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Volume 1, Number 1, Fall 1999 - Winter 2000

The Evolution Continues: The UOP Cross-Cultural Training Courses

by Bruce La Brack


The University of the Pacific's integrated cross-cultural training program has been in operation for nearly a quarter century. Over those years it has undergone numerous changes in theoretical approach, teaching, personnel, and course content, format, and sequencing. The one element which has remained constant is our philosophical approach to providing interesting, relevant, and current information to undergraduates who participate in our study abroad programs.

These courses evolved from a voluntary, single country (Japan), non-credit, orientation-only course for a specific college unit into a linked set of two-credit orientation and reentry offerings serving the entire University community. In recounting the genesis of specific programmatic aspects of the Cross-Cultural Training I (Orientation to Study Abroad) and Cross-Cultural Training II (Analysis of Overseas Experience) courses, the original rationales and techniques used to encourage students to view their time abroad as an ongoing process of change and growth are given. Although designed specifically for U.S. undergraduates, Theoretical basis and overall structure which links orientation and reentry are easily generalizable in a wide variety of intercultural settings. We have found these courses effective in preparing our students in ways not normally available in the standard curriculum and an invaluable component of their preparation for and analysis of their international experiences. Above all, it works!

For us, these courses are the means by which we continue to theoretically link our pre- and post-sojourn offerings for the same reasons which were initially outlined in my article which originally appeared as "Orientation as Process: The Integration of Pre- and Post-Experience Learning" in Michael Paige, ed. Cross Cultural Orientation: New Conceptualizations and Applications, University Press of America, Lantham, MD. 1986. This first article summarized the program during its first decade (1975-85). Between 1986 and 1992 the program underwent further major changes in administrative and academic areas and these were outlined in a major revision of the first article published as "The Missing Linkage: The Process of Integrating Orientation and Reentry" in Michael Paige, ed.Education for the Intercultural Experience, 2nd. ed. The Intercultural Press, Yarmouth, ME, 1993.

What follows is a further updating of the UOP program as it continues to evolve in response to a wide range of changes brought about by, among other factors: new approaches and techniques developed in the fields of intercultural communication and cross-cultural training; current university student body experiences and expectations, including "new" populations (e.g. refugee, Third Culture Kids, Global Nomads); international conflicts and issues of safety and personal responsibility in study abroad; realignment of academic responsibilities and programs within UOP, and the inevitable issues of allocation of university resources and faculty time.

If you are familiar with the program at UOP and wish only an update about what we have been doing for the past seven years or so, then you may begin reading the next section. If you are not familiar with the philosophy and earlier features of the UOP cross-cultural training programs, we suggest that you first read the "Missing Linkage" article published by the Intercultural Press. This has been graciously made available by permission of the Press and can be accessed through this web site. Reviewing this article first will substantially clarify the material which follows and provide the background necessary to place the UOP cross-cultural training program into its' historical perspective.

The Integration Question: Who, When, How, Why?

The International Student Experiment

The question of "who should take cross-cultural training" had been settled at UOP for over two decades because we simply required every individual who elects to study abroad through our institution to take the seven-week, 2-unit credit course regardless of his or her prior experience. New types of students have recently forced us to rethink this issue, not because we are any less committed to the idea of providing every student with appropriate intercultural tools, but because increasingly a significant portion of our students fall into non-traditional categories and may have needs which might not always be met through a single, inflexible sequence or by a single type of training. I will outline these issues shortly, but first I need to recount why we no longer include in our cross-cultural training a group which we thought was a natural component of a such a program -- the 'international student'.

In the earlier article we outlined how and why for seven years (1986-1993) we sought to incorporate incoming international students into the orientation class which formerly had been exclusively for outward bound UOP study abroad students. We stand by our original assessments about the usefulness and mutual benefit of bringing together US-American students with as wide a range of students of other nationalities, cultures, and religions as possible. The presence of international students in the cross-cultural classroom is sorely missed, but a number of bureaucratic and cultural factors made continuing this experiment difficult.

First, the orientation course was voluntary for international students who would be taking it in their first semester on campus. For them, the Cross Cultural Training I course would serve as an introduction to American culture generally and campus social life in particular. What became an issue from the beginning was the mixing of 'voluntary' international students and 'involuntary' groups of study abroad students. While the "cross-cultural" dimension of the course always worked rather well, if not always flawlessly, the captive audience often felt that the international students were not taking the course as seriously as they were and felt that the international students had nothing to lose if they did not perform well in the course; while the US-Americans could be, theoretically, deselected from study abroad for a poor class performance.

While some of this is attributable to simple performance anxiety on the part of the American students or pre-departure jitters, there was always some truth to the feeling that the international students were not being graded on the same criteria or in the same way. This perception was reinforced when some international students would fail to turn in an assigned paper or just drop the class when the work seemed to get too hard. By trying to meet different needs of two very different groups, we probably erred on the side of optimism and did not fully realize that the disparate nature and impact of their respective styles of class participation and different motivations might have some unanticipated consequences. Further, the success of the program depends upon the students taking the course seriously and participating even when they feel uncomfortable in class. This needs to be reinforced by everyone who comes in contact with the international students, including their major faculty advisor, the unit in which they are enrolled, the international center advisor, and their fellow students. This did not always happen.

The result was that we all agreed in 1994 to cease, for the time being, routinely and systematically incorporating international students into our Cross-Cultural Training I course. The ideological and pedagogical ideals which had motivated this arrangement had been temporarily overcome by logistical and attitudinal issues. In 1998 the Offices of International Services and International Programs were combined unto one unit -- now known as International Programs and Services (IPS) and headed by Donna Cheshire. IPS and SIS are currently talking once again about ways in which we can reintegrate these two university populations in ways which are mutually beneficial. This is happening not just because we believe it could work, but because for five or six years it did work and was often, in spite of some unforeseen problems, culturally synergistic.

IPS is also planning to offer a Director's Seminar for first-year international students as a pilot course in Fall 2000 and it is expected that this will become established as a 2-unit-seven week course by Spring 2001. The Directors Seminar will be primarily an extension of the IPS offices' initial standard orientation for international student which begins prior to the beginning of their regular classes. It will concentrate primarily on skill building and academic adjustment ; however, it will include modules which will incorporate some of our returning American students who have studied abroad. They will be invited to discuss issues of culture shock and reentry/"reverse" culture shock. This will give the American students another venue to share their experiences and serve to open discussions with the international students about the cultural and psychological impacts of studying in another country and then going home.

Immigrants: "Hidden" and Otherwise

The absence of in-coming international students did remove one type of diversity from the Orientation course; however, other kinds of students were arriving who brought with them a variety of international backgrounds and "other" diversities. They were not "traditional" in the sense of not coming from relatively monocultural US-American backgrounds. These include bi- and tri-lingual/cultural students from refugee or immigrant families (mostly Southeast Asian but also Central and South Americans and Eastern Europeans) and increasing numbers of "Third Culture Kids" or "Global Nomad" family members. While these two groups are radically different in most ways, they were similar in that their transition to college was often more complex and fraught with identity issues largely unknown to more traditional students. They had almost all had extensive international experience, often as children raised in cultures other than their passport/nationality. This raised several issues in relation to cross-cultural training.

As these types of students began to choose to study abroad, and therefore had to take Cross-Cultural Training I, complications arose about who had to take what and when. This was just one facet of the complications inherent in providing non-traditional students with appropriate educational opportunities without having to treat every case as an exception. The model we first emulated was based upon one the School of International Studies adopted in 1987 to deal with their issue of "if we require all students who enroll at SIS to study abroad as part of their graduation, then what do we do with international students who are coming to us for an 'American' experience?"

SIS from its inception in 1986, understood that an international student in its School was already engaged in a "foreign experience" for four years and that to require (as opposed to strongly encourage) additional study abroad was potentially counterproductive to the goals of the student. So they created the "mirror image" category within the School which required Cross-Cultural I (Orientation) but not Cross-Cultural Training II (Reentry) unless they choose to study abroad on a UOP program. If they choose later to go abroad, these international students would have already completed the CCT I course, although we might make some additional culture specific assignments to complete before they leave campus. Mirror image students who do go overseas as part of the UOP program are also required to take CCT II after study abroad. Essentially it created twotracks wtihin the School. This is the model we first adapted, with modifications, for Cross Cultural Training I.

What this meant in practical terms, is that we were trying to set up categories of students who would be operating under somewhat different rules. For example, for some SIS Global Nomads (from military, diplomatic, business, or missionary backgrounds) the sequence of CCT-I followed by CCT-II (the normal path) was not optimal for very complex reasons. Once we started to differentiate and seriously look at matching the students prior experience levels with cross-cultural training it became evident that some major adjustments were going to have to be made. Since the background of this debate is available elsewhere and the recent policy changes are dealt with at length on theUOP/SIS web site. I will not reiterate it here, except to say that a Global Nomad can now choose from two entirely separate tracks within SIS, choosing to be treated as an international student (essentially as a "hidden immigrant) or simply enroll as a regularly matriculating US-American student. The programmatic impact on the CCT program is negligible, but it does mean that some Global Nomad students may take the CCT courses out-of-sequence, taking Reentry first, followed by Orientation as they are about to go overseas. There are sound psychological and practical reasons for such a switch and they are discussed fully in the web citation above. It also means that whomever is teaching the CCT courses needs, more than ever, to know exactly who is in the class and to have some understanding of their backgrounds.

The situation with students from refugee backgrounds is similar. Depending on how long they have been in the US and their educational background they might choose to matriculate as 'international' students or as regular students in the SIS program. They, too, might be allowed to take the CCT courses out-of-sequence, although in neither their or the Global Nomad cases, would a student who is going abroad be allowed to waive the CCT I course altogether. If this seems complicated, it is, It requires the close attention of faculty advisors, cross-cultural training staff, and consultation with the individual students. Such tracking of details is probably impossible in an institution whose program is significantly larger than the UOP. We currently have enrollments of 40-50+ per semester in CCT I and 10-15 in CCT II. This totals fewer than 130 students per year. We offer one of each CCT course per semester, a total of four CCT courses per year.

Recently we have begun to make some further changes in the way we offer sections. We have on occasion divided the sections between SIS and non-SIS students as the SIS students already have already been exposed to some of the international comparative material and we wished to reduce content redundancy. Additionally, many of our students come into the CCT I course having taken Cultural Anthropology and our student evaluations picked up that many of these students felt that there was some overlap between the materials and principles articulated in anthropology and the topics in CCT I. This is not surprising as all the CCT courses are currently taught by anthropologists, but we are concerned that the relatively more sophisticated students may be bored by having to repeat some basic materials. For this and other reasons, we have considered, from time to time, splitting the CCT I course differently: one section for those who have already had cultural anthropology and one for those without any anthropology background; however, with limited faculty time allocations we have not been able offer this degree of differentiation, although we think it would be a good idea.

We are constantly aware of the changing nature of our CCT course participants and attempt, within the limits of time and personnel, to adjust our offerings to accommodate new circumstances and needs as they arise. I would like to acknowledge here the role of anthropologist Dr. Barbara West who joined SIS in 1995 and has taken the lead in the Cross-Cultural Training I course. She has worked closely with the author to institute many changes in the format and content of this critical course and taken on a heavy work load with professional good cheer. I would personally like to thank her for her flexibility and dedication to its success.

The FIPSE/SAFETI Research Project and Its Ongoing Impact on CCT

Beginning Fall of 1998 UOP joined a group of universities led by USC who were concerned with health and safety issues revolving around study abroad. I had been concerned for years about things I had heard about in Reentry (CCT II) regarding risky student behavior and/or deteriorating conditions in some of the areas to which we send students (e.g. Russia, Africa). Moreover, because much information about safety related issues in study abroad is anecdotal, and much that occurs is not officially reported by students (for a variety of reasons), I decided to use part of my FIPSE money to conduct a "safety incident survey" at UOP. I wanted to determine exactly what was going on overseas to our students, both to gain a clear idea of the actual nature and frequency of such events as well as determine if we could do something more in CCT I to prepare out students for the realities already encountered by their peers.

By December 1999 we had created, pretested, distributed, and analyzed questionnaires from nearly 100 former UOP study abroad students. To our dismay we found that there were 2.5 safety incidents per student, including robbery, theft, and physical and sexual assault. The full results of our survey thus far will be available on line at The Center for Global Education SAFETI Clearinghouse Website, so I will concentrate on what measures we have taken in light of what seems to us an unacceptably high rate of incidents. I won't dwell here on the liability issues or even the moral questions of knowing (or not knowing) what is happening to our students on our programs, but discuss only the programmatic changes we made as a result of having hard data survey results which raised a number of red flags for faculty and staff dealing with study abroad..

First, International Programs and Services (IPS), who had assisted in the original survey, agreed to take on the added responsibility of insuring that from Fall 1999 onwards every student who goes on a UOP study-abroad program will complete the Safety Incident Survey as part of their required Exit Interview with IPS. The survey is confidential, untraceable, and unsigned -- and destroyed as soon as that semesters' data is tabulated. We are so serious about gathering and utilizing this information that we have agreed on the policy that a students overseas grade transcript will not be released to the registrar until this survey is completed! We feel that one of the lessons of our initial survey is that we need 100% compliance to keep the IPS and SIS informed of what our students are experiencing. Each semester's data will then be collated, analyzed, and added to the past semester's profile so we can track the what, where, and when of safety related incidents over time.

The New IPS Study Abroad Workbook and Its Relation to CCT-I

At the same time that the SAFETI survey was being conducted, the Director of International Programs and Services, Donna Cheshire, was in the process of producing both a Student Guide and a Study Abroad Workbook. The Student Guide is the type of document that most Study Abroad offices produce for their students and details the procedures, requirements, forms, and sequence that a student should follow. It is informational and general. The Workbook is separate and quite different and composed of 8 sections that cover topics from health issues to housing and meals and general travel information. It poses a variety of "questions" that students must specifically answer regarding their study abroad site. These answers must be current and accurate. Where feasible, the World Wide Web/Internet is to be used and sample sites are provided. While the Workbook was in process before the survey was done, the results were an additional impetus to deal with safety-related issues in a more detailed manner (like how do you dial the police or emergency numbers?).

The IPS program decided, with our full concurrence, to make completion of the Workbook an additional requirement of their office and to add the Workbook to the work load in CCT I. Since Fall 1999, students going abroad must complete the workbook by the end of the CCT I course. We share the grading of it with the staff of IPS and it is now worth 10% of a student's overall grade in CCT I. The CCT faculty worked closely with the IPS to develop this additional valuable tool and applaud their initiative. We think it fits nicely with what concurrently happens in the CCT I classroom and shows that the University in general, and IPS and SIS in particular, are serious about both preparing them to go abroad and concerned about their safety while there.

A Quarter Century of ReEntry Papers: The Research Collection

The second project funded by FIPSE was much more ambitious and difficult. As part of the Cross-Cultural Training II (ReEntry) course UOP students have always been assigned to create reflective papers of at least 20 pages on the impact of their overseas sojourn and their responses to the return home. These have been compiled since 1976 at UOP and the total now stands at approximately 350 papers and some 10,000 pages of irreplaceable data on student experiences, attitudes, and analyses. All the papers have now been digitally scanned and put into files by semester and year. The task remains to put all this material into a searchable data base to allow easy retrieval and archiving of this record. It is perhaps the largest collection of student-generated materials related to reentry in the US. How the material will be used in the longer term is undetermined, but I hope to work with USC on possibly putting it into CD-ROM form to make it more accessible to serious researchers. Currently students in the CCT II course often consult this archive to see what former students have done for their papers and to get some idea of the expressive range of their peers' past work before they begin their own papers,

Cultural "Critical Incident" Files

The third project in 1999 was to collect, organize, data enter, and make available to all UOP students a set of cultural "critical incidents" from former study abroad participants. Basically, these are short examples which illustrate some cultural faux pas (behavioral, linguistic, or assumptions) which actually happened to the students while abroad. Each semester for the past four years in Cross-Cultural Training II (Reentry) an assignment is given to write down and discuss at least two such cases from their direct personal experience. They then construct a "mini-quiz" which others can take to see if they can guess the cause of the misunderstanding (the answers also contain the student's perceived reasons for and explanations of the incident for the reader). From this point on, the collection will be added to every semester as returning students in the Cross-Cultural Training II program narrate their own critical incidents as part of a class assignment. Thus it should remain relatively current and useful for anyone contemplating study abroad. We are also considering putting all the incidents on a floppy disk for UOP student use and possibly even wider distribution to interested professionals in study abroad.

To date, approximately 130 critical incidents have been compiled, filed, and made available to all UOP students through the Study Abroad Library of the International Programs and Services office. The file is organized by country, gender, program, city, and date. Students taking Cross-Cultural Training I (Orientation) are encouraged to use this file to get some idea of actual intercultural encounters which have recently occurred to their peers in situations similar to those they are about to face. Additionally, the instructor for CCT-I usually presents some of these incidents in class as exercises in how to figure out what kinds of things can go wrong in cross-cultural encounters and how to deal with such challenges.

By creating this file, students contemplating overseas study or those who already know were they are going abroad can consult these peer-generated (and often "precipitated") events. In this way they will gain further insight into both the general potential for cross-cultural gaffs as well as specific understanding of the kinds of intercultural situations which have recently occurred across a wide range of cultures. Each semester approximately twenty new critical incidents are added to the collection.


As can be seen by the last three FIPSE/SAFETI projects, the UOP Cross-Cultural Training program is continually evolving, changing and expanding. Obviously, this kind of investment in intercultural training is only possible with the support of the higher administration of an institution and the commitment of resources and faculty/staff involvement. This program probably cannot be exactly duplicated anywhere due to the unique history of, relationships within, and size of, the University of the Pacific, but the basic principles are certainly applicable to any study abroad situation. It does require the retraining of faculty to some extent and a serious allocation of their time. But the rewards are great and the student responses at the conclusion of their programs overseas are so overwhelmingly positive that they far outweigh the logistical and administrative problems encountered in setting up and running such a cross-cultural training program.

Increasingly, our students who have had such training come back to campus to tell us how much the intercultural dimension has added to their personal lives, but also to note how much international experience and cross-cultural training is becoming part of whatever field of study or work they are pursuing. Many want to become trainers themselves or work in domestic diversity settings or go abroad again. The UOP Cross-Cultural Training program has proven to be somewhat ahead of its time. We are continually working to improve what we do and how we do it.

Please address any inquiries about this program to the author at Comments and suggestions on our Cross-Cultural Training program here at the School of International Studies are always welcome.

  • Bruce La Brack, Ph.D.
    Professor of Anthropology
    and International Studies
    University of the Pacific
    Stockton, California 95211

  • Bruce La Brack is Professor of Anthropology and International Studies at the University of the Pacific in Stockton, California. He holds a joint appointment in the Sociology/Anthropology Department and the School of International Studies where he is Coordinator of Cross-Cultural Training. For over 20 years, he has been teaching a course for students prior to participating in study abroad (INTL 151: Cross-Cultural Training 1) and another course to support the re-entry process after students return from study abroad (INTL 161: Cross-Cultural Training 2).