On the international colloquium “L´Éducation à la mobilité”, held in Caen, France, on the 23rd and 24th of November and on the SPIRAL conference, held in Hamburg on December 8th, Christian Helmchen and Sílvia Melo-Pfeifer, SPIRAL associates from Universität Hamburg, presented the results of a qualitative analysis of the influence of a two-week period abroad in the scope of the SPIRAL Project on the professional development of trainee teachers in terms of intercultural awareness regarding the following four competence domains: i) professional values; ii) pedagogy and practice; iii) linguistic competence; and iv) intercultural understanding. The data was collected through feedback Emails and Focus group interviews among four German student teachers who participated in a short-term exchange in Alcalá de Henares (Spain), where they learned about local educational policies and observed classroom practice.

Among other things, a shift of focus was observed from expectations regarding the improvement of language skills (before the stay abroad) towards a reflection of other’s and own educational practices and methodologies (after return). In that way, the SPIRAL mobility phase fostered the professional development of the students influencing greatly the imagined self-to-be with regard to teaching through, what we would like to call, a ‘decentration’ from educative practice and professional habitus taken for granted. This, we argue, was caused by dilemmas, crises, and perplexities (cf. Bronfenbrenner, 2005) experienced abroad, as well as an increase in awareness regarding education and professionalization in other contexts.

Results in brief:

  • Development of linguistic skills, even if important, acquire a secondary status (sequences on language in the post-mobility-phase interview are quite rare).
  • Students recognize differences regarding classroom management, school culture, educative values, educational system while maintaining/reinforcing a shared positive image of pedagogical practices at home.
  • Students value the comparison in order to grow as a professional.
  • Students develop/cultivate a ‘teaching identity’.
  • Students engaged in collaborative discursive reconstruction of shared experiences while abroad.


  • Bronfenbrenner, U. (Ed.) (2005), Making human beings human. Bioecological perspectives on human development, London, Thousand Oaks, Sage.
  • Helmchen, C. & Melo-Pfeifer, S. (forthcoming). Professional development of future foreign language teachers during short-term exchanges. On the Horizon.