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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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Introduction: Insights Into Otherness



Insights Into Otherness

In the realm of culture, outsideness is a most powerful factor in understanding….A meaning only reveals its depths once it has encountered and come into contact with another, foreign meaning: they engage in a kind of dialog, which surmounts the closedness and onesidedness of these particular meanings, these cultures….Each retains its own unity and open totality, but they are mutually enriched. (Bakhtin, 1986, p. 7)

“What words come to mind when you think about Africa?” I ask students at the various local schools and other institutions where I speak about my experiences in the Peace Corps. The answers are remarkably similar—“violence,” “AIDS,” “malaria,” “wild animals,” “poverty,” “corruption,” and “starvation.” Probing a bit further, I ask if Africa could be a place of health, love, happiness, and good-tasting food. The response: a resounding “No!” “Have you ever been to Africa?” I continue. “Uh, well, no.” When I ask students where they learn about Africa, they tell me TV programs such as “Animal Planet,” “Save the Children,” and the nightly news. They also tell me they learn about Africa through their teachers and their textbooks. When I ask why it might be important to experience a place directly for themselves, they light up: “Because it helps you learn more about a place when you go there yourself,” and because “other people can lie.” They also point out, though, ← 1 | 2 → that not everyone can go to Africa and that...

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