International teaching assistants and the essence of the development of intercultural competence

Mary Jo Fletcher LaRocco, University of Rhode Island


Intercultural competence is an essential, but understudied, aspect of communication for successful interactions between international teaching assistants (ITAs) and undergraduate students. This qualitative study employs transcendental phenomenology to describe the essence of the development of intercultural competence from the lived experiences of Chinese ITAs studying at a mid-size university in the northeast. The initial pool of participants was international graduate assistants from mainland China with a minimum of one semester experience as a teaching assistant. Two participant screening tools were employed. First, department mentors were asked to nominate potential participants with good levels of intercultural competence. Second, nominees were invited to complete the online Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) (Hammer, Bennett, & Wiseman, 2003). As a result, seven individuals who had both mentor nominations and mid to high scores on the IDI participated in interviews. The result of this study is a composite textural-structural description of the essence of the factors that challenge, support, and influence the development of intercultural competence. The essential structure involves perceptions of cultural difference, intercultural experiences and interactions with others, and strategies to communicate with undergraduate students, to teach effectively, and to intentionally develop intercultural competence. This study provides a description of the unique perspectives and firsthand accounts that experienced ITAs offer on how they have developed effective ways of communicating with those who are culturally different from themselves. Rather than emphasizing a deficiency model of what ITAs are lacking or an ethnocentric model of what undergraduate students are demanding, the study focuses on a strength-based, intercultural model of what effective ITAs share from their perspectives. Suggestions are made for ways to apply the findings of the study to the fields of intercultural communication and ITA training.

Subject Area

English as a Second Language|Multicultural Education|Higher education

Recommended Citation

Mary Jo Fletcher LaRocco, "International teaching assistants and the essence of the development of intercultural competence" (2011). Dissertations and Master's Theses (Campus Access). Paper AAI3449877.