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This paper investigates the intercultural learning of students during a sojourn abroad that was disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic and their resulting return to the U.S. To measure students’ intercultural development and to characterize students’ comments about their experience abroad, the researchers used Michael Byram’s Intercultural Communicative Competence model and its five savoirs. The comments were elicited at four different moments using different elicitation tools. Comments were evaluated by the researchers who determined their applicability to any of Byram’s five savoirs. The results show that despite the COVID-19 pandemic, intercultural learning took place and students made gains in intercultural competence. Furthermore, the results show that the COVID-19 pandemic impacted different aspects of students’ intercultural learning in different ways at different times, and also extended their learning beyond the intercultural. Of Byram’s five savoirs, knowledge remained free of variation due to the pandemic. For the savoir of attitudes of openness and curiosity, in the before-pandemic portion, students focused on staying open to new experiences in the local culture. During the pandemic, students shifted to a more abstract kind of openness toward the future in general. The savoir linked to the skill of discovery and interaction was the most negatively impacted by the pandemic. For the fourth savoir, the skill of interpreting and relating, students’ reflections during the pandemic showed a more nuanced understanding of societal contexts since they noticed contrasts in how their host and home culture handled pandemic management. The fifth savoir, critical cultural analysis, was positively impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Before the pandemic, students shared insights that displayed a somewhat superficial appreciation of cultural difference. In contrast, the examples taken from the during-pandemic portion revealed a deeper intercultural understanding, stemming from their ability to decenter from their home culture and to contrast critically societal norms and values in both the host and home cultures.

Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.