Date of Award


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (College of Education)

First Supervisor

Associate Professor Sean Kearney

Second Supervisor

Dr Gabrielle Russell


Increasing global migration across geographical, linguistic and cultural borders has resulted in culturally and linguistically diverse classrooms in Australia. In response, teacher education programs are exploring ways to enhance preservice teachers’ ability to engage with cultural diversity appropriately and effectively. One way is through the provision of short-term immersion programs. As experiential learning, such programs allow opportunities for students to be embedded in the breadth and depth of human experience, to better understand themselves and the ‘cultural other’. These programs also enable an examination of personal beliefs, habits, and values, which may assist students in moving from a rigid dualist view of the world to a more relativist perspective. Increased awareness of the cultural realities of other people can lead to more tolerance, empathy and understanding.

One immersion program offered in 2016 through the School of Education at the University of Notre Dame Australia involved 20 Australian preservice teachers for a three-week immersion in Kenya. The program was characterised by the principles of service-learning, including experiential learning, reciprocity, relationships and critical thinking. The program was designed as a pedagogical tool, was co-curricular (with no course credit awarded to students who participated) and was undertaken outside of the regular academic semester. This mini-ethnographic case study allowed for examination of the participants’ experiences and the perceived effects of short-term immersion on the development of intercultural competence.

This research improves our understanding of international immersion programs in higher education and the perceived effect of these programs on participants’ development of intercultural competence. The findings are particularly relevant for institutions running such programs and for teachers and other professionals who, given ever-increasing globalisation, will be required to work with culturally diverse people.

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