Research has demonstrated that the knowledge, skills and attitudes of a responsible global citizen must be cultivated through intercultural experiences (Killick, 2015; Schattle, 2007). Fostering the skills, abilities and knowledge of ethical leaders in a globalized world is not isolated to the curriculum but can also be synergistically impacted through the co-curriculum (Leask, 2009). Thus, student affairs divisions play a major role in such student learning through providing co-curricular leadership opportunities for students to engage with diverse others with the goal of cultivating intercultural competence. Deardorff (2006) defined intercultural competence as “the ability to develop targeted knowledge, skills and attitudes that lead to visible behaviour and communication that are both effective and appropriate in intercultural interactions” (p. 247). Leadership development programs can assist students in cultivating intercultural competence by providing opportunities for “clarification of values, development of self-awareness, ability to build trust, capacity to listen and serve others, collaborative work, and change for the common good” (Bounous-Hammarth, 2001, p. 35). Moreover, according to Glass et al. (2015), “Leadership programs create social contexts that bridge students’ social networks and forge the connections between otherwise distantly connected people” (p. 40).
Numerous quantitative studies have demonstrated that participation in leadership programs positively impacts the self-awareness and social consciousness of undergraduate students (Dugan & Komives, 2006; Haber & Komives, 2009; Kezar, et al., 2006; Parker & Pascarella, 2013). According to research, discourse regarding socio-cultural differences with peers, faculty and mentors served to influence participants engagement in socially responsible leadership (Dugan & Komives, 2010; Parker & Pascarella, 2013). Through the findings of their study, Dugan et al. (2011) concluded that the complex content of the leadership program, including high impact curriculum and developmental experiences, was more impactful than type or length of leadership program. Moreover, of co-curricular activities on campuses, leadership programs have the highest participation rate amongst both domestic and international students (Glass et al., 2015). Yet, despite the high rate of participation, only recently has empirical research on the impact of leadership programs included international students in their quotients (Collier et al., 2017; Glass, 2012). For example, Glass and Westmont (2014) demonstrated that participation in co-curricular activities, including leadership programs, had a direct, positive effect on the sense of belonging international students experience on campus. Collier et al. (2017) verified that through intentional leadership development, international students were able to achieve higher levels of self-efficacy. Shalka (2017) established that through personal mentorship, international students were able to grow in socially responsible leadership on par with their domestic peers, implicating that personalized, individual approaches to international student leadership development would be helpful. While these quantitative studies indicate that participation in leadership programs, especially with a focus on intentional dialogue with diverse others and support through mentorship, can have a profound impact on students’ sense of belonging and self-efficacy, more qualitative research is needed to clarify the impact of participation in leadership programs on global students, especially in regard to their intercultural competence.
The term global student is utilized in this research to represent any student who has spent a significant portion of their developmental years outside of the country of higher education. Such students would include international students who are entering the country on a visa status. Yet, this would also include a group of students that is often ignored in both data and programming: U.S. citizens that have been raised in international environments, such as children of international military parents, international business parents, international religious workers, and diplomats. Previously employed terminology for such students included third culture kids (TCKs), global nomads (GNs) or cross-cultural kids (CCKs). I have chosen to use the term global student out of a more inclusive posture towards these all these students who have long been subjected to essentialist labeling. The utilization of the essentialist label of international student produces in-group/out-group distinctions based on one level of identity, visa status, rather than through a lens of multiplicity (Dervin, 2016; Holliday, 2010; Koehne, 2005; Leask, 2015). Beyond being labeled as international students, labels according to passport country persist, furthering neo-colonial othering (Dervin, 2016; Holliday, 2010). Moreover, while the posture towards U.S. citizens who grew up internationally varies from university to university, typically there are very few resources and services provided for their flourishing, leaving these students to decide if they will assimilate to the majority culture or identify with a specific cultural group, denying their multiplicity (La Brack, 2011; Van Reken, 2011). Thus, moving away from essentialist labels of such students, the term global student is employed.
While research on the impact of leadership programs on undergraduate students has indicated that participants can grow in self-awareness and socially responsible leadership, global student experiences, in their own voices, are rare. Thus, the purpose of this grounded theory case study was to understand and explain how former global students described the impact of their participation in an Intercultural Leadership Development Program on their sense of self in their post-baccalaureate life. Sub-questions included understanding and explaining how participants describe the impact of engaging with the experiential curriculum and diverse others in the program, as well as how they described negotiating their sense of self.
Methodology and Participants
In an attempt to elucidate the perspectives of global students themselves in a non-essentialist posture, qualitative research is necessary. First, I sought to understand and explain a process in a very specific space: one leadership program at one particular institution, thus, making it an instrumental case study within (Creswell & Poth, 2018). Second, I utilized constructivist approach to understand the perspectives of the participants regarding the impact of their participation (Creswell & Poth, 2018). This was essential in order to take into consideration the “diverse local worlds, multiple realities, and the complexities of particular worlds, views and actions” of the participants (Creswell & Poth, 2018, p. 86). This instrumental case study was undertaken at one private liberal arts university. With a desire to cultivate intercultural awareness and development, staff at this specific university designed and implemented an Intercultural Leadership Development Program for its global students.
The 15 participants in this research were diverse in multiple aspects of their identities. Although each student had a passport country with which they identified to a certain degree, cultural norms of the passport country were not the only input they received during their developmental years. Each of the individuals was raised in different educational, community and religious environments with varying cultural norms imbued into their psyches. Each family had their own socio-economic status which may have influenced lifestyle and schooling choices for their children, as well as the participants’ engagement in undergraduate years (Aries & Seider, 2005). For three of the participants, familial cultural norms may be considered rather monolithic due to stability in childhood and lack of exposure to diverse others. The other 12 participants experienced a variety of cultural norms due to the global mobility of their families and/or the exposure to diverse others (Killick, 2015; La Brack, 2011; Marginson, 2014; Van Reken, 2011). For both these groups, the environments of socialization varied. Four were raised in pluralistic societies with evident hierarchies of ethnicities at play. Experiencing structural hierarchies regarding ethnicity may have influenced their thinking regarding their position as part of the majority or the minority in that location (Jackson, 2014). One participant had parents of different ethnicities and citizenships, while another participant from Cameroon was adopted by a white American family who was living in Cameroon. Twelve participants were raised bilingually, esteeming more than one language as important. While some participants would be considered simultaneous bilinguals, others would be considered sequential bilingual, learning English during their developmental years out of a parental desire for them to access education systems where English was the medium of instruction (Jackson, 2014; Lightbrown & Spada, 1999). Finally, female-identified individuals were the vast majority of participants, making up 12 out of the total of 15 participants.
In this data set, there were 10 international students, and five U.S. citizens. For those that were considered international students, this classification immediately forced them to experience othering by the institution due to the rules and regulations they had to follow to maintain their visa status (Koehne, 2005; Leask, 2015). Some participants were U.S. citizens; thus, they had the agency to choose whether to engage as a global student or assimilate to the majority as a hidden immigrant (Pollock & Van Reken, 2009). The institution welcomed them, but there were no government regulations to which they were forced to adhere. While the U.S. citizens had access to opportunities, internships, and jobs off campus, the international students were confined to campus opportunities due to student visa regulations. Thus, some level of power and positionality could have been at play amongst the individuals (McIntosh, 2003).
In order to take part in the leadership program, students applied, were interviewed and were placed on specific teams. Each team consisted of four to eight global students working toward a specific goal, such as providing cultural/educational events at the university campus. Participants were placed on teams according to their strengths, as well as to increase the diversity makeup of each team to provide a robust intercultural experience. Each team had a student team leader who was responsible for the team’s process and outcomes. The following student learning outcomes (SLOs) were implemented and assessed. By the end of this 9-month (academic year), participants will be able to: demonstrate greater self-awareness; demonstrate greater awareness of diverse others; explain their understanding of intercultural team dynamics and the process by which they have come to those understandings.
In order to encourage growth of students towards these ends, organizers of this co-curricular leadership program developed a curriculum for leaders in which they were trained throughout the academic year. The Intercultural Leadership Development Program at hand utilized a curriculum built from concepts within the Relational Leadership Model, servant leadership theory, intercultural competence development paradigms and experiential learning theory. The curriculum provided foundational knowledge for student leaders on leadership principles used for diverse teams while simultaneously experiencing intercultural dynamics through leading a diverse team. This system provided an immersive, experiential learning environment based on Kolb’s (2015) model. Thus, while the participants in the Intercultural Leadership Development Program provided cultural activities and awareness on campus, they also experienced intercultural engagement with others on their diverse teams.
Also, all of the participants engaged as team leaders in the Intercultural Leadership Development Program. As team leaders they had the challenge of leading four to eight other global students in providing specific cultural events on campus. Appropriate support such as mentorship and intercultural training were provided to the participants throughout their leadership program year. In accordance with grounded theory and case study methodologies, data were collected through the following means: intensive semi-structured interviews, observations, and field notes (Charmaz, 2014). Data were analyzed using notions of initial, focused and theoretical coding to posit a grounded theory regarding the impact of participation in leadership programs on former global students’ sense of self (Charmaz, 2014).
The central understanding that emerged from this research is as follows: Engagement in the Intercultural Leadership Development Program had a transformative effect as participants cultivated specific knowledge and skills. With specific knowledge and skills as a foundation, participants clarified their sense of self through experiencing congruent feedback from trusted others. Their clarified sense of self in turn led to confidence and capacity to engage with diverse others in leadership in their post-baccalaureate lives (Figure 1).
Visualization of the transformative effect
Cultivating Knowledge and Skills
First, findings demonstrate that participants cultivated specific knowledge and skills through participation in the Intercultural Leadership Development Program. Cultivation, in this research, is considered both acquiring and improving understanding. Knowledge refers to awareness of concepts or information, whereas skills are practical application of that knowledge. The majority of participants noted cultivating knowledge and skills in two main areas: values and communication frameworks, and assumptions and biases. Data indicate that although there were many topics covered throughout the leadership program, knowledge and practical application of these frameworks were the most salient for participants. First, the cultivation of knowledge regarding communication and value systems was most prominent for participants as seen in the following student’s experiences.
Sage cultivated knowledge in the communication styles of diverse others. She stated, “That year was like the most concentrated of learning diverse cultures and how they communicate.” She reflected on the difficulty of working with people from “12 different languages” and also “with different communication styles happening too.” With an understanding that “people have different forms of communication,” she noted she learned that “asking them questions was a great way to help” and that “you have to use multiple forms of communication to reach everybody.”
Joy also cultivated knowledge regarding value and cultural frameworks. She stated, “I learned a lot about culture, my own, other people’s, learned a lot about values and how when there is conflict, it’s usually our values that are in conflict with each other.”
Alice shared that she sorted through notions of personality versus cultural value systems. She recollected:
I learned that what I had taken to be just personality differences between people actually also had cultural roots. So that even though a person might be like more submissive or shy in their general personality, that certain cultures also have those traits. And so people are more likely to have them. Initially, I had always tried to view people as like individual people, and hadn’t really seen the bigger umbrella. They are the way they are partly because of how they grew up and the environment that they were in. And those environments were different from mine.
Eno also engaged with communication and value frameworks. She stated:
I learned about value systems. I started to think more what I value. Honestly, even until now, I’m still pretty confused about what I value. But at least I have the framework on how to think about it and so I do learn a lot.
Regarding communication skills, Eno recollected that her awareness of listening skills was cultivated in the Intercultural Leadership Development Program. She stated, “I don’t think I’m a great listener. But I learned a lot from there. And I learned that listening is actually a skill that you need to develop, and you’re not just born with it.”
Elena’s understanding of communication styles was broadened through participation in the leadership program. Regarding her background, she stated, “I had grown up in another country, but it wasn’t very diverse where I grew up… it had been sort of contained within a very specific culture, the American culture and the Mexican culture.” She recalled learning different intercultural communication skills to help her engage with diverse others. Clarifying, she shared how her mentor empowered her in this process, stating, “She taught me to look for those little signs, like the fact that James that didn’t look her in the eyes when they were talking…it’s body language.”
While knowledge of communication and value systems was most salient for participants, assumptions and biases were also prominent in the data. For the sake of this research, assumptions are considered anything that person accepted as true or certain without evidence, while biases are preferences or prejudices for or against someone, either implicit or explicit. First, Aspen stated that she “made certain assumptions about people based off of the people group that they come from.” She classified those assumptions into “cultural assumptions” and “personality assumptions.” Aspen recognized that her assumptions clouded her judgement of the whole person. She recalled, “When I make assumptions, I just let that cloud my whole perspective of who that person is…But realizing, that is part of who she is, but that’s not all of who she is.”
Joy’s experience in the leadership program helped her to cultivate an awareness of her own biases. She stated, “It really showed me that all these cultural biases, I thought I was hiding so effectively and well, you know, like it comes out.” One way her biases came out was in judging others’ actions. She stated, “I would kind of judge people’s actions and the decisions that they make.” Detailing her cultural chauvinism, she shared, “I just thought my world makes sense. I get stuff done. That’s what’s most important…all those other values are not as important.” More than just her values being superior, she also shared how other aspects of her background shaped her cultural chauvinism. She stated:
I think being Singaporean, I’m just gonna be like really honest, but it’s like, you’re the more superior of the Asian cultures. And I think even like growing up [internationally] and you speak English and all that. So it’s kind of like people look up to you.
For Cyndi, assumptions and biases were interconnected. Throughout participation in the program, Cyndi recognized that due to her assumptions, she tended to gravitate toward people who look like her, which is a form of implicit bias. She stated, “I think this is still a cultural thing. I still tend to gravitate towards people who look like me…. So I naturally want to hang out with other Chinese people who knows my language and could probably understand me more.” Cyndi admitted that she assumed that similar cultural backgrounds meant that “we can resonate more with each other.” Yet, through engaging with diverse others in the leadership program, Cyndi realized that that her assumption was short-sided. She clarified, “I have this assumption that if you don’t look alike, what’s inside of you will less likely be alike. But I’ve realized through talking to people with diverse cultural backgrounds, it’s actually not like that.” Unearthing her bias, Cyndi came to the conclusion, “What’s inside matters more than appearance.” She initially assumed that similar appearances meant they would have similar things in in common. Yet, through interactions with others who were not Asian she began to realize commonalities are important to relationships than appearances. She stated,
You bond with people who you look alike, at first, but if your values and personality traits and the way you handle situations are different, I don’t think the relationship will last long. To me it is the inner values. What’s inside of you? If you bond through that, I think it’s what keeps your relationship.
Similarly, Jennifer unearthed an assumption that all TCKs (Third Culture Kids) are the same. Reflecting back, she remembered, “As a freshman, it was really easy just to relate like we’re all TCKs.” Through participation in the leadership program, she began to broaden her view of others. She stated, “I think I discovered more the ways our personalities or psychology or background are actually really different and affect people differently…so family life, for sure is a big one, and like socio-economic level.”
According to the data, cultivating these knowledge and skill areas serve as a foundation for participants to enter into deeper clarification of their sense of self. For the sake of this research, clarification is considered to be making the unconscious conscious, providing the participants with an opportunity to negotiate their sense of self with agency. Data indicate that the participants who engaged in clarifying their sense of self experienced a feedback loop that gave them an opportunity to negotiate external meaning making with internal meaning making. For many, this feedback loop was very explicit, in the form of spoken words from a trusted person. In a few cases, it was implicit, in the form of reactions from trusted others regarding their selfhood. For both the explicit and implicit cases, participants received messages from others about themselves which they had to negotiate. Although the messages received by participants were both positive and negative, the majority of the participants responded to them as an opportunity to negotiate their sense of self. Also, the feedback loops could be multiple in terms of multiple trusted others and multiple areas of self being negotiated. Ultimately, data indicated that engagement with a feedback loop was essential for the participants to enter into a process of clarifying their sense of self.
Jennifer recalled having a very strong explicit feedback loop with one of her peers. Due to the fact that her peer would “listen to her well” and “without an agenda,” Jennifer felt like she could open up to him. She stated, “It helped me be more introspective…I would be more consciously thinking about stuff. And then, if I’d figured something out, I’d want to tell him about it in the next meeting we had.” She stated that having this monthly experience with her peer assisted her in clarifying her sense of self because it provided “affirmation,” which, according to Jennifer, “confirms your identity.”
MJ responded to the negative messaging by sorting through what he felt was true or not. He recalled a situation where gender and age differences came into play and how he dealt with it. He stated, “I remember [a female teammate] was having doubts about my leadership because I was younger. At the time I was probably offended because that’s not right. Just because I’m young doesn’t mean I can’t contribute anything.” According to MJ, his feedback loops served to “unlock” a side of him that was present but not salient in his mind, which was his relational side.
Angie also shared that having regular meetings with a mentor helped her to make sense of herself. As Angie negotiated who she was and what her leadership style was, she recalled having a pivotal conversation with her mentor regarding her leadership. She shared, “I think that was a major turning point.” Yet, at times, she would compare herself to her mentor, thinking, “And if I was more like [her], I would be able to do this.” Having explored this with her mentor, she came to the realization that she needed to be herself in order to do meet the challenge of intercultural leadership. She shared, “It’s learning how to lean into my own leadership” and “what it meant to be a good leader with my skillset.” Like others, through these conversations, Angie served to clarify her sense of self.
Aspen remembered that doing “reflection exercises” with other team members served to help her clarify herself. Finally, throughout the year, she also received encouragement from her peers about her leadership. She said:
Throughout the year, having just moments where I just felt so incompetent as a leader, but then having the staff around which speaking truth to me into me and saying, ‘You can do better in this way. But you are doing so well, in this way.’
This feedback helped Aspen to see the “potential” in herself. In addition, she explained, “That’s what kind of pushed me to keep applying for other leadership positions after that.”
Clarifying Sense of Self
With the cultivation of knowledge and skills as a foundation, and engagement with their feedback loops in negotiating their sense of self, data indicate that participants were able to clarify their sense of self in both aspects and degree. Specific aspects include clarification of personal characteristics, personal values, and leadership abilities. On a spectrum of degree, while some participants noted just beginning to make sense of themselves, others described being very clear in their sense of selves. Thus, findings from participants’ stories are explored on a spectrum of “entering into clarification” to “solidifying through clarification.” Half of the participants can be described as entering into clarification of their sense of self. While these participates described being actively engaged in the process of clarification, they mentioned being unsure of themselves, or still being a process of understanding themselves. They described sorting through external and internal messages of themselves, as well as what they value. While some participants noted negotiating their sense of self, yet were still unsure of themselves, other participants described themselves as becoming surer of themselves, or what I term as solidifying. Half of the participants demonstrated solidifying their sense of self through clarification, either explicitly using words like self-assured, accept, comfortable, asset, embracing, or cement, or by implicitly describing their solid sense of self. Yet, no matter to what degree participants felt that they had clarified their sense of self, they all claimed to have confidence and capacity to engage in leadership with diverse others in post-baccalaureate life.
Confidence and Capacity
Findings show that due to this negotiation of external messaging with internal messaging, participants described themselves as confident as well as capable of engaging in leadership with diverse others. While the confidence factor was very explicit, the capacity factor was evidenced in their ability to articulate how they seek to engage as intercultural leaders in post-baccalaureate life.
Aspen shared that she clarified many aspects of herself and this led to confidence. She shared, “That was the first leadership position I’d ever had in my life, that type of leadership. And it really boosted my confidence in myself.” Through negotiating her sense of self, Aspen also clarified that she has the “potential to be an excellent leader.” She clarified:
I saw my potential in that year. And that’s what make kind of pushed me to keep applying for other leadership positions after that. It was like, I can I can keep growing! There’s so much growth that can happen. I am a lifelong learner!
As Hannah continually negotiated her sense of self and values, she described participation in the leadership program as a system of support which helped her get to where she is today. She explained, “Having this program really like help me maybe overcome almost like all the anxiety, all the angst and struggle I had, and feel confident about myself a little bit towards the end.” Furthermore, she shared, “Experientially, I learned to talk with confidence in front of people.”
Alice felt confident and comfortable in who she is. She is able to trust that “this is who I am and what I’m what my life is like.” She stated, “Now that I feel concrete in myself, I know more what I want, and what I need. And I’m better able to make plans to meet those.” She also feels like a leader. She shared, “I would say I’m a leader now. I feel like I could say it at the end of last year, just realizing I do have skills and being able to build groups of people and lead them.”
Through experiencing positive feedback about her performance and skills, Ivy was encouraged to keep leading and inspired to be confident in her skills. She shared, “[It] definitely gives me more confidence and it just encouraged me keep doing leadership.” Hearing these external voices regarding her skills and abilities calmed the internal critic in her. She shared, “I think because [the program] gives me some, like, encouragement that I could be a leader. So I’m more confident to be leader in another setting.”
With more cultural awareness, as well as having grown in confidence and language skills, Cyndi related having “a new grown perspective when interacting with cultures.” As she works at her international company, she is actively mitigating her biases. She shared:
I noticed how when we have conversations about cultures or about different people, I would hold from giving comments that are stereotyped or with bias. I know I cannot convince people to see the value in intercultural, see the value in other cultures, but at least I can, can control my own. How I present my view to other people.
Cyndi also shared that she values intercultural competence for herself, but also for others. She stated, “I think intercultural competency is really important. So I wanted it to influence other people. I look forward to opportunity to share about my cultural learning with people.”
Angie shared that when one of her feedback loops challenged her, it gave her insights into herself and instilled confidence in her. Regarding a peer challenging her, she recalled herself “growing in the confidence.” Instead of “minimizing” herself, she was able to clearly delineate her sense of self from the peers’ sense of herself. She stated, “I may not be what you want. But it doesn’t mean that my opinion is invalid.” Moreover, as she faces post-baccalaureate life, that confidence supports her into the unknown. She shared:
I’m ready. I feel ready for what’s next. It’s not a confidence that I’ll always be able to fix whatever is happening, but just confidence in that I’ll be able to navigate it. I will get through it. And I have the support that I need in order to do that well, I have communities with people who are alongside me, and I think I feel ready.
Beginning the leadership program, James did not have a huge amount of confidence in his leadership abilities. He viewed himself as shy and with little social ability. He felt insecure. Yet through the encouragement he received from his mentors regarding his leadership, he began to view himself as a good leader. He stated, “I think I’d always kind of doubted my social ability,” but “learning about myself, reflecting about myself in a larger, like taking a step back and looking at my life… I think that really solidified for me that I can do this.”
Summary of Findings
As demonstrated through the data, participation in the Intercultural Leadership Development Program had a transformative effect as constituents cultivated specific knowledge and skills regarding value and communication frameworks, as well as assumptions and biases. These foundational knowledge and skills, in combination with an external feedback loop from trusted others, served as a catalyst for participants to clarify their sense of self, which included notions of personal characteristics, personal values and leadership abilities. Finally, this clarified that sense of self led to confidence and capacity to engage with diverse others in leadership in their post-baccalaureate lives.
While this grounded theory can provide a myriad of insights into the impact of participation in a leadership program on global students, two prominent areas to discuss are the components of a high-impact leadership curriculum and clarifying the process of developing intercultural competence.
Previous research on the impact of leadership programs has demonstrated growth among participants regarding self-awareness and social consciousness (Dugan & Komives, 2006; Haber & Komives, 2009; Kezar, et al., 2006; Parker & Pascarella, 2013), as well as the role of mentorship in becoming ethical leaders (Dugan & Komives, 2010; Parker & Pascarella, 2013; Shalka, 2017). This research substantiates the role of mentorship, as participants were able to enter into clarification of self if they had a congruent feedback loop. Yet, what this research on global students also demonstrated is that prior to clarifying their sense of self, participants cultivated specific knowledge and skills. Cultivating knowledge in an experiential learning environment such as this one is not surprising, yet what is interesting to note are the areas of knowledge participants claimed became salient to them, providing insight into what may be considered an aspect of a high-impact curriculum, namely communication and value systems.
Cultivation of such knowledge of communication and value systems is essential in today’s globalized world. In the realm of intercultural competence development, multiple researchers have noted that knowledge and skills regarding differences of value and communication frameworks are the pathway to cultivating intercultural competence (Byram, 1997; Deardorff, 2006; Howard-Hamilton et al., 1998; Ting-Toomey & Kurogi, 1998). Thus, such cultivation is a worthy goal, yet understanding how participants described this cultivation is essential. Since value and communication frameworks were explicit aspects of the program curriculum, it is not surprising that the participants became aware of the specific frameworks. Yet, as noted previously, there were multiple areas in which participants experienced training; for example: ethical leadership, transformational leadership, servant leadership, and so on. Noting that value and communication frameworks were just two aspects of the training curriculum, the participants’ saliency of these two aspects needs to be addressed. The saliency for participants could be accounted for by the engagement with multiple diverse others in an experiential learning cycle which provided disorienting cognitive experiences.
The leadership program was a community of practice where participants were asked to perform certain functions as a team (Wenger, 1998). Team members engaged in critical reflection with diverse others in an experiential learning cycle (Kolb, 2015). Thus, participants had to decipher how to communicate with diverse others in order to accomplish their team goals as well as maintain relationships with team members. Participants had continual opportunities to engage in reflection regarding communication styles, value differences, and the behaviors of diverse others. While this may be true of participants in other leadership programs, the participants in this leadership program had to negotiate more variance of cultural scripts, which enabled them to engage with the multiple values systems at play, and in turn provided them with multiple opportunities for cognitively disorienting experiences (Jackson, 2014; Langer, 2014). In essence, experiencing multiple cultural scripts with diverse others can serve to spark participants’ mindsets from mindlessness to mindfulness (Langer, 2014). Regarding this process, Jackson (2014) asserted:
When you develop a relationship with someone from anther cultural, linguistic or religious background, you are apt to be exposed to different values, communication styles, cultural scripts, traditions languages or dialects and other ways of being. This can spur critical thinking about the messages you have received from your ingroup members about your outgroups. (p. 225)
Furthermore, as the participants were engaged on diverse teams with which they had to work for a significant amount of time, they were provided with a chance to engage profoundly in intercultural relationships. According to Jackson (2014), “Sustained intercultural contact can prompt you to think more deeply about many aspects of your life” (p. 226). Although engagement with differences in short term experiences may provide some sparks towards critical reflection, intensive intercultural contact, such as what was experienced by the participants in this research, can move participants from mindlessness to a mindful state of being (Jackson, 2014). Ultimately, as participants engaged with multiple diverse others on their teams, they experienced disorienting dilemmas with cognitive dissonance. This dissonance is essential for sorting through external versus internal meaning-making, as is demonstrated by research on the epistemological development of emerging adults (Baxter Magolda, 2001). Thus, communication and values were the most salient for the participants in this research due to the experiential nature of the program where participants engaged in critical reflection with diverse others.
Finally, this research served to provide insight in the development of intercultural competence. Similar to the process approach of Intercultural Competence Development presented by Deardorff (2006), this research demonstrated that specific attitudes were a prerequisite for cultivating knowledge and skills, which in turn resulted in a clarification of self, values and beliefs. Moreover, an outcome of this process led to an increased capacity to engage with diverse others. Yet, what Intercultural Competence Development models such as Deardorff’s (2006) do not demonstrate is the necessity to develop confidence in engaging with diverse others. Instead, the internal outcomes of Deardorff’s (2006) model focused on notions such as frame shifting, adaptability, flexibly and empathy (Deardorff, 2006). Yet, this research indicated that a result of clarifying a sense of self was more confidence to put their intercultural knowledge and skills to use with diverse others. Thus, this research gives precedence for intercultural competence development researchers to continue to clarify what role confidence may play as an internal outcome, as well as how connected it may be to navigating disorienting intercultural dilemmas. Future research could substantiate this claim by utilizing a qualitative approach such as this one to understand the role of confidence in intercultural competence development.
Implications for Practice
An implication of this research concerns the components of high impact leadership program. As noted in the discussion, the input of the curriculum was a major contributing factor to the participants clarifying a sense of self and a capacity for engaging with diverse others in post-baccalaureate life. As with many leadership programs, as well as other programming within student affairs divisions, the focus is placed on developing a coherent sense of self as well as learning to engage as ethically responsible citizens. As such, often times curriculum for such programming includes notions of self-awareness, assumptions, biases, and often social justice. These areas of development are essential to cultivate, as substantiated by previous research as well as this current research. Yet, what this current research indicates is the power of developing knowledge and skills regarding communication and value frameworks a priori other areas. These findings demonstrated that knowledge of such frameworks was the gateway to developing other areas of knowledge.
Knowledge and skills regarding communication and value frameworks offer an interpretive lens for all interpersonal/intercultural interaction. Such knowledge is not only a gateway to cultivating other knowledge and skills, it is also the pathway for continually clarifying self throughout an individual’s life. Thus, this research indicated that communication and value frameworks could be explicitly embedded in the co-curriculum as a high impact practice. To substantiate the generativity of this claim, future research could be undertaken in other communities of practice within student affairs areas, namely leadership programs in student government, residential life, and first-generation initiatives. Moreover, areas of diversity and inclusion could also implement aspects of communication and value frameworks into programming for students of color. These areas could be assessed for impact of such an implementation of communication and value systems on participants’ learning.
Finally, rather than relegating the teaching of communication and value frameworks to the co-curriculum, all individuals within the academy could benefit from engaging with these concepts in the curricular aspects of the university. Thus, as an area of future research, administrators and professors could embed communication and value frameworks across the curriculum and assess their impact on their constituents.
Developing Programming for Global Students
Practically, through this research, higher education institutions can understand more clearly the value in providing services and developmental programming for all global students. Having worked in the international education sphere for two decades, I believe that understanding the value of investing in global students is essential for institutions that desire to engage ethically, promoting the intercultural competence growth of all their constituents. Unfortunately, the need to actively cultivate the intercultural competence of global students has often been overlooked. There is a common assumption that global students are culturally aware due to having grown up in international environments. While this may be true for specific individuals, as research has shown, intercultural awareness and competence are not innate, but learned. Thus, just as other diverse constituents of the university, intentional services and programming are necessary for global students to develop such proficiencies. Yet, instead of seeing them as fellow humans in need of holistic development, global students are often marginalized. Recognizing that global students are marginalized on university campuses, providing developmental programming, such as a leadership program, would lessen the commodification of students, as well as demonstrate their mattering. Leadership programs designed for global students can provide multiple opportunities to engage with diverse others in a team oriented, goal-oriented manner that may resemble the globalized workplace.
Moreover, as demonstrated in this research, providing specific programs and developmental strategies for all global students, not just international students, provides a microcosm of diversity which may assist students in cultivating knowledge and skills, as well as clarifying their sense of self. Due to the inclusivity of the constituency, with members from such a variety of backgrounds and perspectives, global students are able to engage with diverse others on multiple levels: communication and value frameworks, leadership styles, socio-economic statues, genders, sexual orientations, etc. Had this group of students been separated into two groups, international students versus U.S. global students, the diversity quotients in both groups would have been much less. While gains could have been made in intercultural competence in less diverse groups, microcosm of diversity provided for these students served to propel them into developing a coherent sense of self and intercultural competence skills to be utilized in post-baccalaureate life.
Higher education institutions have an opportunity before them to amend the historic degradation of global students such as essentializing, commodifying, and ignoring them. Out of a posture of mutuality and respect for the beauty found in multiple values and beliefs, administrators can not only acknowledge global students in their humanity, but also provide opportunities for them to engage in self-negotiation that does not force them to assimilate to a majority norm. Intercultural Leadership Development Programs can be utilized by institutions towards this end as a high impact practice. As this research has demonstrated, the participants in this study were provided with an inclusive space to negotiate their beliefs and values, resulting in an increased capacity and confidence to engage with diverse others in post-baccalaureate life. As with other marginalized groups on university campuses, providing such opportunities for global students will demonstrate their human dignity and mattering.
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