Promoting Intercultural Understanding through Student Exchange: A city-country multi-school program

This project aims to evaluate an intercultural student exchange program in New South Wales, coordinated by the City Country Alliance. The lead researcher, Professor Kevin Dunn has worked in collaboration with Andrew Stevenson (Department of Education), Sakuna Pho and  Brian Debus (City Country Alliance). Research assistants on the project include Rachel Sharples, Virginia Mapedzahama, Rosalie Atie and Kathleen Blair. This project has been commissioned by the City Country Alliance.

The Project

This project aims to evaluate the effectiveness of a collaborative intercultural understanding student exchange program. Twenty two (22) schools across NSW (Sydney metropolitan and rural/remote NSW) partake in the program in which student's participant in a week long exchange program. As part of this program students are involved in a number of formal and informal activities (e.g. regular schooling, sharing meals from different cultures, involvement in cultural performances, learning different languages, participating in different sporting events etc.).

The intercultural exchange program aims to:

  • Improve students' appreciation of diversity (including socio-economic diversity)
  • Increase students' cultural confidence and a sense of self within a diverse Australia
  • Improve students' sense of place, community and their understanding (and experience) of urban and rural life.
  • Increase students' awareness, understanding, and empathy towards different cultures
  • Reducing stereotyping of target groups
  • Increase students' critical perspectives on representations of other cultures
  • Enhance their pro-social dispositions


Data collection began in June 2016 with an online survey of school students in years 5 to 11 in NSW (n=1600, students across 26 schools). The survey includes questions about students' awareness, understanding and appreciation diversity (socio-economic and cultural), urban and rural life; awareness of stereotypes and representations of other cultures; sense of place and community and sense of self within a diverse Australia; cultural confidence; empathy towards different cultures and pro-social dispositions. In addition, the survey also includes items assessing direct racist experiences.


  • Research has shown that cross-cultural contact is most effective at improving attitudes and community relations when it occurs between ethnic groups in a non-competitive setting, in the absence of a cultural hierarchy, where leadership have endorsed the initiative and where there is clear intention. There should also be opportunities for in-depth and ongoing interactions.
  • The data show that CCA school students have high levels of cultural awareness.
  • The strongest influences on students’ cultural empathy, awareness and understanding were parents and self-realisation.
  • Students show a strong appreciation and acceptance of cultural diversity; however there is a strong thread of assimilationist attitudes towards migrants (1/3 of students agreed with the statement that “migrants should behave like Australians”).
  • Students showed a high level of pro-social dispositions. 90% of students wanted to see their peers show empathy towards people from a different culture, 73% stated they would help if they saw someone being treated badly because of their culture. However knowledge of ways to help was lower (62%).
  • Students born overseas were significantly less likely to ‘feel Australian’ (51% compared to 80% of the Australian-born population).
  • Country students expressed a stronger sense of place and community. However both country and city students could benefit from a greater understanding of rural/urban life.
  • The vast majority of students (8 out of 10) have not experienced racism directed towards them. However, the number of those who have experienced racism in a school setting is significant. This is particularly relevant in country schools where respondents were twice as likely to experience racism as their counterparts in city schools.

Further information:

'Promoting Intercultural Understanding Through Student Exchange: A city-country multi-school program' - preliminary report April 2017