International House

Background Information

The University of Alberta International House (I-House) is part of an international affiliation of International Houses Worldwide, which seeks to provide students from various countries and cultures “an opportunity to live and learn together in a community of mutual respect, understanding and international friendship” (http://www.uofaweb.ualberta.ca/ihouse/nav01.cfm?nav01=35698).  Since its opening in 2004, U of A I-House has been home to students from several different countries.  In the 2007-2008 academic year, the I-House accommodated approximately 150 students from over 40 countries. In light of this diversity, living at I-House means “sharing in an international potluck dinner with  your floormates, learning a new language, exploring cultural customs and  traditions, and enjoying casual conversations with world leaders”(http://www.uofaweb.ualberta.ca/ihouse/lifeatihouse.cfm).

The uniqueness of I-House is not only in its diversity of residents, but also the offering of programs and events that are committed towards developing intercultural awareness.  Programming is resident-driven, supported by staff and structured around a series of core events.  For instance, I-House residents are represented by a voluntary Spokes Council, which works with Resident Assistants, a Residence Coordinator and a Global Education Coordinator, to plan and implement the House's programs. One of the pillars of I-House programming is a weekly global education session, which is led by a Global Education Coordinator and assistant.  Sessions are optional for all residents and include various events such as intercultural communication workshops, film nights, dance, yoga and cooking lessons.

Key Findings:

 

  1. Informal education spaces as an unintentional, yet productive site for developing global citizenship. 
    •  Respondents gave several anecdotes about engaging in discussion with others they would not necessarily talk to in a different setting.  In the shared space of the kitchen, for instance, open, cross-cultural dialogue developed the basis for relationship building.  Interview participants described the kitchen as a safe space in which residents can converse, debate, and laugh together about cultural differences.
  2. From informal learning to formal learning
    •  Students mentioned that their interactions in I-House helped to inform and deepen their learning in their formal education.  Commonly cited in the interviews were students taking what they had learned in their conversations and interactions with other residents at I-House and applying it to what they learn in class and vice versa.  Through this interaction, interviewees felt they were better able to translate what they learn about global citizenship into action.
  3. Limitations to intercultural awareness/communication 
    • One of the limitations of focusing specifically on intercultural awareness and intercultural communication skills is that these approaches tend to focus on cultural differences to the exclusion of other kinds of difference. According to Jamal and Hamdon (2005), these approaches are often based on the assumption that diversity "can be managed by increasing awareness and knowledge about minority groups and by acquiring the skills to communicate across difference…. [without examining] the social and historical forces that have shaped how individuals think, feel and behave." Although cultural differences were seen as an instigator to developing global citizenship by the respondents, it is crucial for students to reflect on how this difference is constructed in light of their positionality.
  4. Living in I-House does not "make" you a global citizen
    • Although many respondents stated that they were global citizens and many felt as though they are on the path to becoming more of a global citizen, several of the respondents reported that they did not subscribe to the identity of a global citizen. I-House provides several opportunities for students to engage in about global citizenship education. This exposure, however, does not make one a global citizen as it involves complex notions of identity that are not easily assumed. identity??
      •  International educational experiences put her on a “path” to global citizenship, but in order to develop global citizenship fully, she states that “one must derive meaning from the experience to be able to apply it to their lives” (p. 39).  
  5. Transformative Learning
    • Through the experience of living together and conversing with people from various countries, many I-House residents had evidently underwent a reflective process.  This process was sometimes portrayed in interviews, but more often the students described the resulting change or perspective transformation that they had experienced.  For instance, one respondent talked about how she used to bury herself in her studies and memorize facts.  Now, since living in I-House, she can look at it from a different angle and understand why she is studying for her exam.  In reflecting on her educational experience, she stated that through global citizenship education at I-House, she has taken herself out of “student mode” and now has a reason to study and use the knowledge she learns.