Making Sense of a New Culture:  Transition of International School Leaders

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Virginia Tech


Researchers have placed the number of expatriates in the world at between forty and sixty million people in the years 2010 through 2013 (Finaccord, 2014; Firth, Chen, Kirkman and Kim, 2014). One segment of the ever-expanding expatriate population is that of international school leaders who guide learning for a culturally diverse community of expatriates around the world. The International School Consultancy Group (2014) estimated that there were upwards of 3.5 million students being educated in over 7,000 international schools. As the number of expatriates and expatriate families with school-age children increases, this challenge of leading education for a diverse international school community also increases.

This ethnographic case study analyzed transition stories from international school leaders at one international school and addressed the following questions: ● How do international school leaders make their own journey to cultural awareness?
● How do international school leaders make sense of and identify the culture of their schools?
● How do international school leaders recognize beliefs and practices in their schools?

Thematic analysis based on Boyatzis's (1998) Prior Research Driven Approach was used to analyze data. The findings are shared through a two-article manuscript style dissertation. The research produced findings that indicate that while local and expatriate international school leaders recognize international school culture as unique and follow similar patterns of reactions in their transitions, they do not perceive school culture through the same lens nor do they experience the same support in their cultural transitions.



international school, cultural transition, cultural conflict