Three very different study abroad visits for US students illustrate limitations of short-term study abroad experiences as well as highlight successful approaches. Lessons can be gained for strategically planning experiences that gain the most cross-cultural learning from short study abroad visits.
Seven US business students attended a two-week business-plan competition in Germany that involved students from six countries. Incidents occurred which could have provided critical cross-cultural learning. Faculty-assisted analysis of these cultural incidents could have been used as teachable moments.
Thirty US business students attended a one-week study visit to Mexico in conjunction with a Mexican university. The students attended economic lectures at the university and visited industrial locations. Students were allowed to do as they wished during free time, without any interaction with host nationals or assisted cultural analysis.
Two US business students journeyed to Ethiopia for a three week visit in conjunction with an Ethiopian business college. The students were involved with in-depth cultural research and intensive interaction with host nationals. Strong gains in cultural understanding were observable.
The thesis of this pedagogical case study is that instructors and program directors should seize upon, and create, the opportunity for unplanned critical incidents. These incidents should not be looked on as problems, difficulties, or bad behavior, but as normal cross-cultural interactions that can teach students more than pre-planned program interactions. Intensive interactions with host nationals in uncontrolled situations, combined with expert analysis, may convey greater cross-cultural learning than controlled formal programs.