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As today’s world is becoming much more interconnected and interdependent, intercultural communication competence (ICC) is regarded as one of the most important skills for college graduates in the twenty-first century. ICC is the ability for people to not only communicate effectively through a foreign language, but to also understand cultural differences and appropriately interact with others across different social groups. Current scholarship indicates that Collaborative Online International Learning (COIL)—a form of virtual exchange that facilitates intercultural experiences for participants in two or more countries—is a cost-effective approach to enhancing students’ ICC in higher education. However, existing studies have mostly been conducted at well-resourced colleges and universities with English as the lingua franca. This dissertation is a qualitative case study detailing the ICC development of seven Chinese foreign language learners who participated in COIL activities at a regional state university with a group of native Chinese speakers over two semesters. Multiple qualitative data sources were collected, including interviews, observations, reflective essays, questionnaires, and reflection journals. Three coding methods—open-coding, axial-coding, and focused coding—were employed to identify emerging themes and highlight findings. Drawing on sociocultural and transformative learning theories, data indicates that students’ ICC development transpired in the following ways: (a) increased cultural knowledge of the target culture(s) and the participants’ home culture(s); (b) increased tolerance and open-mindedness to foreign concepts and cultural norms; (c) increased awareness of cultural differences and similarities; and (d) advanced communicative skills when interacting with speakers in Chinese. This study’s implications for practice include the identification of activities that promote ICC development, such as critical reflection, rational discourse, and the use of online communication tools and social media. Barriers to effective ICC implementation include digital access, different personalities and communication styles, and disparities in beginning cultural knowledge and foreign language proficiency.


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26 Jan 2023
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26 Jan 2023
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