The D.I.E. Model for Enhancing Cross-Cultural Learning in Study Abroad

By Dan Paracka, Director of Education Abroad, Kennesaw State University

The D.I.E. Model for Enhancing Cross-Cultural Learning in Study Abroad
The D.I.E. Model for Enhancing Cross-Cultural Learning in Study Abroad

Promoting successful cross-cultural learning among students is a never-ending challenge for responsible study abroad leaders. One of the most valuable and popular tools is the D.I.E. model, which stands for describe, interpret and evaluate. [1]

D.I.E. model

DESCRIBE: Study abroad students are encouraged to describe in detail what they are experiencing, without judging and without jumping to conclusions about their cultural encounters. The more details they perceive, the more information they have available to interpret (step 2). Encouraging your study abroad students to keep a journal is an effective method for capturing details.

INTERPRET: Quite often and naturally, human beings interpret experiences in familiar ways. This allows them to process information quickly (historically an important survival skill). In cross-cultural contexts, it is important to emphasize the need for multiple interpretations. The more possibilities conceived, the more likely your study abroad students will choose an appropriate response. However, with little prior knowledge of another culture, and depending upon the historical and situational context, there are no guarantees.

EVALUATE: Novice intercultural communicators often jump to this stage first, without describing and interpreting. Your study abroad students might say or think, “I don’t like this food” or perhaps worse things like “that’s stupid,” “that’s rude” or “that’s dirty.” These initial reactions are signals that the study abroad student needs to take a step back or take a deep breath and collect more information. Most people do not like to eat bad food, do stupid things, behave rudely, and get dirty. Why should the visitor assume otherwise?

Wise study abroad students describe their experiences in rich detail, seek multiple interpretations, and avoid negative evaluations. They learn to view misunderstandings as important opportunities for cross-cultural learning.[2] They understand culture as the context in which people solve their problems, rather than the cause of their problems, and they learn that different people occupy different stages or levels of intercultural awareness and sensitivity.[3] They find cultural informants who can explain, interpret, and provide additional perspectives, as well as pick up and react to different signs and cues. They form friendships and learn to work together to share concerns and solve common problems.

While the D.I.E model is useful, despite its unfortunate acronym, I would like to propose another three-word acronym that incorporates similar ideas but may, taken together with D.I.E., enable study abroad students to go a step further in their understanding.

O.R.E (Observe, Reflect, Expand)

Careful OBSERVATION has long been considered an important tool for understanding new contexts. Skilled observers comprehend the need for withholding judgment. Moreover, the anthropological term, participant observer, emphasizes the confounding role that one’s presence may have within the new context. How does just being there change and influence the context? This is a critically important question for the study abroad student and scholar.  Global students and scholars recognize how their presence may change or otherwise affect normal cultural patterns.[4]  They learn how different contexts mediate cultural interactions. They listen and hear with empathy the stories that people tell.

REFLECTION requires questioning assumptions. By definition, it asks the study abroad student to employ multiple interpretations, to go beyond the obvious, beyond first impressions. Reflection implies that the study abroad student think about what he/she knows with respect to other people and their culture. Then, the student comes up with plausible interpretations through multiple perspectives. Students come prepared to interact across cultures, to learn as much as possible about other people and their culture prior to meeting. They also take into account issues of inequality and discrimination or preconceived notions and stereotypes that influence social behaviors.

The goal of this process is to EXPAND one’s knowledge base and choices.  It is not always necessary to make an evaluative determination of good or bad. In this way, the study abroad student acknowledges different ways to reach the same ends. Take for example, two people from different cultures who want to understand each other but employ different communication styles. The successful study abroad students would recognize this situation as a different context and understand that they may need to change and adapt their communication style to be effective. They do not insist on doing things their way. They are also okay with the unknown because they see the encounter as an opportunity to learn. They have learned to tolerate ambiguity and suspend judgment. They know that life does not always turn out the way we expect. What at first appears bad, turns out to be good, and vice versa.


If you skip the important first two stages of the D.I.E model, you will likely experience rapid demise in your attempts to interact effectively across cultures. However, with O.R.E. this is not the case. Because the third stage of this model is the goal of a process rather than a stand-alone concept, it cannot be misconstrued or even employed without the other two steps. This makes it easier for inexperienced cross-cultural learners and study abroad students to understand and implement.

[1]  See Gary Althen, Handbook of Foreign Student Advising, (Intercultural Press, 1995), 143-144.

[2] Craig Sorti, “Seven Lessons,” Cross-Cultural Dialogues: 74 Brief Encounters with Cultural Difference, (Yarmouth, Maine: Intercultural Press, 1994).

[3] Milton J. Bennett, “Towards Ethnorelativism: A developmental model of intercultural sensitivity” in Education for the Intercultural Experience, edited by R. Michael Paige, (Yarmouth, Maine: Intercultural Press, 1993).

[4] It can result in the visitor discovering something about the host culture of which the hosts themselves were unaware. See Paul Rabinow, Reflections on Fieldwork in Morocco, (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1977).

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