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Incorporating intercultural experiences into the curriculum

Mari Yamauchi Chiba University of Commerce

Mari Yamauchi teaches EFL, intercultural communication, and study skills at a university. Her major research interests include TEFL, technology integration in language teaching and Japanese EFL learners’ interlanguage. She has been teaching with Moodle, weblogs and other ICT tools, exploring ways to effectively facilitate language learning.

This presentation will discuss how a trial curriculum of an intercultural communication course was implemented in 2014 at a Japanese university. The students took this 2014 course as the first part of a 3-year seminar program with the final goal of writing a graduation thesis. The main goal of the 2014 curriculum was to help them get better prepared to “act interculturally” or “mediating between oneself and others” (Byram & Zarate, 1997; Byram, 2008). As previous implementations of intercultural exchange projects suggested that actual intercultural experiences, enjoyable and challenging, could have a huge impact on their attitudes, motivation, and awareness toward intercultural communication, the latest implementation took a kind of “practice first, theory later” approach. The 2014 course started with (i) in-class research/presentations on Japanese culture and Indonesian culture, and moved into (ii-a) intercultural experiences in Indonesia (optional) and (ii-b) online intercultural exchange with students from China (in/outside the classroom, using Moodle), concluded by (iii) writing a reflective essay about their intercultural experiences, citing designated works from which they learned important concepts and theories related to intercultural communication (including self-disclosure, stereotypes, cultural typologies, and computer-mediated communication). Judging from their final essays, this “practice first, theory later” approach helped the students read and understand academic papers, apply the key concepts to their own intercultural experiences, and logically reflect on their own communication behaviors, with little lecturing. Considering that in previous years it was quite challenging to have students meaningfully work on academic papers (read and use what is said to form their own opinions), this approach worked successfully. In the presentation, the 2014 implementation will be overviewed, with descriptions of activities involved, and then assessed based on student feedback and their final essays.