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Tomm Stewart. Photo: Stewart's Home Archive.

Dissertation: The Impact of Transformative Learning on the Development of Young Peoples’ Intercultural Competencies


M.Ed. Tomm Stewart’s doctoral dissertation provides insights into the impact of transformative learning and intercultural experiences on the development of young people’s intercultural competencies. The intended impact is the potential to create a more harmonious and equitable world.

Our world is a global environment consisting of many different cultures. However, the prevalence of identifying and stereotyping intercultural differences creates divisiveness, tension, and conflict that challenge all walks of life. According to Stewart, transformative learning, together with increased intercultural competencies, has the potential to contribute to a more understanding, inclusive, equitable, and peaceful global community.

Intercultural interaction may play a significant role in this process in terms of shared experiences, effective communication, and constructive dialogue. The interaction helps create a more conscious, kinder, gentler, and more tolerant society through the development of skillsets and mindsets that enable us to become more positive and culturally competent global citizens.

Stewart describes transformative learning as a discovery process through which people transform their thinking, frame of reference, mindset, meaning making, and worldview.

– This involves expanding and deepening one’s thinking and transforming into a more inclusive, open-minded, and reflective critical thinker who analyzes one’s own worldview, assumptions, and opinions, Stewart explains.

The expected outcomes of increased intercultural competence

Stewart uncovers in his research functional factors advancing the development of intercultural competencies. The factors as a whole contribute to reaching the desired outcome: Changing perceptions and perhaps attitudes, and accepting diversity through transformative learning experiences and the development of intercultural competencies.

Intercultural competence defines the actions and behaviors of a person when interacting with people from another culture. This competence is the ability to successfully navigate, accept, and appreciate cultural differences and to get along constructively and positively with others.

– The expected outcomes of transformative learning and increased intercultural competencies support people who have courage to speak up; to promote equity and genuine intercultural dialogue; to stand up for equality, freedom, and justice; and to accept and defend the truth, Stewart notes.

This type of learning enables people to transform or reconstruct their thinking in meaningful ways through shared experiences, effective communication, and authentic dialogue.

Data collection with university students

The study involved Russian university students. The informants consisted of an intervention group who actively attended language and culture seminars and a comparison (control) group who did not attend them. The data collection took place between 2015 and 2019.

The setting enabled the intervention group students and the research seminar faculty of American and Finnish educators to engage in multiple intercultural sharing experiences. The results clearly indicate an increase in favorable perceptions of others and positive development in intercultural competencies.

Information on the public examination

The doctoral dissertation ”The Impact of Transformative Learning on the Development of Young Peoples’ Intercultural Competencies” by Master of Education Tomm Stewart will be publicly examined in the Faculty of Social Education at the University of Lapland on Friday 1 April at 12 pm in lecture hall LS2 (Yliopistonkatu 8).

The opponent is professor Elina Lehtomäki, University of Oulu, and the custos is professor Tuija Turunen, University of Lapland.

The language of the public defence is English, and it can be followed online at

Coffee will be served in Restaurant Felli after the session.

Information on the doctoral candidate

Tomm Stewart has a broad educational background. He has taught biology, marine biology, human anatomy, and general science. He has also worked in public-school administration and is an experienced international education and healthcare professional. He has organised 20 language and culture camps with young people from all over the world for the Finnish Summer High School Association (Kesälukioseura). Regarding humanitarian and social advocacy, he has also supervised sustainable healthcare and education missions in West Africa.

His parents instilled in their family the sanctity of human life and the value of and respect for all people regardless of race, creed, color, or national origin. This has functioned as an intrinsic motivator in his personal and professional life: To engage in research and action concerning transformative learning and intercultural competencies.

Further information

Tomm Stewart
P. +1 (425)516-2702
tommas418(at) and thstewar(at)

Information on the publication

Thomas Stewart: The Impact of Transformative Learning on the Development of Young Peoples’ Intercultural Competencies. Acta electronica Universitatis Lapponiensis 338. ISBN:978-952-337-313-6, ISSN 1796-6310. University of Lapland, Rovaniemi 2022.

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