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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 6: Similarities, Contrasts, and Shades


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The most tranquil house, with the most serene inhabitants, living upon the utmost regularity of system, is yet exemplifying infinite diversities.

(Henry Ward Beecher, 1869)

In this chapter, I discuss some of the themes that emerged in the process of bringing the “infinite diversities” within participants’ stories to light. I am concerned, though, that the concept of “theme” might imply a sense of unified wholeness, therefore, in the following sections I look at each of the themes while simultaneously pointing out some of the similarities, contrasts, and shades of meaning that occurred within and between participants’ stories. I also suggest other areas within those themes that require further study in intra- and inter-cultural contexts.

Drawing Gender Lines

All of the participants made references to gender and alluded to gender-based inequalities. According to Cole (2009), “In almost every culture, ‘being’ ‘male’ or ‘female,’ however that might be interpreted, is used to ‘define’ people…[in ways that] inevitably involve inequalities” (p. 563). Likewise, each of the ← 191 | 192 → participants spoke of gender inequalities that affected themselves or others, both overseas and in the United States. For instance, in his struggles to become a more caring teacher in the U.S., Joe argued that although female teachers could demonstrate closeness with students, male teachers had to be careful and “watch that line.” For her part, Harley’s sense of gender was also connected to her racial identity...

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