Intercultural learning through the outdoor experiential medium of sail-training
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date30/11/2021
Living in an increasingly global world where people are expected to be interculturally competent makes the process of intercultural learning more important than ever before. Becoming interculturally competent is complex and there is no clear path to achieve this but it is anticipated that researching the process of intercultural learning will provide useful insights. In the field of intercultural learning, the application of an outdoor experiential approach has received limited attention. Moreover, very few attempts have been made to explore the intercultural educative value of sail-training experience. This research set out to examine the learning context and process of young people’s sail-training experience specifically focusing on contributions to intercultural learning. Experiential learning and interculturality theories provide a framework for exploring the way in which young people co-construct meanings from their experiences. Dewey’s (1916; 1938) and Kolb’s (1984, 2005) work helps to understand the dual importance of reflective orientation and active experimentation and experience in the process of experiential learning as well as illustrates features of an effective experiential learning space. Thirdspace scholars such as Bhabha (1994), Soja (1996), Kramsch (2009) introduce ‘thirdspace’ as a critical term in understanding intercultural interaction and experiences and forms a bridging point to understand experiential learning and interculturality in the same space. Socio-cultural experts’ concepts, including Holliday’s (2001) understanding of intersubjectivity, Hofstede’s (1991) onion metaphor, and Fang’s (2005, 2012) ocean metaphor provide analytical tools to interpret the intersubjective orientation and meaning construction process in experiential learning. A qualitative approach was used to collect evidence of participants’ intercultural learning during and after a sail-training voyage across the North Sea. Principal data collection involved interviewing 14 young people during and six months after the sail-training voyage. Secondary data were derived from focus groups, informal discussion, participant observation, participants’ sailing diaries, photographs and observations. Interview transcripts were interpreted using thematic analysis and member-checking was conducted for trustworthiness. The findings suggest that the special learning space of an intercultural experiential sailing voyage has a role to play in contributing to the learners’ intercultural engagement while the sail-training voyage is also a highly subjective and interactive experience. The principal outcomes are three identified elements of sail-training that potentially contribute to effective intercultural learning; the critical elements of understanding the self and the other in the process; and the process and relation based learning outcome. Participants revealed that the learning environment of sail-training has not only ‘forced’ them but also motivated them to interact and learn in the intercultural setting. The learning space and on board culture encouraged learners to go through a reflective learning process which contributed to cultivating their intercultural sensitivity and understanding, such as openness and humility. The findings of this thesis share similarities with the work of Allport (1954) and Wright (1994), both of whom put an emphasis on prejudice reduction in multicultural groups. Future research could evaluate the proposed model by applying it in a diversity of outdoor learning contexts and different sail-training voyages. Insights suggest sail-training practitioners and programme designers should be aware of the effective learning environment and potential approaches to nurture intercultural learning on board. This thesis makes original contributions to knowledge both methodogically and theoretically. The methodological approach to this thesis delivers (i) a qualitative study of intercultural learning through sail-training and (ii) an analysis of intercultural learning through sail-training that draws upon a unique synthesis of theory and evidence. Theoretically, the thesis establishes a model of intercultural experiential learning based on both cross-disciplinary theoretical exploration and empirical evidence collection and analysis.