University students' perceptions of themselves and others in an international teaching immersion experience

Year: 2012

Author: Quinn, Marie

Type of paper: Abstract refereed


Australian Catholic University has a long-term commitment to Community Engagement for its students. As part of this program, students have been involved in an international immersion program in Vanuatu, living and working within a high school community for a number of weeks, with the support of university staff and the community partnership of Rotary Australia World Community Service. Previous research has reported on the strengths of these partnerships in enacting Community Engagement (Butcher, Egan & Ralph 2008, Butcher, Bezzina & Moran 2011, Campbell & Long 2012)

This presentation reports on a study into how the student-participants themselves, as pre-service teachers in a “foreign” environment, perceive themselves and others within the program.

A guiding principle of ACU's engagement program is that:

Community engagement must involve reflection and the capacity to form new knowledge as a result of engagement (ACU 2007).

The study will look at what “new knowledge” students gain in terms of the experience and the impact of the cross-cultural setting for changing a world-view of education and teaching in diverse settings. The data relies largely on interviews with students both in-country and on return, analysed using a critical discourse analysis framework (Fairclough 1995) to identify the underlying patterns in the way that students see the experience. Just as researchers working in cross-cultural contexts consider how their own observations and analyses are filtered through particular worldviews, values and construction of subjectivity (see Merriam et al 2001, Miles & Huberman 1994), the experience of the students is reflected through particular lenses and views of their world. How much this disrupts or challenges the immersion experience will have implications for the formation of “new knowledge” through the school experience.

The presentation will consider what strategies might support students to enhance the immersion experience enable them to truly engage and learn from such experiences.