Occupational therapy students' perspectives regarding international cross-cultural experiences

Tamera Keiter Humbert, Elizabethtown College
Allison Burket, Elizabethtown College
Rebecca Deveney, Elizabethtown College
Katelyn Kennedy, Elizabethtown College


Background: The purpose of this study was to investigate the perspectives of occupational therapy students who have engaged in international, cross-cultural learning and service experiences. Methods: This study utilized a qualitative, phenomenological design. Nine semi-structured interviews were conducted with students who engaged in international learning opportunities. The interviews were coded and analyzed using a constant comparative analysis approach. Results: Three central themes emerged from the data anlysis. Connectedness is the process of forming relationships with others while engaging in cross-cultural experiences. Students formed relationships with faculty, other students, and people within the community. Cultural awareness is the recognition and understanding of a different culture and responding to those differences. Students attempted to understand the new culture in comparison to their own lived experiences. Complexity portrays cross-cultural opportunities as dynamic, multi-faceted and intricate. This was demonstrated as the students raised additional questions about the conflict between their own culture and the new culture they entered. Students also identified limited orientation, support and structure with such experiences and the conflicting roles between volunteer, student, and team member. Conclusions: The ability to connect with others when building relationships in diverse cultural contexts held meaning for the students; however, the students also expressed conflict in trying to make sense of the new culture as it often challenged personal beliefs and constructs. The complexity and challenges of engaging in these opportunities needs to be recognized and further explored to assess how curricula and faculty best supports culturally responsive care. © 2011 The Authors. Australian Occupational Therapy Journal © 2011 Occupational Therapy Australia.