February 19, 2018

An International Project to Develop Students’ Intercultural Skills During an Internship Abroad

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

Starting in 2018 and for a period of 3 years, our respective colleges will be involved in the ELISSE project (E-Learning for Intercultural Skills in Social Education). This international project in social services came about in answer to an urgent need in terms of the development of intercultural skills for college and university students who were interning abroad. In addition to the field reality, the social codes and the modes of communication in the internship setting (including with the supervisors) greatly differ from one culture to the next and constitute additional factors that can cause students to lose their bearings. The ELISSE project aims to improve distance educational support in particular through the development of tools created by all of the institutions partnering in the project.

The origins of the social service intercultural project

The project was born from different identified needs, the main can be summarized as:

  • need for training of social workers and workers who work in multicultural environment after graduation;
  • need to improve the educational support international student mobility [sic]  […];
  • need to improve the skills of schools of social work [sic] in distance education

Source:ELISSE Project Website

The initiator of the project is Jean Malbos, professor in social intervention at Clermont-Ferrand. This field includes the programs in social work, special care counselling and early childhood education.

Jean Malbos noticed that the lack of intercultural skills sometimes impeded the smooth progression of the student’s internship. Even if they are well prepared, several experience a culture shock in their host environment.  Some students experience distress when noticing that the models and methods of intervention learned in their home country do not work straightaway in another culture. Communication with the local internship supervisor can also turn out to be difficult since social codes are not the same. Several students are under the impression that they have failed.

In the course of meetings with other teachers and supervisors in the internship settings, Jean Malbos realised that this was a shared issue. These specialist teachers embarked on a project to address this challenge. Thanks to a 260 000 Euro grant from the Erasmus+ program, the project enlisted the cooperation of institutions from 6 countries:

  • France
  • Belgium
  • Portugal
  • Italy
  • The Netherlands
  • Canada

Partnerships for work placement were set up with 4 host countries:

  • The Ivory Coast
  • Senegal
  • Vietnam
  • Madagascar

The ELISSE project team, composed of teachers in the social service program and specialists in interculturalism. Martin represented the pedagogical engineering team. The picture was taken by Jean Malbos at the December 2017 meeting in Clermont-Ferrand.

The objective of the ELISSE project is to support the acquisition of intercultural skills by students from the different social work programs before, during and after their internships. We want them to be equipped to better understand the culture they are in and to adapt their intervention methods in a contextualised manner. At the end of their internship, students will have developed intercultural skills that can be transposed to any other context where they have to work with a clientele from a culture different from their own.

We often speak about the culture shock upon arrival, however for some students there is also a “shock of returning”. Having colleagues to speak with can make a big difference. We hope that the tools developed can create a learning and support community where former interns can also participate.

A Quebec expertise recognised internationally

The Cégep Marie-Victorin and the Cégep régional de Lanaudière in Joliette form a single (over seas) Canadian partner in the ELISSE project.

The Cégep Marie-Victorin has been active for more than 35 years in the field of international development and cooperation. The creation in 2005 of the IDO (International Development Office) is a clear manifestation of the appeal of the college’s educational project that promotes discovering others and discovering the world. The international dimension of Cégep Marie-Victorin is present throughout its regular sector programs.

In its commitment to global reach, the Cégep Marie-Victorin works with numerous partners abroad, namely with the ITSRA (Institut du Travail Social de la Région Auvergne) where Jean Malbos teaches. In the past, student trainees in the field of social intervention have shared the same internship settings as Jean Malbos’ students.

Because of our expertise in preparing students for their internship abroad, Jean Malbos called upon us as overseas partner for the ELISSE project. It is as coordinator of the IDO that I am working on this project. I will connect with the teachers and students who are participating in this project. Marie-Élaine [Translation]

The Cégep régional de Lanaudière in Joliette joined the project a little later on. The institution has worked for several years with the ITSRA. It is through this connection that a teacher, at the Cégep régional de Lanaudière in Joliette, Audrey Pelletier in the Special Care Counselling program was solicited to participate in the ELISSE project. The team was already comprised of numerous teachers in social work who had a very good knowledge of, as well as skills in, interculturalism. However, there was no one to train and support them in the acquisition of skills in digital tools and distance teaching.

Audrey got in touch with me to ask me to come on board. Following a first contact with Jean Malbos, I suggested creating a pedagogical engineering team. My 15-year experience in an engineering school in France tipped the scale. My mandate in the ELISSE project consists in coordinating the team in charge of developing and implementing the training tools. Martin [Translation]

The challenge is to be able to transpose, at a distance, the pedagogical tools already used and proven in the classroom by the various partners. This team will also offer the initial training and digital support to the teachers. Afterwards, each institution will be in charge of its own instructors.

Two innovative pedagogical methods…and their challenges!

Pairing students from different countries in the same internship setting

This method aims at encouraging a meeting of intercultural perceptions between the students of diverse origins. Ideally, we would like trainees from different countries to be paired in a same internship setting (internship to be conducted with a local student). However, the conciliation of school calendars poses a challenge. For example, in Quebec, internships are generally in the fall and winter sessions, because they correspond to end-of-studies internships. In France, they take place in the spring.

The learning context also varies greatly from one country to the next and from one program to the other. Students who leave for an internship abroad do not all have the same educational background. The challenge consists in developing pedagogical material that is universal without giving students who have already followed a training on interculturalism an impression of déjà-vu.

The students’ country of origin can also have an impact on the welcome received in the internship setting. The students coming from European countries with a colonial past can perceive some tension because of this in certain host countries. Our support tools must take these special relationships into account.  Cooperation between the trainees constitutes an innovative approach to encourage intercultural dialog and better mutual understanding.

Distance pedagogical support

Internships located abroad pose certain challenges in terms of technological accessibility. Not all internship settings have Internet access (and the speed is variable). In some countries even access to electricity is limited and requires the use of generators. During the creation of the pedagogical tools for distance teaching, the team will have to take into account the constraints on access and the digital material available in the internship settings. For instance:

  • There will most probably be a digital learning environment to pool the resources made available to the students. But will Internet speeds allow documents to download easily, in particular audio files? Will the bandwidth support videos?  The whole question of synchronous communication depends on it, especially since the relationship dimension occupies an important place in the field of social work for students as well as for teachers. The solution to communication does not necessarily pass by the web. The telephone still works.
  • The tools offered to the students depend on the computer facilities accessible on site. If the students use computer stations, will the operating systems and software be compatible? The logbook appears to be a key tool during internships.  We have to plan how and on which medium the students will write, submit their assignment and receive feedback.

The long-term objective is for these tools to be suitable no matter the destination. Thus we must rely on a minimalist approach, based on as few resources as possible, while providing a wide range of options depending on the context of the internship.

The next steps in the project

A first diagnostic phase took place in 2016-2017. We sent out questionnaires to learn about the students’ needs in order to be able to better equip them. We also had to determine the intercultural skills that have to be developed by the trainees. This first step finished in December 2017 by a meeting at Clermont-Ferrand.

During the winter of 2018, our objective will be to formulate recommendations on the subject to partner institutions and to begin the phase of creating the distance training tools. A first meeting on the subject will take place at the beginning of February in Italy. The pedagogical engineering team will then develop some tools and Martin will give a training session to the project teachers in March, during a meeting that will take place in Portugal.

At the start of school in the fall of 2018, around 40 trainees will be able to experiment the pairing in a host country and project ELISSE distance learning.

We can’t wait to tell you about the rest of the project!

About the authors

Marie-Élaine Lambert

She holds a bachelor and a master’s degree in geography. She has taught at Cegep Marie-Victorin for 14 years. She is the teacher in charge of the Social Sciences international project. Since January 2017, she has also been a counsellor for student and teacher mobility for the IDO. Since participating in an international cooperation internship in El Salvador in 2002, she has tried to make students aware of the great social inequality and the importance of being open to others.

Martin Richard

He has a bachelor, a master and a PhD in computer science. Martin was a teacher researcher in an engineering school for 15 years. Since 2010 he has been the pedagogical counsellor at the Cégep régional de Lanaudière in Joliette. He is particularly interested in pedagogical scenarisation and the integration of digital tools in teaching.

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