Intercultural Learning may be Impossible in Education Abroad: A Lesson from King Lear
Intercultural learning requires reflection; Education abroad scholars and practitioners hold this belief to be self-evident. Becoming more aware of both others’ and one’s own culture requires intentional reflection, often facilitated by an expert. However, the practice of guided reflection rests upon the precarious assumption that learners can be honest about deeply personal experiences when they reflect. I make the argument that the truthfulness of students’ reflection cannot be assured because guided reflection has become a ritual. Students are well aware of the social norms of guided reflection since it is such a common activity in the orthodoxy of liberal arts learning. As a result, they are more concerned about proper performance than truthful expression. Scenes from Shakespeare’s King Lear are used to illustrate the argument that truthfulness of expression cannot be assured in situations in rituals – that is, when a certain kind of performance is expected. If honesty cannot be assured, then guided reflection may be fundamentally unsuited as a means to promote intercultural learning. Four alternative behavioral conventions are presented to help students free themselves from the constraints of academic rituals: Don’t act like a good student, don’t work so hard, don’t think so much, and don’t talk so much. Finally, three virtues are offered that characterize students who can break free from the constraints of academic rituals: honesty, ignorance, and courage.
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