by Amanda Sturgill
I just got back from working at an international event in Marrakesh, Morocco. The event has participants from 63 countries, the majority of whom travel a great distance to attend, and many of whom are college students. Every step is a cross-cultural experience, which made me think about the relationship of the intercultural competence of students and the intercultural competence of those with whom the student interacts. There are long-term, formal and short-term, informal interactions.
From the flight attendants who notice micro expressions of confusion and switch language to the professor from the host country who is teaching the class, relating to another culture is always a mix of learner expectations and actions and those of the people with whom the learner interacts.
Long-term interactions have been studied some in the context of host families. For example, Doerr (2013) noted that although living with a host family is sold as living in an immersive, “native” environment, in fact there is mutual accommodation – intercultural learning on the part of both parties that causes that environment to change. Weidemann and Blumi (2009) found that the accommodations are both conscious and unconscious on the part of the hosts. When it comes to language study, Wilkinson (2002) found that the teacher-student role found in the language classroom came home into the host family setting as well.
Although host family stays are intended to encourage intercultural learning, informal interactions are learning opportunities, too. For example, in Morocco, it was interesting to compare reactions with a colleague to a well-known market in the city. He was taken aback by the actions of some of the merchants, which he found aggressive (wanting him to follow some distance to a particular shop, becoming upset when there was no purchase, etc.). I had had similar interactions before in other countries, so I found it more amusing than upsetting. Our students’ lives in off-campus travel are full of informal interactions like going to the market, conversations with friends, etc. Fernández-Garcia and Martinez-Arbelaiz (2014) note that in these interactions, both parties can see themselves as, in some way, learners. Leask (2009) notes that curriculum design can help learners to get the most benefit from both those formal and informal interactions.
Formal and informal experiences are one of a host of off-campus study parameters we will be looking at in our Center for Engaged Learning research seminar on Integrating Global Learning with the University Experience: Higher-Impact Study Abroad and Off-Campus Domestic Study, which starts June 14. Integrating global experiences with the rest of a student’s education is our focus, and we’ll have an update on the seminar after next week.


  • Doerr, N. M. (2013). Damp Rooms and Saying ‘Please’: Mimesis and Alterity in the Host Family Space in Study-Abroad Experiences. Anthropological Forum, 23(1), 58-78. doi:10.1080/00664677.2012.717873
  • Fernández-García, M., & Martínez-Arbelaiz, A. (2014). Native speaker–non-native speaker study abroad conversations: Do they provide feedback and opportunities for pushed output?. System, 4293-104. doi:10.1016/j.system.2013.10.020
  • Leask, B. (2009). Using Formal and Informal Curricula to Improve Interactions Between Home and International Students. Journal Of Studies In International Education, 13(2), 205-221.
  • Weidemann, A., & Bluml, F. (2009). Experiences and coping strategies of host families in international youth exchange. Intercultural Education, 2087-102. doi:10.1080/14675980903370912
  • Wilkinson, S. (2002). The Omnipresent Classroom during Summer Study Abroad: American Students in Conversation with Their French Hosts. Modern Language Journal, 86(2), 157.

Amanda Sturgill (@DrSturg) is Associate Professor of Communications at Elon University.  She has professional experience in newspaper journalism and marketing communications, and her research focuses on the intersection of education and community-based work, the relationship of region and media, and on new technologies and the news. Amanda routinely teaches study abroad courses and has published on methods of reflection in service-learning abroad.

How to cite this post:

Sturgill, Amanda. 2015, June 12. The Other Side of the Cultural Divide. [Blog Post]. Retrieved from