Purpose: Curricular integration designed to include cultural competence standards for health care professionals is paramount to preparing students to meet the needs of a growing diverse population in the U.S. The purpose of this research is to examine the cultural competency development of occupational therapy students, and to report on their reflections and perspectives during a two-week immersive and service-learning experience in Guatemala. Methods: As intercultural competence is a highly personal trait, the study used a descriptive qualitative research design gaining participants’ perspectives of the short-term international immersion experience through student-led reflective focus groups, using an open discussion format, during the immersion experience. Results: Data analysis yielded three themes: Do, Experience, Understand; Change Factor; and Future Action that represent the student perspective in a cultural immersion experience. The first theme: Do, Experience, Understand encompassed participants’ discussion of how fully engaging in a culture different than their own was necessary to understand differences and commonalities. The second theme: Change Factor included expressions of dissonance in level of physical, emotional, and mental comfort that prompted a transformation within the student. The final theme: Future Action, described a tangible outcome from the immersion experience. By engaging with a different culture, participants experienced a transformation, leading to sharing of their desire to continue their advocacy efforts on behalf of others. Conclusion: Reflection became a key element in the transformative nature of the learning experience. It became obvious that a safe environment in which to share dreams, doubts, cultural missteps and successful moments was necessary for coping with feelings of dissonance. The safe sharing environment added to the cohesiveness of the group, lowered anxiety and provided opportunities for learning. Participants’ verbalized descriptions of transformative learning necessary in the development of intercultural competency during an international cultural immersion experience. By participating in a cultural immersion experience integrated into their curricular program, students began to articulate cultural competencies required to consider multiples lenses, perspectives and backgrounds of their future clients.

Author Bio(s)

Diane Ceo-DiFrancesco, PhD, is an associate professor of Spanish and Faculty Director of the Eigel Center for Community-Engaged Learning at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. She has designed and implemented immersion experiences for students and faculty in Guatemala, Nicaragua, Peru, Mexico, Spain, and Costa Rica.

Leah S. Dunn, EdD, OTR/L, is an assistant professor in the Department of Occupational Therapy at Xavier University in Cincinnati, Ohio. She has participated in international service learning experiences with her students for five years and continues to assist with the planning and evaluation of those experiences.

Nathalie Solorio is a research assistant at Xavier University in Cincinnati, OH and candidate for a K-12 Spanish teaching license in the state of Ohio. She completes majors in Spanish and minors in Education and Peace and Justice Studies and is a Community Engaged Fellow.


ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS The authors would like to thank the students’ authentic participation in the study.



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