'My whiteness is very prominent in Cusco:' Cultural excavation among teacher candidates studying abroad in Peru

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I report on how teacher candidates used cultural excavation activities to reflect upon a study abroad experience in Peru and the role of these activities in developing intercultural competence. Findings show movement towards more ethnorelative stances, demonstrating cultural excavation as a powerful, albeit not sufficient, framework for scaffolding study abroad.

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While study abroad (SA) is often cited as the quintessential experience for gaining linguistic and intercultural competence (Brecht & Ingold, 2000), it must include ample opportunity for reflection in order to have its desired impact (Byram, 2006). A reflective SA experience is particularly important for U.S. K-12 teachers and teacher candidates, who, despite continued efforts at diversification, are still overwhelmingly White in stark contrast to the multicultural, multilingual students they teach. Due to the often-unmarked status of White cultures, Ladson-Billings (2017) noted the importance of “cultural excavation,” in which White teacher candidates are guided towards recognizing and reflecting upon their own cultures in order to better appreciate other cultures (p. 145). Cultural excavation is even more vital when teacher candidates study abroad in developing countries, as issues of race, class, and social status can be even more pronounced. In this study I discuss how ten teacher candidates, seven of whom identified as White, undertook cultural excavation during and after SA in Peru. Using data from the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), student blog posts, reflections on intercultural encounters, focus groups, and other activities, I describe how cultural excavation enabled candidates to reflect on different aspects of diversity and the diversity inherent in their own lives. I also explore the role cultural excavation may have played in the development of their intercultural competence while abroad. IDI results demonstrate that, although most students moved towards more ethnorelative intercultural stances, significant gaps persisted between participants’ perceived and actual intercultural orientations. Thus, although cultural excavation seemed to play a positive role in developing further intercultural competence, some reversal was evident in both artifacts and candidate discourse, requiring extensive unpacking and analysis among the group. I discuss cultural excavation as a helpful but not sufficient framework for scaffolding the SA experience among teacher candidates and others.

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University of Connecticut

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