Year of Publication


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Document Type

Doctoral Dissertation




Educational Policy Studies and Eval

First Advisor

Dr. Beth L. Goldstein


The American Association of Colleges and Universities (AACU) has termed our century “The New Global Century” and begun touting the importance of internationalization and global learning outcomes as a necessity in the post-9/11 era. These outcomes suggest students should be immersed in an unprecedented level of intercultural difference and rest on an assumption that student success is contingent upon students’ ability to navigate intercultural difference. Institutions across the country have embraced strategic interventions designed to support intercultural exchange and learning. This study focuses on intercultural learning as it unfolds in one such intervention: the international living-learning program (LLP).

The study situates itself in two contemporary fields of research—literature tied to intercultural learning and literature tied to LLP outcomes. While a large number of studies focus on LLP outcomes and other studies focus on intercultural outcomes (Bennett, Volet, & Fozdar, 2013; Deardorff, 2006; Ogden, 2010), fewer studies focus on the process of intercultural learning itself (Taylor, 1994). Even fewer studies (Miller, 1996) focus on this process in the context of international LLPs.

This study is a narrative analysis of the intercultural learning of undergraduates living in an international LLP. Data was collected through a series of semi-structured interviews that followed the experience of fourteen undergraduate students (nine American and five international) living in one international LLP. The primary framework guiding the study is John Dewey’s philosophy of learning. This philosophy argues that learning is socially-constructed and takes place as an interaction between a given individual and his surrounding environment. For this reason, the study’s two primary research questions are designed to explore the nature of intercultural learning in context: 1) How do students navigate the intercultural space found within an international LLP? And 2) How do students learn interculturally? That is, what does the process seem to be for each student?

The study identifies three key exemplar patterns of intercultural navigation: 1) circumnavigation, 2) organized navigation, and 3) independent navigation. Employing a theoretical framework that intentionally includes Western (Mezirow) and non-Western (Vygotsky) theories of learning, the study examines “space” as social performance and in doing so unpacks the connection between navigation and intercultural learning as socio-cultural process. Key findings highlight the manner in which environmental factors (e.g., cultural hierarchies, national trends toward privatization, an institutional culture of consumerism, and programmatic structures unique to the LLP) interact with students’ personal goals, motivations, and experiences to shape and define patterns of navigation and intercultural learning a priori. The study concludes with a discussion of the theoretical and practical implications these findings pose for scholars and practitioners alike.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)