development of culturally responsive teachers?

What other skills may be important to culturally responsive teaching that may be developed during an international student teaching experience?


Blair, J. (2002). Colleges Sending Teacher-Candidates to See the World. Education Week, 22(15), 8.

Causey, V. E., Thomas, C. D., & Armento, B. J. (2000). Cultural Diversity Is Basically a Foreign Term to Me: The Challenges of Diversity for Preservice Teacher Education. Teaching And Teacher Education16 (1), 33-45.

Cushner, K., & Mahon, J. (2002). Overseas student teaching: Affecting personal, professional, and global competencies in an age of globalization. Journal of Studies in International Education6 (1), 44-58.

Edwards, S. (2011). Developing diversity dispositions for White culturally responsive teachers. Action in Teacher Education, 33 (5/6), 493-508.

Gay, G.  (2000).  Culturally Responsive Teaching:  Theory, Research, and Practice.  New York:  Teachers College Press.

Gay, G. (2002). Preparing for culturally responsive teaching. Journal of Teacher Education53 (2), 106-116.

Hammer, M. R., & Bennett, M. J. (1998). The intercultural development inventory (IDI) manual. Portland, OR: Intercultural Communication Institute.

Mahon, J. (2007). A field of dreams? Overseas students teaching as a catalyst towards internationalizing teacher education. Teacher Education Quarterly, 34 (1), 133-149.

Mahon, J. & Cushner, K.  (2002).  The Overseas Student Teaching Experience:  Creating Optimal Culture Learning.  Multicultural Perspectives, 4 (3), 3-8.

Malewski, E., Sharma, S., & Phillion, J. (2012). How International Field Experiences

Promote Cross-Cultural Awareness in Preservice Teachers through Experiential Learning: Findings from a Six-Year Collective Case Study.Teachers College Record114 (8).

Quezada, R. L. (2004). Beyond educational tourism: Lessons learned while student teaching abroad. International Education Journal, 5 (4), 458-465.

Sleeter, C. E. (2001). Preparing teachers for culturally diverse schools research and the  overwhelming presence of whiteness. Journal of teacher education52 (2), 94-106.

Stachowski, L. L., Bodle, A., & Morrin, M. (2008). Service Learning in Overseas and Navajo Reservation Communities: Student Teachers’ Powerful Experiences Build Community Connections, Broaden Worldview, and Inform Classroom Practice. International Education38 (1), 13.

Stachowski, L.L. & Brantmeier, E.J. (2002). Understanding self through the other: Changes in student teacher perceptions of home culture from immersion in Navajoland and overseas. International Education, 32 (1), 5-18.

Stachowski, L. L., & Sparks, T. (2007). Thirty years and 2,000 student teachers later: An overseas student teaching project. Teacher Education Quarterly, 34(1), 115-132.




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