A sociocultural analysis of fostering intercultural understanding through Italian language studies during study abroad

Enrico Cecconi, Maureen Vandermaas-Peeler

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaper


Educators have increasingly recognized the need to provide opportunities that foster students’ intercultural understanding and prepare them for work in a complex, interconnected world (Hovland, 2014). Study abroad is one of the “high-impact” practices associated with powerful educational benefits such as intercultural competence (Kuh, 2008; Paige & Vande Berg, 2012). Studying abroad fosters exploration of linguistic and cultural traditions through academics and community engagement. When students interact with others in community-embedded programs, they learn to apply knowledge and utilize developing language skills in real-world contexts (Kinginger, 2008). Sociocultural theories emphasize the importance of social interactions in culturally relevant activities for learning and development (e.g., Rogoff, 1990, 2003; Vygotsky, 1978). The presenters, a developmental psychologist and an Italian language professor, taught American students in a language and cultural studies program in Florence, Italy. We will utilize a sociocultural framework to analyze Italian language studies as a cultural tool students can use to navigate intercultural exchanges, through participation in a wide array of activities that foster community engagement (e.g., conversing with local merchants and participating in cultural festivals). Surveys of recent graduates of the program highlight the importance of learning and practicing Italian language skills in relevant social contexts for developing intercultural understanding. We will also present case studies that depict multiple pathways of learning in diverse social contexts, including an analysis of a performing artist whose entrée into the community was through his music, and an exploration of the opportunities and challenges faced by students of varying degrees of language proficiency.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusUnpublished - 2017
Event9th Biennial ACIS Conference - Monash University Prato Centre, Italy, Prato
Duration: 4 Jul 20177 Jul 2017


Conference9th Biennial ACIS Conference
Internet address


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