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Shifting the Kaleidoscope

Returned Peace Corps Volunteer Educators’ Insights on Culture Shock, Identity and Pedagogy


Jon L. Smythe

This book examines culture shock and reverse culture shock as valuable learning experiences for educators working in increasingly culturally diverse environments. Although these phenomena are often cast as illnesses to be avoided, this study suggests that both types of shock can help educators develop greater self-understanding and intercultural awareness and will benefit their pedagogical practices as well. For this study, four returned Peace Corps volunteer educators who have taught at various grade levels, both abroad and in the United States, share thought-provoking stories of how their experiences shifted their identities and their approaches to teaching. A Post-structural hermeneutic framework is used to analyze each story in two separate «readings» as a way of disrupting the flow of each text so that other possible meanings may emerge. The metaphor of the kaleidoscope develops from the study as a way to imagine a curriculum in motion – one in which new and often surprising patterns are created by shifting, juxtaposing and refocusing the multiple lenses within. Shifting the Kaleidoscope should appeal to those readers who are interested in curriculum studies, multicultural education, intercultural awareness, narrative inquiry, post-structuralism, international studies, the Peace Corps and/or teaching English abroad.
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Chapter 5: Toward a Pedagogy of Interconnectedness


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Hyacinth was a 52-year-old white female who had been teaching English as a second language (ESL) at the middle school level for 11 years at the time of our interviews. She had also taught 13 years of ESL at the high school level in a U.S. city on the Mexican border following her Peace Corps service, and 2 years of teaching seventh- and eighth-grade language arts, 12th-grade remedial English, and ninth-grade Spanish at an inner-city school prior to joining the Peace Corps. For her Peace Corps service, Hyacinth taught English in a secondary school in a small town in the central highlands of Kenya for 2 years from 1984 to 1986. During her Peace Corps service, she met and married Richard, another Peace Corps volunteer who went to Kenya at the same time she did. At the time of our interviews, they had just celebrated their 25th anniversary.

My interviews with Hyacinth took place at her and Richard’s home in the city where they lived. I spent an enjoyable evening sharing Peace Corps and other stories with both Hyacinth and Richard the night before we began our interviews. What I remember most about the interviews was the active atmosphere in which they took place and the seeming ease with which I was ← 155 | 156 → integrated into Hyacinth’s busy schedule. Interspersed into our two days of interviews were: tending to two turtles that Hyacinth gleefully showed...

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