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Migration, Mobility, and Intercultural Learning in Study Abroad Programs: the Case of Germany and Ghana Educational Exchange Program

  • Muhammed Abdulai
Arena of Movement
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Abstract

This paper examines the influence of cultures on international educational exchange from the context of students from Hochschule Dusseldorf University of Applied Sciences (HSD) in Germany and University for Development Studies (UDS) in Ghana using a qualitative approach of the social construction paradigm. The study highlights differences in conception and interpretation of gender roles and power relations between students from Germany and Ghana which had hindered cultural contacts and learning. Again, the study revealed that mere cross-cultural interactions between exchange students and domestic students do not necessarily promote intercultural learning. In light of this, the paper concludes that for international educational contact to achieve effective and efficient intercultural learning with students from different cultural backgrounds, universities and institutions of higher learning preparing to engage in international educational exchange programs should be adequately prepared on cross-cultural training focusing on both the cultures of the sending and receiving universities and societies before and during the educational exchange program. Finally, the paper recommends that international education exchange programs should be encouraged by universities and institutions of higher learning because the skills and knowledge students gained during and after an international exchange program could make them easily adaptive and sensitive to different cultures.

Keywords

Migration Mobility Inter-cultural learning Culture Study Abroad Program 

Introduction

The accelerated globalization and internationalization of education has facilitated international student mobility around the world. For instance, in 2015, the OECD report revealed that there were 4.5 million students worldwide enrolled outside their countries of citizenship. In this regard, the quest for students to spend a period of time abroad has created new demands and challenges to host universities and societies to deal with international mobile students whose cultures are different from the cultures of the host universities and societies. Against this backdrop, the growing numbers of international students in universities across the world have triggered research interests in international student mobility as a component of international migration. In view of this, scholars such as Harsch and Poehner (2016), Dehmel and Pferdt (2011), Stone (2006), and de Wit (2015) have argued that the main aim of study abroad (SA)1 program is to prepare the life of students to fit well into the globalizing world and make them employable and sensitive to other cultures.

Besides, studies have shown that in the field of international migration and population movements, student mobility has not been a major focus of attention until very recently (Massey 1998; Castles et al. 2014; UNDP 2009). The major texts on international migration pay scant attention to students as migrants or mobile people. However, in today’s globalizing world, the importance of “economic migrants”2 and “asylum seekers”3 are equally important to that of “international student migration4”. This study is important because it will contribute to the existing literature on SA programs and cross-cultural aspect of international student mobility.

Within international migration studies, the increasing insistence of the benefits of international student mobility has inevitably brought with it a need not only to focus on the benefits of international student mobility to the host universities, societies, and the individual students, but also to understand the effects of local cultural variables that foster or inhibit international student integration into the host universities and societies. On the one hand, within the European context, several empirical and critical studies have been conducted on SA programs (Harsch and Poehner 2016; Kinginger 2009; Byrame et al. 2013; Coleman 2015 among others). For instance, Harsch and Poehner (2016) employed dynamic assessment (DA) to investigate intercultural learning in the UK context. The authors asked 13 international students in the UK to comment upon a number of critical incidents and provided mediation in order to identify the students’ emerging intercultural learning in terms of cognitive processes. The study highlighted intercultural learning needs for mobile students and recommended that intercultural training programs be designed for international mobile students. On the other hand, in the context of Africa, SA programs are valued and encouraged because of its cultural and economic benefits to the receiving universities and societies (Frempong and Akua 2015; Karstens 2012). Available literature on SA programs within Africa have identified Ghana, South Africa, Morocco, and Egypt as some of the top destination countries for international student mobility (Frempong and Akua 2015; Campus France 2016; Karstens 2012). For instance, in the case of Ghana, through a survey and in-depth interviews on foreign student mobility to Ghana, Frempong and Akua (2015) revealed that peace, stability, Ghana’s cultural heritage, and cross-cultural exchanges shaped the migration trajectories of foreign students to Ghana as a destination for studies. Similarly, an experiential report by Karstens (2012), a German exchange student at the University of Ghana, revealed that she spent a semester at the Geography and Resources Development Department because she wanted to broaden her horizon, experience new cultures, and improve on her English language skills.

While these bodies of research (Campus France 2016; Frempong and Akua 2015; Karstens 2012; Harsch and Poehner 2016; Kinginger 2009) presented an excellent overview of SA programs by casting light on the “why” and “how” of SA programs, it has not highlighted the impact of local cultural variables on international exchange student interaction with domestic students, lecturers, and local communities, and its effect on cultural learning in the Ghanaian context. For instance, if the term SA carries with it the meaning of cross-border education, it implies that students who are engaged in SA programs migrate to their destination universities and societies with their cultural baggage: beliefs, assumptions, behaviours, norms, and expectations (Kitsantas 2004). These cultural variables may or may not fit well into the cultures of the receiving universities. In the context of educational migration in Ghana, the issue which remains in the dark to scholars and policy makers in SA programs is how to integrate international students with “dissimilar cultures” into the host universities to promote intercultural learning.

In this paper, I will focus on international student mobility, relating it to SA programs, using the exchange program between HSD in Germany and UDS in Ghana. Specifically, the paper seeks to answer these questions: How do cultures influence interactions between exchange students from HSD in Germany and UDS in Ghana? How does it affect intercultural learning? To answer the research questions, the study has adopted the qualitative method of the constructivist paradigm, and migration and intercultural learning theoretical framework. The paper is structured as follows: review of research literature on the problem, theoretical underpinnings, research methodology and methods, findings, and conclusion.

Migration, Mobility, Cross-cultural Contacts, and Capital

For a start, the word “migration” can have different meanings depending on the context it is used. On the one hand, when people migrate across national borders, it is known as international migration, and the people engaged in it are called immigrants or migrants (UNDP 2009; Chandria 1998). On the other hand, when migration takes place within a country by crossing either villages, districts, or state boundaries, it is known as internal or national migration, and the people engaged in it are called in-migrants (UNDP 2009; Chandria 1998). In defining mobility, Chandria (1998) contends that it is a temporary or seasonal labour or student movement. In other words, mobility denotes movement of people either within a country or by crossing villages, districts, state boundaries, or across national borders without any intention of permanent settlement (UNDP 2009). In addition, Kitsantas and Meyers (2001) has highlighted different forms of student mobility (long-term mobility or degree mobility and credit mobility). HESA (2003) defines long-term mobility or degree mobility as the movement of students to universities outside their countries of residence to enrol into degree programs. This often takes place when students complete their secondary level of education. Besides, credit mobility is when a student studied in another country for a defined period to acquire credits for the qualification in their home country (Kitsantas 2004). This study is located within the credit mobility strand of educational migration. As a result, the concept of mobility is employed to cast light on the educational exchange program between HSD in Germany and UDS in Ghana.

While it is true to argue that SA programs attract students from other countries, it is equally important to note that SA programs are important meeting grounds for cross-cultural contacts (Bochner and Furnham 1979). In view of this, cross-cultural contact is understood as a situation in which people from different cultural backgrounds come into contact (Bennett 2012). In addition, in a study of detailed biography analyses of the Euro identity project, Miller Robbert with Day Graham (2012) observed that educational mobile (EM)-sensitized group accumulates and circulates education and other forms of capital. Against this background, the experience students gained through their interactions with their significant others outside their families could expose them to cultural, economic, and social capitals (Bourdieu 1986). Similarly, Miller Robbert with Day Graham (2012) further noted that cross-cultural contacts through educational mobility provide an infrastructure for the development of capitals which are not defined by national currencies. This implies that the advantages educational mobile students gained such as acquisition of general cultural knowledge, access to more extensive education and training, and acquisition of credential cannot easily be defined by national currencies. In support of this view, Hannerz (1990) asserts that every student needs to develop cultural and symbolic competencies which are understood as an individual’s ability to know, command, and enact a variety of cultural knowledge and predispositions to be able to switch cultural codes as required, but not necessarily possessed by many students. In this case, students are required to possess cultural capital in order to fit into different socio-cultural contexts.

Conceptualizing International Education, Study Abroad, and Intercultural Learning

To begin with, the connotation of the phrase “to internationalize” means to operate across national borders or carried on between nations (de Wit 2008). Again, when the adjective “international” is used to modify “education,” it refers to the movement of students, researchers, and other academics across national borders or curriculums that are incorporated to institutions of other societies (Bennett 2012). In this regard, students who migrate from their home universities to other universities either for a short or long study program are engaged in international education. Moreover, Knight (2012) defines internationalization as “a process of integrating an international and intercultural dimension into the teaching, research, and service functions of the institution” (p. 19). What this means is that universities and institutions of higher learning are encouraged to be globally and culturally sensitive in their quest for responding to the forces of globalization of education.

In addition, relating the concept of “international” to higher education, thus, internationalization of higher education, de Wit (2008) explains internationalization of higher education to mean the variety of policies and programs that universities and governments implement to respond to globalization. This means that internationalization is a sub-set of globalization, and the policies designed to respond to globalization are as follows: SA programs, international knowledge sharing, service learning, and incorporating international programs into the main stream programs in global universities (de Wit 2008). In view of this, SA which is a main policy initiative of many universities and countries in the world is defined as the act of pursuing an educational opportunity in a different country other than one’s own country (Kitsantas 2004). In terms of the origin of the policy of SA, Brickman (1965) claims that the idea of SA is as old as recorded history. In particular, Brickman noted that in the past, the early Roman emperors encouraged foreign teachers to come to Rome for educational exchange programs. In recent times, however, the sheer size, speed, and scope of international student mobility are alarming. In view of this, Bochner and Wicks (1972) explained that governments and foundations have supported the movement of students and schools across cultural boundaries. For instance, a study by the Council of the European Union (2011) revealed that in 2008/2009 academic year, the European Union student exchange program helped almost 200,000 students to go abroad for studies and company placement. Similarly, Bennett (2012) highlighted that over a quarter of a million US higher education students were studying abroad in 2010/2011 academic year. In the context of Africa, Campus France (2016) observed that Africa represents more than one mobile student out of ten (10) worldwide.

In connection with the rational of student mobility, the Council of the European Union (2011) revealed that some of the fundamental ways in which young people can strengthen their future employability, intercultural awareness, personal development, creativity, and active citizenship participation are through SA programs. To corroborate the submission of the Council of the European Union, Bennett (2012) noted that every SA program, no matter the level, format, or focus, is aimed at learning about the cultures of foreign countries to become interculturally competent. In effect, some of the benefits of SA programs are to prepare students to become open and mindful about other cultures and develop their individual capabilities in order to fit well into the job market after their studies. Concerning intercultural learning, Bennett (2012) defines intercultural learning as the ability of the individual to acquire knowledge of the subjective cultural context, including knowledge of one’s own culture, and develop skills to interact competently and sensitively across cultures. In this context, intercultural learning could be interpreted to mean the ability of an exchange student to learn about the cultures of the host society and university and be able to interact effectively across cultures.

The Ocean Metaphor of Culture

This paper has adopted the “ocean” metaphors of culture (Sackmann and Phillips 2004; Brenne and Salk 2000). The ocean metaphor of culture holds that culture can be compared to an ocean in a given context and time. The visible wave patterns of the ocean can be compared to the visible elements of culture that can be seen (Fang 2006). For example, food, clothing, symbols, and practices are considered as the visible elements of culture. Concerning the invisible elements of culture, Fang (2006) noted that the ocean embraces not just visible wave patterns on its surface, but also numerous ebbs and flows underneath amazing depth. These unknown or invisible ebbs and flows underneath the ocean are the unseen or invisible cultural values and behaviours. It is argued that values and beliefs which are hidden underneath the ocean can be stimulated or activated to come up to the ocean’s surface to become visible at some point in time or context (Fang 2006). Relating this theory to the Germans’ and Ghanaians’ exchange students, it implies that the cross-cultural interactions between the Ghanaians’ and Germans’ exchange students could stimulate their invisible cultural elements such as beliefs, basic assumptions, thinking, and philosophies to be made visible.

Methodology and Methods

This study is situated in the social construction epistemology. The approach holds that the world in which we live is constructed by us, and that once constructed, it is not open to change very easily, even though we can deconstruct it as often as we like (Berger and Thomas 1966; Creswell 2009; Bryman 2004). This implies that reality/realities about the exchange program between students from HSD, Germany, and UDS, Ghana, is/are constructed by the actors engaged in the exchange program; once constructed and institutionalized, they cannot easily be de-constructed.

Again, the study adopts a qualitative case study research design. The case study is a research design in which the investigator explores a bounded system (a case) or multiple bounded systems (cases) over time through detailed data collection, involving multiple sources of information (Creswell 2009). In this regard, the case study research design is appropriate for describing, explaining, or predicting process associated with varieties of phenomena at the individual, group, and organizational levels (Yin 2003). In this case, the group or team level case study was used. The qualitative case study approach was adopted because the purpose of the study was to understand in depth the effect of culture on the interactions between exchange students from HSD in Germany and students from UDS in Ghana, and how it affects intercultural learning.

Selection of Case

This study has selected HSD in Germany and UDS in Ghana because the two universities have student exchange programs. The student exchange agreement allows ten (10) students from the faculty of education from UDS in Ghana to study at HSD in Germany for one semester and vice versa.

Procedures of Data Collection

The data collection processes started when I designed a letter of introduction to the Head of Department of Education, UDS, stating the purpose for the study, targeted study subjects, and requirements for participation in the study. When the approval was granted, eleven (11) participants were purposively selected for the study. The purposive sampling technique is used when the researcher selects the study subjects from the population based on his/her own judgement (Neuman 2014). Participation in the study was on voluntary basis. Below is a diagrammatical representation of the interview subjects from both countries (Table 1).
Table 1

Representations of the interview subjects from Germany and Ghana

Codes for research participants

Country code

Sex

Name of study program

1. LS

GM

F

Development education

2. RT

GM

F

Development education

3. WR

GM

M

Development education

4. FR

GM

M

Development education

5. AA

GM

F

Development education

6. LT

GM

F

Development education

7. SL

GH

M

Empowerment studies

8. DT

GH

M

Empowerment studies

9. FC

GH

F

Empowerment studies

10. OL

GH

F

Empowerment studies

11. AN

GH

M

Empowerment studies

GM Germany, GH Ghana, F female, M male

Interviews

Interviews were conducted at the Tamale campus of UDS in Ghana. In all, eleven (11) in-depth interviews were conducted in two phases. The semi-structured interview was adopted in the study; thus, each participant replied to the same research questions with minimal deviation from questions on the interview guide (Creswell 2009). This technique of data collection was used to understand in depth the respondents’ point of view about how cultures had influenced the interactions between exchange students from HSD in Germany, and students from UDS in Ghana in their study periods in Ghana and Germany. The first interviews were conducted with the German exchange students at UDS, Tamale campus. In all, six (6) out of the ten (10) German exchange students were interviewed. Each interview lasted for about 1 hour 10 minutes. The interviews were conducted on different days and time in November 2016. The interviews were audiotaped with a recording device. The interview questions were related to the exchange students’ experience in the host universities and communities, and how that had influenced intercultural learning. The interviews were conducted mainly in English. Interviews were transcribed and compared with the researcher’s reflections and notes.

The second phase of the interviews was conducted with the Ghanaian students who got the opportunity to study at HSD in Germany. In all, 10 (ten) students went for the exchange program; however, five (5) out of the ten (10) students were interviewed at the UDS, Tamale campus. Separate interview guides were used for the German and Ghanaian exchange students. However, the interview questions were almost the same. The interview questions were related to the exchange students’ experiences in the host universities and communities in Germany and Ghana, and how that had influenced their world view and intercultural learning. The interviews were conducted face to face in August 2017. Each interview lasted for about 1 hour 20 minutes. As mentioned earlier, the interviews were conducted in English. The interviews were recorded with an audio recording device, transcribed, and compared with the researcher’s reflections and notes.

Data Analysis

The in-depth interviews were transcribed and reviewed. The data was coded through a process of open coding (Bryman 2004). By this method, the author reads through the entire set of data generated, chunks the data into smaller meaningful parts, and labels each chunk with a code. In light of this, the codes were used and compared with each new chunk of data with previous codes, so previous chunk data were labelled with the same descriptive codes. After all the data were coded, the codes were selected and grouped by themes. A diagrammatic representation of how the data was analysed (Fig. 1) is presented.
Fig. 1

Data analysis technique

After the themes were identified, the classical content analysis technique was used to identify the most important themes (Bryman 2004). The number of times each descriptive code occurred was ranked and the most important concepts were identified as the themes. The most important themes identified are clash of values in the context of student mobility and intercultural learning.

Furthermore, the study has adopted the thick descriptions of data (Geertz 1973). By this method, the task of the researcher is to extract meaning structure from texts by describing the behaviour patterns and social and cultural relations of the study subjects in their contexts (Geertz 1973). In order to extract meaning from the transcribed data (views of the study subjects), and the strategic document on internationalization of education5 by HSD in Germany, the author conducted detailed readings of the entire data and discovered the deeper meanings explicitly found in the research participants’ responses and the strategic document. These meanings were then blended with the theoretical perspectives and multiple meanings created on the subject.

Ethical Issues

In order to achieve confidentiality, anonymity, honest, and respect for participants in the study, the purpose for the study was explained to all the participants in the study. Again, as stated earlier, the participants were not forced to take part in the study. As a result, participation in the study was on voluntary basis.

Findings

This section of the study covers findings on the influence of culture on cross-cultural interactions between exchange students from HSD in Germany and UDS in Ghana and its effect on intercultural learning. Specifically, the findings are divided into two major themes: clash of values in the context of mobility and intercultural learning.

Clash of Values in the Context of Mobility

As stated earlier, international students migrate to their host universities and societies with their cultural baggage: beliefs, values, assumptions among others. In this regard, when international mobile students enter into a new culture, they need to deal with multiple value systems, communication patterns, sign and symbols among others. These multiple value systems at some point in time may conflict with the values of the host university and society. In relation to this, one German exchange student who studied at UDS in Ghana noted:

….. the relations between the lecturers and the students are different. The problem is, I think it is more hierarchical over here. I was not used to carrying, for example, the laptop of the lecturer and organize the beamer, eeh… something like that. In Germany, the lecturers do it. It is not common in Germany (interviewee 1).

The view expressed by the interview subject has pointed out the different socialization systems between the German and Ghanaian students. In the context of Ghana, helping a lecturer to bring the bag or laptop into the lecture hall and setting up the beamer signify a show of respect to the lecturer. Values such as respect for lectures by students and the elderly are embedded in the Ghanaian social system. In this regard, students who are raised in Ghana are socialised to uphold these values in high esteem. Contrary, the German students saw the gesture by Ghanaian students as uncommon cultural practice in the German context. Therefore, the German students had difficulties in assimilating the gesture of their Ghanaian colleagues because their minds are not programmed to filter some of the behaviour of Ghanaian students to conform to their basic underlying assumptions and values they are brought up with. Similarly, for the German student to decipher into the behaviour of their Ghanaian colleagues, they may have to “re-program their cultural filters” to be congruent with “the cultural filters” of their Ghanaian colleagues.

In addition, the interview data also revealed a cultural gap in relation to gender roles between the German and Ghanaian students. The German exchange students and their colleagues from Ghana had different understanding and interpretation of gender roles. In connection with this, one of the German exchange students expressed:

hmm,… this for me is a bit disappointing. I sometimes have the impression maybe, due to the cultural differences; they do not take us seriously. They were laughing when we argued for example, gender roles. so, it was a bit disappointing ;and I had the impression that every time we explained something that is related to gender and culture people often felt offended immediately (interviewee 4).

The view articulated by the study participant is an expression of perceived incompatibility in value systems, interests, and expectations between the German exchange students and their Ghanaian colleagues on “gender roles” and “cultural issues”. What is analytically interesting is that every society recognises behaviour related to procreation as more suitable for females, but which behaviour belongs to which gender differs from society to society. Therefore, conception and interpretation of gender roles and cultural variables are not socially and culturally neutral, but they are socially and culturally constructed. Against this background, the Ghanaian students who had engaged in laughter when their colleagues from German explained gender roles from the German context could have different conception(s) and interpretation(s) of “gender roles” and “cultural variables”. This is because gender roles are determined by the society. This assumption is in line with the theoretical postulation of Geertz (1973) that culture is a web that people themselves have spun: firstly, as a web, culture confines members to their social reality/realities and facilitates their functioning in this/these reality/realities; secondly, culture is both a product and a process; and thirdly, culture provides contexts for behaviour. In light of this, the perceived incompatibility in value systems may be due to the fact that both the German exchange students and their Ghanaian colleagues had been confined in their social reality which they have created and socialized as best “gender roles and cultural practices”, and interpreted them based on their own contextual cultural filters.

Furthermore, concerning group work, the Ghanaian exchange students who studied in HSD were asked about how they were able to manage their group assignments with the German students; in response, one of the study participants explained:

“It was not always easy forming a group with the German students. Eeeh, they were very reluctant, and not very willing to be in a group with us. Ee.., eeh, only a few of them were willing to work with us” (interviewee 11). When the participants were asked further to understand why they were reluctant to work with them in groups, one respondent opined that “Maybe they thought we were different and not academically good enough” (interviewee 8).

The above quotes provide some insight into some of the challenges the Ghanaian students encountered working in groups with the German students at HSD. The hesitation by some of the German student not to form groups with the Ghanaian exchange students may be interpreted to mean the natural inclinations people have to be with people who share common values and language and are regulated by familiar principles. It could also be argued that the few German students who had no problem working with the Ghanaian exchange students might have had experience relating to students from different cultural backgrounds. Relating these philosophies to the ocean metaphor of culture, it implies that the invisible cultures of some of the German exchange students that were underneath “their ocean” (invisible values) had been stimulated or activated through the cross-cultural interactions they had with the Ghanaian exchange students (Fang 2006). As a result, it is argued that without cross-cultural interactions with people from the outside culture, the invisible values become difficult to be understood.

In relation to the same issue, one of the German students who studies at UDS in Ghana revealed:

It was not difficult forming groups with the Ghanaian students. Eeh ..eeh.. it was only difficult managing group tasks with them. For instance, Eeh..Eeeh…we were given a group assignment and my impression was that our colleagues from Ghana were not well prepared for the group work. When they are assigned to do something, they simply do not inform themselves about what they have to talk about (interviewee 6).

On the one hand, the Ghanaian students were quite willing in terms of working together with their German colleagues. On the other hand, they were not well prepared during group discussions. This understanding is congruent with Hofstede’s (1980) concept of cultural awareness which holds that as individuals, we should recognize that we carry different cultural values and beliefs because we were socialized in different cultural settings. In this context, the inability of the Ghanaian students to contribute during group discussions could be attributed to the different socialization systems between the German and Ghanaian students. Again, the preparedness of the German students during group discussions could be informed by the German socialization system.

Furthermore, we are often not aware of the cultural rules governing our behaviours until we encounter behaviours that are different from our own. To this end, the sitting arrangement used in UDS was an issue to many of the German exchange students. In view of this, one of the interview subjects from Germany observed:

Umm…my first impression was that it is not the same as in Germany. Ee… the lecture rooms were different. In Germany, the rooms are smaller and the furniture arranged in a circle and not behind each other (interviewee 3). Another study participant revealed: The sitting arrangement differs from that of Germany. All sits are looking to the professor, but I am used to sitting in circle where students look at each other (interviewee 5).

The interview data above highlighted cultural differences between the sitting arrangement and the size of the lecture rooms used in Germany and Ghana. The room size and sitting arrangement may appear as the visible elements of culture, but it could be embedded with the invisible elements as well. On the one hand, a sitting arrangement which is round with students facing the professor may demonstrate a principle of egalitarianism or an equitable distribution of power between the German students and their professors. On the other hand, a sitting arrangement where students are behind each other with the professor in front of the class may be explained to mean a high power distance between the professor and the students. This understanding corroborates the high power distance dimension of Hofstede (1980) where German had a low power distance score index and Africa a high power distance score index.

Intercultural Learning

Cross-cultural contact through SA program has created an opportunity for students to gain intercultural living and learning experience outside their countries of origin. To this end, when the German students were asked about what they gained from their exchange program in Ghana, one of the interviewees explained:

One of the best things gained is cross-cultural knowledge. Through our classroom activities, I observed that we have different approaches to learning, and conception of issues. In fact, those I interacted with are very friendly. In spite of our differences, we shared a lot in common (interviewee 9).

The submission of the study participant does not only illuminate how the new skills acquired could contribute to intercultural effectiveness, but cast light on the different approaches to learning and conception of issues between German and Ghanaian students. In addition, it could also be interpreted to mean that there were effective and smooth patterns of interactions which allow a clear flow of communication between the German and Ghanaian students. This understanding is in keeping with the argument by Miller Robbert with Day Graham (2012) that cross-cultural contacts through educational mobility provide an infrastructure for the development of capital which is not defined strictly by national currencies. In this context, the cross-cultural knowledge students may gain through their interactions with their significant others in the host universities and societies may demonstrate an accumulation of transnationally recognized cultural and social capitals. These capitals, thus, cultural and social capitals, are most likely to inculcate into the students a sense of belonging to multiple cultures, skills to adjust in new socio-cultural contexts, and interact effectively across cultures. This is further buttressed by the postulation of the Council of European Union (2011) that some of the ways in which young people can strengthen their intercultural awareness and active citizenship is through SA programs. In connection with the same issue, one of the Ghanaian exchange students in Germany narrated:

…..but when it comes to culture and socialization, well, there are some of their cultures we really admired. The Germans sense of urgency, their responsiveness to issues, their maintenance culture, sanitary, their environment, ee.. and many more…eeh..eeh were things we really admired and learned ( interviewee 7).

The view expressed by the interview subject shed light on some of the perspectives or opinions of the study participant about the German society and culture. The study participant had pointed out that they did admire the German culture of responsiveness to issues, maintenance culture, environmental cleanliness, and sense of urgency to time, and had assimilated some of these values into their cultural values. This view is in harmony with the argument of Bennett (2012) that every SA program, no matter the level, form, or focus, is aimed at learning about the cultures of the host societies for the students to become mindful and open to other cultures. In another development, a Ghanaian study participant revealed:

Eee.., I think the educational exchange program was beneficial. I learned to adjust to the busy schedules in Germany, and..eeh strict adherence to time. The differences were too wide, from weather conditions, to different food, beliefs and learning culture. Eeh.. at the end of the term, I learned a lot and wish the study period could be extended to one year ( interviewee 10).

The above interview data has shined light on some of the benefits of international educational mobility such as awareness of cultural differences in different study environments and how they had developed new skills and adjusted to the demands and challenges of their new study environment. This understanding is in line with the argument of Miller Robbert with Day Graham (2012) that the development of intercultural capital and competences require knowledge about the diversity of culture, the relevant skills and competencies required to engage with it, and structural opportunities to put all the elements into practice. In light of this, the ability of the Ghanaian students to understand the cultural dynamics in Germany and the skills needed to engage with their colleagues from Germany and other countries were creation of new forms of capital which could be relevant for their career development.

In addition, physically crossing an international border between two countries with the intention to participate in educational activities comes with its own challenges. In view of this, the study subjects were asked about some of the challenges they were faced with while they were in their host universities and societies. In connection with this, one of the German exchange students observed:

Learning in Ghanaian environment is better, but we have problem with the internet connectivity at the university. It is difficult to download research materials to facilitate learning. The internet is very slow compared to that of Germany. Eeeh..eeh, there is no common platform for easy access to lecture and reading materials, the professors use e-mails which is not effective sometimes. In the case of Germany, common platforms are created for easy access to lecture notes and study materials (interviewee 2).

While the submission of the interview participant identifies Ghana as a good destination for learning, it has also highlighted problems of internet connectivity and lack of common platform for students to have access to lecture notes and learning materials. Similarly, by comparing the internet connectivity of UDS to that of HSD internet connectivity could mean that the German exchange student was not satisfied with the use of information and communication technologies to enhance teaching and learning in UDS. Moreover, one of the Ghanaian exchange students who visited HSD also noted:

it was a great opportunity to learn in a different academic environment, understand the perspectives of the Germans educational system, and for them to interact with us, and understand our way of life. Eee,..some of the German students never had the opportunity to visit Africa. So, our program was an opportunity for us to learn from each other (interviewee 10).

The above interview data does not only highlight the opportunities the educational exchange program between HSD and UDS had offered students from both universities to learn in different learning environments, but created an avenue for the German student who had not yet had the opportunity to visit Africa to interact with African students in a German teaching and learning environment. This is in harmony with the HSD internationalization strategy which stipulates that “one of the HSD management’s concerns is to strengthen the profile of HSD in the area of internationalization, in order to position HSD as a global minded university at which learning from one another is paramount in an international context” (HSD Internationalization Strategy Document-2012–2016, p. 23).6 Also, Miller Robbert with Day Graham (2012) affirmed that the European Union has encouraged and financially supported mutual validation of academic work, cooperation between institutions, cross-border knowledge transfers, and physical mobility of academics as well as students. This implies that the management of HSD is not only aware that internationalization is one of the strategies for universities to become globally minded, interconnected, and interdepended through engaging in international exchange programs, but learning from others in the international contexts.

Furthermore, when the students from UDS were asked whether they were given an orientation of the German educational system and culture before their departure to Germany, one of them explained:

We were not given any training in Ghana, and the information given to us about the university was not enough. Eee.. the contact person in Germany did very well. We were met on arrival at the airport, and afterwards, they took us through an orientation program. For the first week, we had two local students who assisted us to understand the university environment (interviewee 7).

The above interview data revealed that the Ghanaian exchange students who went to HSD were not given cross-cultural training before their departure to Germany. This way could affect the Ghanaian students’ adjustment and integration into HSD culture and as well hinder their intercultural learning. This is supported by the argument of Bennett (2012) that a mere cross-cultural contact is not particularly valuable in itself because intercultural interactions between students from different cultural backgrounds do not necessarily promote intercultural learning. Therefore, for the contact of Ghanaian and German students to acquire educational meaning, the students must be prepared for the exchange program before their departure to the host university, during the program, and after the program. Similarly, when one of the study participants from Germany who did his exchange program in UDS was asked to ascertain whether they were given an intercultural training on their arrival in UDS, she answered in the negative and lamented:

Eee… two of the student leaders from UDS met us on arrival at the Tamale Airport and we took a taxi to the hostel we were supposed to stay for the semester. Eee… the next day, we met at the university and did our registration. We didn’t have any orientation on the culture and working of the university and this was frustrating for the first two week (interviewee 2).

In the opinion of the German exchange student, they were not given any orientation on cross-cultural relations, learning, and educational cultures of UDS. This way could limit the integration of the German exchange students into the UDS learning environment and the culture of the host society.

Conclusion

The paper explores the influence of culture on cross-cultural interactions between exchange students from HSD in Germany and UDS in Ghana and its effect on intercultural learning. The discussion revealed incompatibility in conception(s) and interpretation(s) of gender roles and cultural variables due to differences in value systems and upbringing. The paper further highlighted that mere cross-cultural interaction between exchange students and domestic students might not promote intercultural learning. In light of this, the paper concludes that for international educational contact to achieve effective and efficient intercultural learning with students from different cultural backgrounds, universities and institutions of higher learning preparing to engage in international educational exchange should be adequately prepared on cross-cultural training focusing on the cultures of both the host and sending universities and societies before and during the educational exchange program. Finally, the paper recommends that international education exchange programs should be encouraged by universities and institutions of higher learning because the experiences students gained during and after an international exchange programs may make them easily adaptive and sensitive to different cultures.

Limitations and Direction for Future Research

The focus of the study is on the influence of culture on cross-cultural interaction between exchange students from HSD, Germany, and UDS, Ghana, and its effect on intercultural learning. Due to limited resources and time, the study did not cover other perspectives of international student mobility, such as the economic and political perspectives of educational migration. In view of this, I encourage researchers in the field of educational migration to conduct research on the economic impact of SA programs on the host communities.

Footnotes

  1. 1.

    Study abroad: it is the act of pursuing an educational opportunity in a different country other than one’s own country.

  2. 2.

    Economic migrants: the movement of people from one society or region to another for economic purposes.

  3. 3.

    Asylum seeker: a person who seeks safety from persecution or serious harm in a country other than his or her own and awaits a decision on the application for refugee status under relevant international and national instruments.

  4. 4.

    International student migration: the movement of students across national borders for educational purposes.

  5. 5.
  6. 6.

Notes

Compliance with Ethical Standards

In order to achieve confidentiality, anonymity, honest, and respect for participants in the study, the purpose for the study was explained to all the participants in the study. Again, as stated earlier, the participants were not forced to take part in the study. As a result, participation in the study was on voluntary basis. When the approval was granted, eleven (11) participants were purposively selected for the study.

Supplementary material

42087_2018_45_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (164 kb)
ESM 1 (PDF 164 kb)
42087_2018_45_MOESM2_ESM.pdf (164 kb)
ESM 2 (PDF 164 kb)

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.School of Governance, Law and SocietyTallinn UniversityTallinnEstonia
  2. 2.Faculty of Agribusiness and Communication Sciences, Department of Communication, Innovation and Technology, Nyankpala CampusUniversity for Development StudiesNyankpalaGhana

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