Intercultural Learning may be Impossible in Education Abroad: A Lesson from King Lear


  • David Wong Michigan State University



Intercultural learning, Study abroad, King Lear, Education abroad, Reflection


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. 



Download data is not yet available.


Bennett, M. J. (1993). Towards ethnorelativism: A developmental model of intercultural sensitivity. In R. M. Paige (Ed.), Education for the intercultural experience (pp.21-71). Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.

Butler, Ruth (1987). Task-involving and ego-involving properties of evaluation: Effects of different feedback conditions on motivational perceptions, interest, and performance. Journal of educational psychology 79(4), 474–482.

Cohen, A. D., Paige, R. M., Kappler, B., Chi, J.C., & Lassegard, J. P. (2005). Maximizing education abroad through language and culture strategies: Research on students, education abroad program professionals, and language instructors. Center for Advanced Research on Language Acquisition. University of MN.

Deardorff, D. (2006). Identification and assessment of intercultural competence as a student outcome of internationalization. Journal of studies in international education, 10, 241-266.

Dewey, J. (LW), The later works of J. Dewey, 1925-1953, ed. by J.A. Boydston, Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale and Edwardsville.

Dewey, J. (1934). Art as experience. New York: Perigree. (LW.10).

Dweck, C.S. (1986). Motivational processes affecting learning. American psychologist, 41, 1040-1048.

Engle, L. (2013). What do we know now and where do we go from here? Opening Plenary. The Forum on Education Abroad, Chicago.

Hammer, M., Bennett, M., & Wiseman, R. (2003). Measuring intercultural sensitivity: The intercultural development inventory. International journal of intercultural relations, 27(4), 421–443.

honest [Def. 1}. (n.d.) In Oxford dictionaries online, retrieved July 12, 2016 from

Jackson, P. W. (1998). John Dewey and the lessons of art. New Haven: Yale University Press.

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Prentice-Hall, Inc., Englewood Cliffs, N.J.

Lemke, J. L. (1990). Talking science: Language, learning, and values. Norwood, N.J: Ablex Pub. Corp.

Mueller, C. M., & Dweck, C. S. (1998). Intelligence praise can undermine motivation and performance. Journal of personality and social psychology, 75 33-52.

Pirsig, R. M. (1974). Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance. London: Bodley Head.

ritual [Def. 1}. (n.d.) In Oxford Dictionaries Online, retrieved July 12, 2016 from

Rodgers, C. (2002). Defining reflection: Another look at John Dewey and reflective thinking. Teachers college record, 104(4), 842-866.

Shakespeare, W., & Orgel, S. (1999). King Lear. New York, N.Y: Penguin Books.

Shakespeare, W., Braunmuller, A. R., & Orgel, S. (2016). Hamlet. New York, N.Y: Penguin Books.

Vygotsky, L. S., & Cole, M. (1978). Mind in society: The development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Wong, E. D. (2007). Beyond control and rationality: Dewey, aesthetics, motivation, and educative experiences. Teachers college record, 109(1), 192–220.

Wong, E. D. (2015). Beyond It was Great? Not so fast! A response to the argument that education abroad results are disappointing and that intervention is necessary to promote students’ intercultural competence. Frontiers: The interdisciplinary journal of education abroad, 26, 121-135.




How to Cite

Wong, D. (2018). Intercultural Learning may be Impossible in Education Abroad: A Lesson from King Lear. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, 30(3), 38–50.