Monash University
20170120-Rutherford-Thesis.pdf (3.54 MB)

A Case Study of Secondary School Students’ Intercultural Learning in an International Service Trip

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posted on 2017-02-07, 05:43 authored by Sarah Rutherford
The internationalisation of education is not new, but research into this area has been largely at the tertiary level. Currently in Australia, there is renewed emphasis in school curriculum and policy on the importance of intercultural learning as a key element of the internationalisation of secondary education. This study investigated secondary school students’ intercultural learning through an ethnographic case study of an international service trip to a developing Pacific island nation, for students from a school in an inner-eastern suburb of Melbourne, Australia. International service trips are offered in many Australian secondary schools; however, what and how students learn during these trips is significantly underresearched. This study investigated factors involved in students’ learning and whether the trip developed intercultural capacity and transformational learning.
   Data collection methods included interviews, a survey, and ethnographic tools. The study was conducted in three stages including developing an understanding of the evolution and purpose of the trip, experiences on the island, and follow-up interviews three months after the trip.
   The theoretical frames used to examine the nature of students’ learning were Bennett’s (2004) developmental model of intercultural sensitivity, which was utilised to examine and analyse the students’ intercultural experiences, and aspects from Mezirow’s (1997) transformative learning theory to explore the extent of students’ transformation and change in their “frame of reference” (Mezirow, 1997, p. 6) though their experiences. In addition, three theoretical frames related to the concept of international service were explored.
   Findings showed that the service itself had minimal impact on students’ learning and that students’ learning in international contexts is dependent on complex personal and sociocultural factors that students encounter through their experiences. Recommendations from the study focus on the need for well-defined strategic intentions and goals for these kinds of trips, along with purposeful leadership and organisation that provides structured and guided reflection on learning and pastoral care for students.


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Principal supervisor

Libby Tudball

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Doctor of Philosophy

Degree Type



Faculty of Education

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