International Educator - November/December 2014 - 10

INbrief
BOOK NOTES

Preparing to Study Abroad: Learning to Cross Cultures
By Steven Duke, Stylus Publishing, 2014
Reviewed by Michael Vande Berg

D

uring the past several
decades, we've come to
understand a great deal
about what needs to be done to
help students learn when they cross
cultural boundaries. Research tells
us that well designed and delivered
intercultural courses, orientations
and workshops can in fact help
students learn to interact more
effectively and appropriately with
culturally different others. However,
enrollment in for-credit intercultural courses, like participation in
not-for-credit intercultural programs
on and off campus, remains low-a
state of affairs that brings to mind
the story of the guy who threw the
great party, the one where nobody
showed up. Steven Duke's Preparing to Study Abroad: Learning to
Cross Cultures offers us a model of
how to throw educational parties
that our students will want to attend.
I've discussed elsewhere how
recent theory and research is
profoundly influencing the ways
international educators are framing
teaching and learning.1 We're now
embracing assumptions very different from those that international
educators embraced as recently
as 30, even 15, years ago. We
understand that experience is not
the same as learning: that we, not
the environment, are the principal
agents of our own learning. We understand that we and our students
"construct," and with other members of our several cultural groups
co-construct, what we perceive is

10  

INTERNATIONAL EDUCATOR N O V + D E C .14

"out there" in the world, in the very
act of perceiving it. We understand
that most students don't learn to interact effectively and appropriately
with culturally different others when
merely left to their own devices-
that most learn to shift perspective
and adapt behavior to other cultural contexts only when we're able
to help them learn to do so.
What distinguishes Preparing
to Study Abroad is not so much
the fact that it is grounded in these
assumptions-a lot of other books
are as well-but that Steven Duke
clearly understands that most
students are now assuming very
different things about teaching and
learning than home-campus faculty and administrators. While we
increasingly embrace assumptions
about teaching and learning that
are experiential and constructivist,
our students are embracing the
positivist and relativist assumptions
we've discarded. Most students
believe-they know-that experience is the same as learning. The
more experience, the better; and
for many, the more immersion in
experience, the better still. Leaving behind the formal educational
settings of the home campus has
value precisely because it holds
out the promise of experiencing
and learning directly, fully, authentically. While we increasingly look to
theory and research to validate the
ways we're framing teaching and
learning, our students, for whom
the evidence that counts is the evi-

dence of their own senses, remain
largely unmoved and unconvinced.
As Preparing to Study Abroad
opens, Steven Duke is talking with
his student audience. His tone is
personal, authentic, well informed,
and remarkably open. He's connecting with the students by
framing study abroad as they are:
Congratulations on your decision
to study abroad. . . . This book is
written for you, the students who are
learning about the world firsthand,
who are taking time to see the
people and places you have learned
about, to conduct the research and
perform the service that you have
planned for months or years. As you
do so, you are changing the world in
small but significant ways.

Instead of separating himself,
assuming the expert's pose, Duke
signals that he's with his student
readers, celebrating the step they're
taking to "change the world."
His book implicitly offers educators a whole series of techniques
for bridging the cultural gap that
typically exists between ourselves
and our students-and not by
telling us about bridging, but by
showing us how it's done. Duke
models bridging in a variety
of ways: by describing his own
experiences as a student in Russia;
by giving voice to former participants who describe how their own
experiences abroad surpassed
their expectations; by owning his
own likes and dislikes; by acknowledging that while some educators
talk about "culture shock," others
describe "cultural transitions";
and so on. But at the same time
he understands that bridging the
gap means more than supporting
students in their belief they'll be



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