Intercultural Learning in Asia

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This project responds to the Office for Learning and Teaching’s program of innovation and development, specifically in the priority area of internationalisation within the intercultural competency field. The area and focus are important because employers increasingly expect graduates to possess strong global competencies (Tarrant, 2010). University education is an ideal catalyst for intercultural learning. The challenge is how to shape such an endeavour and appropriately support its delivery.


Study-abroad experience

Courses that aim to support students’ intercultural learning are often theoretically focussed, rather than practical or experiential.  Many universities aim to supplement students’ learning by providing various exchange and study aboard opportunities for students to take part in real-world, intercultural activities within the academic curriculum. In addition to the valuable life experience to be garnered from international travel, multinational employers increasingly view overseas study experience as a desirable component on graduate resumes.



Benefits of applied international experience:

  • Enhanced student employability [e.g. students are less likely to experience periods of unemployment upon graduation, greater participation in higher-status employment, and higher average incomes (King & Ruiz-Gelices, 2003)]
  • Enchanced intercultural competence, awareness and sensitivity
  • Enchanced knowledge and appreciation of cultural diversity
  • Broadened global perspectives


Importance of preparation and support

There is a newly emerging focus in the literature on effectively supporting the study abroad experience in order to achieve desired outcomes (Gothard 2013). For example, Pitman et al. (2010) indicate that study abroad programs are able to extend beyond direct, postitive impacts and offer a meaningful lifelong learning experience for participants, but only if programs are carefully planned. The centrality of preparation and support is well established in the work-integrated learning (WIL) literature, but has been less explored in student mobility research.

A recent OLT commissioned report on good practice in WIL (Orrell, 2011), which reviewed 28 OLT funded projects on WIL, emphasised the need to prepare students for work placements. One of the key educational recommendations in Orrell’s report was that students require adequate induction and preparation for ‘high-risk activities’ such as practice-based experiences (p. 3). Such findings have relevant implications for the organisation and execution of study abroad programs.

According to Pasfield, Taylor and Harris (2008), 97% of Australian universities promote outbound mobility opportunities through their international strategies. However, outbound mobility numbers remain low. Recent research suggests that three main factors hinder student participation in overseas studies: cost, responsibilities (e.g. family, work, sports and other commitments) and space within students’ programs of study (Bretag & van der Veen, 2013). It is apparent that short-term international study tours to Asia have the potential to increase student participation. Short-term programs may prove a more attractive student mobility option for students who have no or little travel experience, who have personal, study  and financial committments that cannot be easily interrupted for a semester, and who may wish to participate in more than one overseas study trip per year (Dessoff, 2006; Nam, 2011).

Apart from the pragmatic reasons of proximity and low cost, engaging with Asia and increasing Asian awareness is important for Australian students, given the significance of these economies to Australia’s trading relations and economic prosperity, as highlighted in the Australian Government’s White Paper on Australia in the Asian Century. However, few studies to date have examined the appropriate structure and parameters for successful design of such international short-term study tours. Our preliminary research (Bretag & van der Veen, 2013) on short-term study tours to Asia has pointed to the essential role of well-informed preparation for study abroad experiences and the need for a clearly articulated evidence-based model on which to base this preparation.



Careful planning of short-term international study tours is crucial to enhancing students’ intercultural learning and this should consist of a combination of support modules before, during and after the trip. Building on the work of Gothard et al (2012), which has clearly demonstrated the importance of post-trip support and reflective learning practices, we maintain that the support provided by pre-departure preparation also has a vital role to play in initiating and facilitating intercultural learning.


Research Question

What are the critical components in preparing students to develop their intercultural learning through short-term study tours to Asia?

This project will focus on how best to support students as they prepare for an intercultural experience in Asia by developing an evidence-based model of pre-departure preparation. The model will inform the development of a larger project to gather data relating to the pre-departure stage for intercultural learning for short-term study tours across the Australian higher education sector. This will be essential in light of the objectives of the Australian Government’s ‘New Colombo Plan’. Recent changes to the Commonwealth Government’s OS-Help scheme which provides funding to students for short-term credit-bearing courses in international contexts has the potential to exponentially increase the number of Australian students undertaking short-term study abroad courses (Malicki, 2013, pers. comm). This development, coupled with the Australian Government’s renewed emphasis on engagement with our Asian neighbours, will have a dramatic impact on the capacity of Australian higher education providers’ to meet demand and support students appropriately.



Bretag, T. & van der Veen, R. (2013) ‘Pushing the Boundaries’: The benefits of short-term international study tours in the development of students’ intercultural competencies, ISANA International Education Association Conference, Brisbane, 3-6 December.

Dessoff, A. (March/April 2006). Who’s not going abroad? International Educator, 20-27.

Gothard, J., Downey, G. & Gray, T. (2012). Bringing the learning home: programs to enhance study abroad outcomes in Australian universities. N.S.W. Department of Industry, Innovation, Science, Research and Tertiary Education – 9781922218124.

King, R. & Ruiz-Gelices, E. (2003). International student migration and the European ‘year abroad’: Effects on European identity and subsequent migration behaviour. International Journal of Population Geography, 9(3), 229–252.

Nam, K. A. (2011). Intercultural development in the short-term study abroad context: A comparative case study analysis of global seminars in Asia (Thailand and Laos) and in Europe (Netherlands). Doctoral dissertation. University of Minnesota.

Orrell, J. (2011). Good practice report: Work-integrated learning. Australian Learning and Teaching Council – 978-1-921856-82-2

Pasfield, A., Taylor, K. & Harris, T. (2008). Encouraging outbound student mobility: An update from Australian Education International. ISANA International Education Association 19th International Conference: Promoting integration and interaction, 2-5 December, Auckland, New Zealand.

Pitman, T., Broomhall, S., McEwan, J., & Majocha, E. (2010). Adult learning in educational tourism. Australian Journal of Adult Learning. 50(2), 119-238.

Tarrant, M.A. (2010). A conceptual framework for exploring the role of studies abroad in nurturing global citizenship. Journal of Studies in International Education, 14(5), 433–451.

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