European Journal of Psychology of Education

, Volume 27, Issue 2, pp 227–245 | Cite as

Understanding motivation, engagement and experiences of intercultural interactions at university: a person-in-multiple contexts perspective

  • Karen KimmelEmail author
  • Simone Volet


The paucity of intercultural interactions among students from culturally diverse backgrounds at university and off campus is widely documented in the literature. A review of this empirical work, however, reveals narrow conceptualisations of the construct of intercultural interactions. Intercultural interactions are seldom conceptualised as part of complex, dynamic activity systems, and across multiple social contexts. Yet, intercultural interactions represent unique relational, socio-emotional and socio-cultural activities with their own, specific underlying cognitive, motivational and emotional dynamics. It is posited that activity theory (e.g. Engeström in Journal of Education and Work 14(1):133–156, 2001) provides a useful framework for interpreting students’ intercultural experiences, because of its emphasis on the evolving and complex interrelations between individuals and their surroundings—conceptualised as activity systems. The multiple contexts angle further stresses the overlapping and/or embedded nature of the activity systems that individuals simultaneously participate in. A series of empirical studies that incorporated quantitative methodologies for identifying meaningful patterns, and qualitative methodologies for gaining experiential insights into students’ intercultural experiences across multiple social contexts (i.e. formal on campus and informal, off campus) is presented. Methodological and conceptual issues related to studying the dynamics of motivational, cognitive and emotional aspects of intercultural interactions in activity systems and multiple contexts are addressed.


Multiple contexts Activity theory Intercultural interactions Group work 



This research was supported under the Australian Research Council’s Discovery Projects funding scheme (project number DP0986901).


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Copyright information

© Instituto Superior de Psicologia Aplicada, Lisboa, Portugal and Springer Science+Business Media BV 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.RWTH Aachen UniversityAachenGermany
  2. 2.Murdoch UniversityMurdochAustralia

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