What we discovered is that intercultural digital exchange programs like Out of Eden Learn can offer real possibilities for enhancing older students’ engagement with and understanding of culture — and they can also present some pitfalls.
Digital Exchange Programs for Intercultural Connection
Our research suggests that intercultural digital exchange programs offer students opportunities to:
Connect and Care. Such programs can foster respectful curiosity, a sense of connection to or solidarity with other young people, an appreciation for and knowledge of other cultures, and a desire to connect with peers across different cultural contexts. Young people say that they appreciate the opportunity to connect in authentic ways with diverse peers in a safe, social media-type environment. It appears that these programs can be powerful gateway experiences that leave students inspired to learn more about culture.
See Culture Everywhere. Being exposed to a range of firsthand stories and perspectives can expand young people’s view of what “culture” means: they can come to see it as a complex, fluid phenomenon of which they are a part; as something deeply individual and personal; and as something associated with particular geographies or communities. While foods, fashions, and local traditions, for example, are recurring and welcome topics of discussion on Out of Eden Learn, many students pick up on other, subtler aspects of culture, such as communication styles, prevailing cultural values and behavioral expectations, and relationship patterns across different generations. They also hear from students who experience cultural hybridity on a daily basis, and they come to see that there can be a range of cultural influences within any one community.
(Re)Consider and (Re)Compare. For some young people, these programs present an opportunity to actively consider the existence of different cultures for the first time and to compare their own life experiences to those of other people. For other students, it is more a case of re-considering what they thought they knew about different cultures and/or re-comparing their own culture to those of others — which may help overturn existing stereotypes or faulty assumptions (though may also lead to some of the pitfalls listed below). For all students, intercultural interactions can enhance their understanding of both commonality and diversity within and across cultures.
Become More Self Aware. Programs like ours can become vehicles for promoting students’ awareness of their own perspectives and why and how they might be similar or different to those of people living in other cultural contexts. The opportunity to (re)consider and (re)compare their own and other cultures can help students to situate their own lives, identities, and values relative to other students and to reflect on the ways in which they themselves are shaped, at least in part, by particular cultural influences or expectations.