Definition of Mindfulness
According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is largely responsible for bringing mindfulness to the secular world, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”
We spend most of our lives operating on automatic pilot, with unconscious scripts guiding our actions. This is necessary and useful because it frees up mental capacity to focus our attention on more complex tasks.
However, there is a limit to the efficiency and helpfulness of operating on autopilot. Since our habitual responses are culture-bound, they are likely to be inappropriate when we’re crossing cultures. As a simple example, operating on autopilot and driving on the right-hand side of the street would be very problematic in the UK. Such situations require us to act mindfully, being present in a way that allows us to respond to the world in an intentional way.
Some people think of mindfulness and meditation as synonymous; however, meditation is simply one means of practicing mindfulness. There are other ways of practicing, most of which focus on bringing awareness to the present moment. It can be as simple as taking a few intentional breaths before walking into a meeting or in a moment of stress.
One of my favorite practices is taking a mindful walk mid-day (I literally have “mindful walk” scheduled on my calendar every day after lunch). During these walks, I try not to ruminate on work or my to-do list, but instead focus on the present moment, tuning in to how I’m experiencing the world through my five senses.
I used to think taking a mindful walk every day was a luxury I didn’t have time for. Now I realize I don’t have time not to do it. Because that walk re-energizes me in a way I didn’t realize I needed; I typically return to my work refreshed, more capable of thinking in innovative and creative ways, and am more productive as a result.
Research on Mindfulness
The research on mindfulness has exploded since the early 1990’s invention of the fMRI (Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging), which allows researchers to map and measure neural activity.
Practicing mindfulness has been linked to increased activity in the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), which is associated with self-regulation, meaning the ability to purposefully direct attention and behavior, suppress inappropriate knee-jerk responses, and switch strategies flexibly.
In addition to self-regulation, the ACC is associated with learning from past experience to support optimal decision-making. Scientists point out that the ACC may be particularly important in the face of uncertain and fast-changing conditions.
Research has also demonstrated that practicing mindfulness can impact activity in the prefrontal cortex, which is responsible for executive functions such as perspective-taking, impulse control, decision-making, and also influences how emotionally resilient a person is in the face of stress and adversity. The left and right sides of the prefrontal cortex regulate emotions differently; mindfulness has been shown to shift activity from the right to left side. Kabat-Zinn (2013) explains that “resilience in the face of emotional challenges is characterized by greater activation of the left side of the prefrontal cortex” (p. 315).
The body of scientific research illustrating the positive effects of mindfulness training on mental health and well-being—at the level of the brain as well as at the level of behavior—grows steadily more well-established: Mindfulness can improve attention, reduce stress, and lead to better emotional regulation and an improved capacity for compassion and empathy.
The Link Between Mindfulness and Intercultural Learning
At this point, you’re probably beginning to see the links between mindfulness and intercultural learning.
Before we go further, let’s think about the students we work with—the majority are in that transitionary space between adolescence and adulthood, known as emerging adulthood. This time in a person’s life tends to be marked by a feeling of liminality, identity exploration, instability, yet also optimism.
Emerging adults have fewer implicit self-regulators and are more likely to engage in risk-taking behaviors. During these years, their brains—especially the prefrontal cortex (which, as mentioned earlier, is responsible for higher-order functions such as impulse control, planning, perspective-taking, and problem-solving)—are still developing in significant ways.
Consider how that might be affected when a young person crosses cultures, whether they are going to a different country or moving from a rural area to attend college in a big city. No doubt these feelings of liminality, identity exploration, instability, and optimism are significantly heightened.
The following are some of the key ways in which mindfulness can support intercultural learning during such experiences:
These are just some of the ways in which practicing mindfulness can support intercultural learning. This is true for our students, but also for us as educators. Personally, I know practicing mindfulness helps me when crossing cultures (at home or abroad); furthermore, it also helps me be a much more effective educator and facilitator, and in other countless ways.
Next month I’ll talk more about some of the ways we can incorporate mindfulness into the intercultural work we do. In the meantime, I’d love to know more about the connections you see between mindfulness and intercultural learning; please comment below!
References & Relevant Resources
Kabat-Zinn, J. (2013). Full catastrophe living; Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness (revised edition). New York: Bantam Books.
Marturano, J. (2014). Finding the space to lead: A practical guide to mindful leadership. New York: Bloomsbury Press.
Nees, G. (2015). Connecting hearts and minds: Insights, skills, and best practices for dealing with difference. Longmont, CO: Vagus Publiations.
Rechtschaffen, D. (2014). The way of mindful education: Cultivating well-being in teachers and students. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
Roeser, R. (2012). Mindfulness as self-care strategy for emerging adults. Healthy Body - Healthy Mind, 26(1). Available online at https://www.pathwaysrtc.pdx.edu/pdf/fpS1204.pdf.
Schaetti, B.F., Ramsey, S.J., & Watanabe, G.C. (2008). Personal Leadership: Making a world of difference: A methodology of two principles and six practices. Seattle, WA: FlyingKite Publications.
Siegel, D.J. (2011). Mindsight: The new science of personal transformation. New York: Bantam Books.
Mind & Life Institute: https://www.mindandlife.org/
Center for Healthy Minds (University of Wisconsin-Madison): https://centerhealthyminds.org/
Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society (University of Massachusetts Medical School): http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/
Mindful Schools: http://www.mindfulschools.org/
Mindful magazine and online resource center: http://www.mindful.org/
Have you ever wondered how you can better help your students navigate cultural differences (at home or abroad)? I’ve been asked this question by many educators, and my answer often surprises them.
Without hesitation, I would encourage you to first focus not on your students’ learning, but on your own intercultural development. Research and my own experience both strongly suggest that an educator’s degree of intercultural competence impacts how they help students learn through intercultural experiences.
The Intercultural Development Continuum
Before I explain why it’s so important to first focus on yourself, let’s explore what intercultural development entails. Intercultural competence can be defined as the ability to communicate and act appropriately and effectively across cultural differences. Effectively means we achieve what we set out to achieve. Appropriately means we do so in such a way that any other parties involved feel respected.
Intercultural development (which I use interchangeably with ‘intercultural learning’) involves developing one’s intercultural competence. The Intercultural Development Continuum (IDC) (Hammer, 2009, 2012; based on M. Bennett 1986, 1993) portrays this process as a developmental continuum, consisting of five worldviews. These worldviews represent increasingly complex ways of experiencing cultural difference.
In the monocultural worldviews of Denial and Polarization, people view the world primarily through their own cultural lens, typically without even realizing they have a cultural lens at all. People in Denial don’t experience much cultural difference, often due to lack of exposure. The Polarization worldview can take two forms—Defense or Reversal—both of which experience cultural differences in a dichotomous “us” and “them” way. People in Defense tend to take an uncritical view of their own cultural practices and an overly critical stance toward other cultural practices; they oftentimes find cultural differences threatening. Those in Reversal also view cultural differences in terms of “us” and “them,” but tend to be overly critical of their own culture(s) and uncritically accepting of other cultural practices.
Minimization is a transitionary worldview between the monocultural and intercultural worldviews. People in Minimization tend to focus on cultural commonalities and universal values and principles and don’t typically recognize or appreciate deeper cultural differences. They may experience and value some superficial cultural differences, but assume that “deep down” we are all the same.
At the intercultural end of the spectrum are the Acceptance and Adaptation worldviews. In Acceptance, people comprehend cultural differences at a deeper level. They recognize both cultural differences and similarities, and tend to be very curious about and seek out opportunities to experience other cultures. People in Adaptation not only recognize and appreciate such differences, but are able to adapt their behavior and shift their perspectives to other cultural contexts in appropriate and authentic ways.
[For more information about the IDC and corresponding IDI assessment tool (Hammer & Bennett, 1998; Hammer, 2009), click here.]
The Relationship between Educators’ Intercultural Competence and Student Learning
Educators who want to help students develop along this continuum should ideally be at or beyond the worldview they are hoping to help their learners get to. After all, how can anyone help others experience something in a more complex way than they themselves are experiencing it?
I’ve noticed there tends to be an assumption that educators (especially those with international experience) are sufficiently interculturally competent to help students successfully navigate and maximize the learning opportunities inherent in intercultural experiences. But just as the research now clearly demonstrates that international experience alone doesn’t lead to intercultural development for students (Vande Berg et al., 2012), the same is true for educators.
While research that looks specifically at the relationship between educators’ intercultural competence and their students’ learning is limited, there is evidence that we are often not as interculturally competent as we think we are, and that educators’ own intercultural competence impacts their capacity to facilitate students’ intercultural learning (Goode, 2007/08; Ziegler, 2006). Several studies using the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI)—which assesses intercultural competency along the IDC—have found that many educators involved with international education are in Minimization, a worldview that is “not optimal” for facilitating students’ intercultural learning (Goode, 2007/08; Ziegler, 2006). Ziegler explains how the approach educators in Minimization take compares to that of educators in Acceptance and Adaptation:
“(…) People who function in an acceptance/adaptation worldview spend their energy conceptualizing, assessing, and facilitating their students’ intercultural development needs. They focus on coordinating a rigorous academic program, blending culture learning with other content areas, and guiding students along in their intercultural learning experience.
In other words, educators in Minimization may be capable of teaching about culture and cultural differences, but they are not as effective at helping students develop their intercultural competence.
I have worked with educators all along the Intercultural Development Continuum and seen firsthand their tendency to approach intercultural learning as Ziegler explains above. I have also witnessed amazing personal and professional growth through intercultural coaching and training. As educators begin to experience cultural differences in a more complex way themselves, they also start to respond to students and support their learning in a more holistic and deeper way. They learn to empathize with students and colleagues in ways they hadn’t been able to before.
Focusing on developing our own intercultural competence not only helps us facilitate others’ intercultural learning, but it also helps us bridge the gap between ourselves and those we work with. People often ask me, “How do you convince students of the importance of intercultural learning?” The answer is that I focus on bridging, not convincing. That is, I try to employ the skills of Adaptation, striving to appreciate and see from the students’ perspectives and adapt my behavior to meet them where they are (in other words, practicing intercultural competence). By doing this, we model intercultural competence for our students.
Where to Start
At the organizational level, the first critical step is for institutions to recognize that fostering intercultural development requires more than including such words in a mission statement, sending more students abroad, bringing more international students in, or increasing the diversity of the student body. It begins with nurturing the intercultural development of the faculty and staff who are interacting with students both inside and outside the classroom.
The first important step for individual educators is to take the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) or another reliable intercultural assessment (the IDI is my preferred assessment when the goal is development) to become more aware of their own strengths and challenges when navigating cultural differences. In order to get your IDI results, you must participate in an individual debrief with a Qualified Administrator. The next step is to use that information to formulate a plan for developing your intercultural competence, and then to put it into practice, ideally with the support of ongoing intercultural coaching and/or training.
Until now, the best options (in my opinion) for educators interested in developing their intercultural competence were the following:
However, now there is another option! In an effort to make this type of professional development more accessible, I created the innovative, eight-week online program, “Foundations of Intercultural Learning & Teaching.” The program, which includes the IDI assessment and an individual debrief, is an eight-week facilitated online training to help participants better understand and navigate cultural differences, facilitate others’ intercultural learning, and be more effective and inspired educators. Click here to learn more.
I’d love to hear more about your intercultural learning journey, or what your institution is doing to support the intercultural development of faculty and staff! Please share in the comments section below.
References & Relevant Resources
Anderson, C.L., Lorenz, K., & White, M. (2016). Instructor influence on student intercultural gains and learning during instructor-led, short-term study abroad. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, XXVIII, 1-23.
Bennett, M.J. (1986). Towards ethnorelativism: A developmental approach to training for intercultural sensitivity. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 10(2), 179-196.
Bennett, M.J. (1993). Towards ethnorelativism: A developmental model of intercultural sensitivity. In R. M. Paige (Ed.), Education for the intercultural experience (pp. 21-71). Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press.
Goode, M. L. (2007-2008). The role of faculty study abroad directors: A case study. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, XV, 149-172.
Hammer, M. R. & Bennett, M. J. (1998). The Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) manual. Portland, OR: Intercultural Communication Institute.
Hammer, M. R. (2009). The Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI): An approach for assessing and building intercultural competence. In M. A. Moodian (Ed.), Contemporary leadership and intercultural competence: Understanding and utilizing cultural diversity to build successful organizations (pp. 245-261). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Hammer, M. R. (2012). The Intercultural Development Inventory: A new frontier in assessment and development of intercultural competence. In M. Vande Berg, R. M. Paige & K. H. Lou (Eds.), Student learning abroad: What our students are learning, what they're not, and what we can do about it (pp. 115-136). Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Harvey, T.A. (2013). Facilitating intercultural development during study abroad: A case study of CIEE’s Seminar on Living and Learning Abroad. Unpublished dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
Vande Berg, M., Paige, R. M., & Lou, K. H. (Eds.). (2012). Student learning abroad: What our students are learning, what they're not, and what we can do about it. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Ziegler, N. J. (2006). Culture learning in study abroad from the perspective of on-site staff in France and Senegal. Unpublished dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis.
Together we can make this world a better place! Please share this post with anyone who might find it helpful:
I likely never would have met my spouse if I had not consistently and intentionally pushed myself outside my comfort zone while studying abroad.
While spending my junior year of college in Sevilla, Spain, I had what you might call a mantra. I regularly reminded myself of a favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quote: “Do one thing that scares you every day.”
For example, when I stood at the edge of the cafeteria in the residence where I lived one day and surveyed the room, these words rang in my head and inspired me not to sit with the other students from my program, but to instead approach two good-looking guys I had never seen before (go big or go home, right?) in order to make local friends and practice my Spanish. So I introduced myself (in Spanish) and asked if I could join them. They smiled at me and responded in English, with a strong, unfamiliar accent, “We don’t speak much Spanish, but you’re welcome to sit with us if you’d like.”
What might initially appear to be an epic fail, however, turned out to be just the opposite when I befriended these two New Zealanders and they introduced me to their teammates on the Spanish rugby team for which they’d been recruited. Many of the players on that team became close friends of mine; I’ve now been married to one of them for fifteen years.
Reminding myself regularly to “do one thing that scares you every day” shaped my experience abroad in countless ways. It also inspired me to approach a student at the local university wearing a water polo t-shirt to ask how I might join a team, to call the telephone number she gave me despite my dread of speaking Spanish on the phone, and to regularly make the trek into and across the city to meet my new carpool buddies so that I could play water polo with a group of Spanish women.
Not only would I not be married to my spouse (admittedly not the goal of study abroad), I also would not have learned and grown nearly as much from my experience in Spain if not for this strong drive to get outside my comfort zone. Despite the fact that I was participating in a relatively immersive study abroad program—abroad for an entire academic year, living in a residence with Spanish students, and enrolled in half of my courses at the local university—getting outside my comfort zone was not easy or automatic. During my own time abroad and my years working in international education, I have witnessed many students with very good intentions slip into and stay in the comfort zone.
Getting outside of our comfort zone is very important if we want an experience to lead to deep, transformational learning. As short-term, faculty-led study abroad proliferates, this is increasingly challenging. These days, 63% of students studying abroad attend programs of eight weeks or less, and only 3% study abroad for an entire academic year (according to IIE Open Doors 2014/15).
I don’t mean to disparage short-term study abroad. I appreciate that it increases access and participation, and that it can serve as an impetus for other intercultural experiences. But I think the increase in short-term programs makes it all the more important for students and educators to intentionally consider how to make the most of these experiences.
As an intercultural educator, one of my favorite theories is Nevitt Sanford’s (1966) challenge and support hypothesis, which states that educators need to balance the level of challenge that learners face with the amount of support they receive in order to keep them engaged in the learning process. To promote student development, Sanford says, educators must “present [learners] with strong challenges, appraise accurately [their] ability to cope with these challenges, and offer support when they become overwhelming” (p. 46). There are many other theories that support this idea (for example, Kegan, 1994; Senninger, 2000; the Yerkes-Dodson Law).
The image below depicts a simple way to think about this. At the center is the comfort zone, which is unique to each individual. While this is a comfortable place to be, not much deep learning occurs here. When we stretch beyond our comfort zone, we enter the learning zone, where optimal learning and development occur. However, when we are overly challenged or pushed outside our comfort zone for too long, we may enter a panic zone, where we are so uncomfortable that we can’t learn effectively either.
What’s needed is really a delicate dance—a movement between these zones. Get outside the comfort zone, but when you feel yourself approaching the panic zone, do what’s needed to get back into your comfort zone to gain the energy needed to again stretch into the learning zone.
There are two common mistakes I regularly see educators making that could be remedied by understanding and applying these ideas:
As educators, we need to help students understand what these zones look like for them, and to help them get into the learning zone as much as possible by providing the necessary challenge or support. However, we also need to recognize the value of the comfort zone and honor students’ need to go there from time to time (yet not stay there permanently).
I have created a simple activity that I use—and now you can too—to help participants in experiential learning programs think about what these zones look like for them and how they can use this knowledge to get the most out of their experience. You can access it, including a facilitation guide, for free here.
I would also highly suggest that you think about your own comfort, learning, and panic zones as an educator in the various contexts in which you operate. How do these affect your work? How might you find the right balance of challenge and support that you need, especially when leading intercultural or experiential programs, but also when working across cultural differences on your home campus?
Download the activity and share your insights about balancing challenge and support (for your learners or yourself) in the comments below. In addition, I’d love to hear how you’ve used or adapted this activity and with what results!
References & Relevant Resources
“Beyond the Comfort Zone” Activity & Facilitation Guide
Anderson, C.L., Lorenz, K., & White, M. (2016). Instructor influence on student intercultural gains and learning during instructor-led, short-term study abroad. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, XXVIII, 1-23.
Bennett, J.M. (2003). Turning frogs into interculturalists: A student-centered developmental approach to teaching intercultural competence. In N. A. Boyacigiller, R. A. Goodman & M. E. Phillips (Eds.), Crossing cultures: Insights from master teachers (pp. 157-170). New York: Routledge.
Bennett, J.M. (2009). Transformative training: Designing programs for culture learning. In M. A. Moodian (Ed.), Contemporary leadership and intercultural competence: Exploring the cross-cultural dynamics within organizations (pp. 95-110). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Citron, J. L., & Kline, R. (2001). From experience to experiential education: Taking study abroad outside the comfort zone. International Educator, 10(4), 18-26.
Harvey, T.A. (2013). Facilitating intercultural development during study abroad: A case study of CIEE’s Seminar on Living and Learning Abroad. Unpublished dissertation, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, MN.
Harvey, T.A. (in press). Design and pedagogy for transformative intercultural learning. In B. Kappler Mikk & I. Steglitz (Eds.), Learning across cultures: Locally and globally. Washington, D.C.: NAFSA: Association of International Educators.
Sanford, N. (1966). Self and society: Social change and individual development. New York: Atherton Press.
Vande Berg, M., Connor-Linton, J., & Paige, R. M. (2009). The Georgetown Consortium Project: Interventions for student learning abroad. Frontiers: The Interdisciplinary Journal of Study Abroad, XVIII, 1-75.
Together we can make this world a better place! Please share this post with anyone who might find it helpful:
I’m always telling educators that if we want to effectively facilitate students’ intercultural learning, we need to focus on our own intercultural development. In that vein, I try to seek out opportunities to expand my own perspectives. So when I recently met grey doolin, a transqueer consultant (pronouns: they/them/theirs), I invited them to “guest blog” in order to both expand my own understanding and share that learning with other educators interested in creating more inclusive environments for transgender students (as well as staff).
Here’s my interview with grey…
Tara: What are some of the most common misperceptions about transgender people, in your experience?
grey: I’d say the prominent misperception is that folks who identify as transgender are pathological in some way: confused, mentally ill, unwell, etc. This misperception then informs other misperceptions, such as the belief that allowing transgender people to use the bathroom or locker room of their choosing is dangerous. Or that if a trans person chooses to not disclose their trans identity, they are somehow tricking or deceiving others. This belief stems from the notion that others have an inherent right or access to a trans person’s experience and privacy.
Another major misperception is around the idea of transitioning: that it’s the same process for all trans-identified folks, and that it always includes medical intervention(s) of some sort.
Tara: In your opinion, what are marks of a trans-inclusive educational environment/community?
grey: The foundational marker of a trans-inclusive environment is an underlying value and recognition that the expression of a transgender identity, or any other form of gender-expansive behavior, is a healthy, appropriate and typical aspect of human development. That value then manifests as things like inclusive paperwork and language (e.g., asking about pronouns or preferred name), gender-neutral bathrooms, and course content that includes a diversity of identities and ways of being in the world.
Tara: What are 3-5 concrete things educators can start doing now to help make their campuses more inclusive environments for transgender people?
grey: Having inclusive language on paperwork is a really easy place to start. It can be as simple as adding a line for a student’s pronoun or preferred/chosen name, or adding gender options other than “male” or “female.” I know that when dealing with benefits or financial aid or other state and federal systems that legal names and one’s sex assigned at birth are required, and that’s fine. But something as small as asking a student about their preferred name is a huge sign of support. It says: we know that not all people go by the names they were given by their parents. It lets the student know that they are welcome there.
Depending on class size, a really inclusive and easy practice is having students share their pronouns when introducing themselves in class. This is an important practice to start whether there is a trans or gender nonconforming student in the class. The instructor is setting the tone of the class by letting students know that they recognize that everyone might not use she or he pronouns. Then the semester that there happens to be a trans student in the class, a tone of inclusivity has already been set and the trans student doesn’t have to feel tokenized or called attention to by the instructor suddenly deciding that including pronouns as part of student introductions is relevant.
Educate yourself! Attend trainings on this topic, read books, push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Challenge your beliefs and assumptions regarding transgender folks. We all have biases and assumptions—all of us. I really try to emphasize in my work that I am not asking people not to have biases; I’m just asking that they be open to challenging and, if appropriate, shifting them.
Be a visible ally. Many campuses and institutions have Safe Zone or Ally training of some sort for faculty and staff. This is typically offered through the LGBTQ center on campus if there is one. The training varies across institutions, but it provides education for faculty and staff around LGBTQ issues and best practices. There is usually a sticker or other identifier faculty can put on their office door or in their offices once they are trained that lets students know that they are a safe person to receive support from.
Tara: For many students, college is a time for self-discovery and identity development. This is often heightened by the fact it’s the first time many of them are away from their families and those that know them best. Do you have any thoughts or suggestions about what educators can do to help support students in their identity development journeys, particularly as it relates to students who are transgender? (Or is this a moot point because most transgender people start this journey way before college?)
grey: First of all, it’s important to recognize that there is no typical age when one comes out as transgender or acknowledges their trans identity. Many folks do know at a very young age and have the support of their parents/caregivers and school and are able to be out and live congruently. Other folks might know at a young age but perhaps, for a variety of reasons, aren’t able to come out until much later. And others might not “know” they’re trans until much later in life. In contrast to what the media portrays, there is not one “typical” trans narrative. There are commonalities, yes, and also many nuances and variations.
However, given that college is a prime time for self-discovery and identity, educators can support students on their gender identity development journeys by being knowledgeable about campus resources (e.g., LGBTQ student centers, counseling services), creating inclusive and open environments, and allowing students to be the experts on their own gender and identity. Again, small things like inclusive language and diverse content allow trans students to feel seen and know that there is space for them there.
One of my all-time favorite quotes is by Judith Butler and speaks to this: “The thought of a possible life is only an indulgence for those who already know themselves to be possible. For those who are still looking to become possible, possibility is a necessity.” Things like inclusive language and making space for pronouns and having an instructor that sees them as valid are all ways that trans students can feel possible—like they have a right to exist in this world.
Tara: How do you suggest educators interested in creating inclusive environments for trans students develop our understanding beyond just learning the “do’s and don’ts”?
grey: This goes back to the education piece for me. Strive to see trans folks as human beings and then move from that place. Read Janet Mock’s autobiography, watch Transparent, educate yourself on the issues that are most relevant and pressing for trans communities. Check your biases and assumptions.
As I have said multiple times, if a student can feel the value and intention of inclusiveness from an instructor or administrator, that is more important than the institutional paperwork having inclusive language. We’re talking about a population of folks who rarely see themselves reflected in the world and, for some, where the threat of violence is a very real part of their lives, simply because of who they are. The life expectancy for trans women of color is 35. That’s not okay on any level, and that’s the reality for trans women of color right now. Adhering to do’s and don’ts are a great place to start, and: be kind, be open, be empathic.
Tara: A lot of the people I work with are involved with international educational exchange. Different countries are more or less understanding and accepting of transgender people. How do you suggest educators advise transgender students (1) with regards to choosing study abroad destinations where they will be most comfortable and (2) about how to best navigate this aspect of their identity while abroad?
grey: My first recommendation would be for the student and/or educator to do a lot of research about what it’s like to be LGBT in a particular country. Check out the information the US Department of State and the National Center for Transgender Equality have put together regarding international travel for LGBT folks. Talk to other trans people who have traveled internationally. Get an honest and real sense of what the experience might be like.
Based on that information, I think it would be wise to temper one’s expectations. “Traveling while trans” is a real phenomenon (and hashtag). There are a whole host of things to consider: are their legal documents updated with their chosen name and gender marker (if relevant)? If not, what complications might arise from that inconsistency?
If the student is genderqueer, gender fluid, or doesn’t “pass,” how might that inform their experience, both traveling in another country and/or even getting through security at the airport in the United States? Safety is always a big issue. How will they keep themselves safe? What are the laws regarding LGBT folks in the country to which they’re traveling? These are all questions that I’d want the student to seriously consider before traveling abroad.
Tara: Is there anything I haven’t thought to ask that I should have? Anything else you think educators ought to understand about transgender people?
grey: Remember that you’re going to make mistakes. You’ll slip up on a pronoun or someone’s name. And that’s okay. Apologize for the mistake, move on, and do better next time.
Remember that small things and acts of kindness and inclusion go a long way. They have big meaning for the folks they’re directed at. You don’t need to be pounding on some Dean or Provost’s door demanding change. There are people who are doing that as their work, and I am grateful for that. And change also happens on smaller scales every day and is no less important.
To learn more about grey and greyspace consulting, please visit greyspaceconsulting.com. Below are some additional resources.
I’d love to hear what you and/or your school are doing to create trans-inclusive environments. Please share in the comments below so we can continue to learn from and with one another.
Related to Study Abroad / International Travel and Transgender People:
Every year around this time, I am contacted by several people interested in applying to the Fellows Program at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC) who want to ask me about my experience in the program.
My intention with this blog post is to share some insider information about the SIIC Fellows Program experience. The opinions expressed here are primarily my own, but I also gathered input from several other past Fellows and from Janet Bennett, Executive Director of the Intercultural Communication Institute (ICI), the organization that sponsors SIIC.
I don’t present this as an “unbiased” review, as any interculturalist knows we all have biases. So here are mine, up front and center:
I was first a Fellow (although we were called “Interns” back then) in 2008. I attended SIIC as a “Returning Fellow” (or “Rintern” in the SIIC vernacular) in 2010 and 2013. In 2015, I attended as a regular participant (i.e. not a Rintern), and in 2016 I joined the faculty.
My experiences with SIIC – and specifically the Fellows Program – have greatly impacted my personal and professional development. So much so, in fact, that after my first Fellows experience, I set my sights on becoming a faculty member before turning 40 (mission accomplished – yay!) because I so admired the work of the faculty there and wanted to be able to help others learn and grow in the way they have done for me.
That being said, I recognize that the SIIC Fellows Program is not for everyone. So I try here to provide a realistic overview of what the program entails, the potential benefits, and who may and may not enjoy the experience. It’s a longer post than usual, but will hopefully be helpful to those considering the program (or even those just curious to learn more about SIIC).
First of all, what in the world is SIIC?
SIIC (pronounced like “sick”) is a multi-week professional development opportunity sponsored by the Intercultural Communication Institute (ICI) and hosted at Reed College in Portland, Oregon, every July. Unlike a typical conference, where participants move from one 60-90 minute session to the next, SIIC is focused on deep learning in small group workshops.
Workshops are either three or five days in duration, with a few one-day workshops offered over the weekends in between the longer sessions. Participants can sign up for only one workshop per session, but can attend multiple sessions back-to-back.
Although it’s called the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication, SIIC is not just for people in the intercultural communication field. Workshops cover a wide variety of topics related to learning across cultures – including social justice, race and reconciliation, diversity and inclusion, leadership, intercultural coaching, mindfulness, team building, emotional intelligence, training design and facilitation, identity development, and a host of other topics.
SIIC regularly attracts attendees from education, human resources, government, the corporate world, NGOs, counseling professions, and more. Anyone who works with people will probably find a workshop at SIIC that can help them do so more effectively.
SIIC is sometimes (affectionately) likened to summer camp for adults. Compared to most professional events, it is quite informal; shorts are common, even among faculty (some co-facilitators are known for wearing matching T-shirts).
The majority of participants stay in the dorms on campus. While the thought of eating cafeteria food and sharing a communal bathroom might not excite everyone (or anyone?), I do strongly encourage people that want to make the most of the experience to stay on campus (Fellows must). If you don’t, you may miss out on the full community experience of SIIC. Several nights each week, there are optional (free) evening sessions, followed by a wine-and-cheese social. And the food – proudly locally grown in the Portland area – is the best you’ll probably ever eat on a college campus.
All of this is to say that SIIC is not your average professional development experience. It may push you outside of your comfort zone in unexpected ways. And you’ll likely be better because of it.
For more information about SIIC, visit http://intercultural.org/siic.html.
Okay, so what’s the Fellows Program?
The ICI staff is relatively small, and SIIC is a big undertaking. Therefore, every year ICI selects as many as 30 Fellows to help make SIIC a success. In return, Fellows receive a significant tuition discount and an amazing learning experience.
Fellows arrive on campus approximately one week before SIIC officially begins. They first participate in a multi-day training that focuses on working together effectively as a multicultural team. They learn a methodology known as Personal Leadership, from Fellows coordinator Gordon Watanabe. Watanabe, along with colleagues Barbara Schaetti and Sheila Ramsey (both faculty at SIIC as well), developed the Personal Leadership methodology specifically for and because of the SIIC Fellows Program (for more about Personal Leadership, visit http://www.plseminars.com/). Through the Personal Leadership training, Fellows learn how to put into practice their intercultural knowledge.
After going through the training, Fellows then help the ICI staff and SIIC faculty with a multitude of tasks to ensure everything runs smoothly. Fellows are each assigned to assist faculty in a specific workshop. That means Fellows have an opportunity to attend one workshop each session and engage on a deeper level with the faculty leading that workshop. Fellows also enjoy an off-campus dinner with the faculty at the beginning and end of the program.
Fellows are expected to stay through the first two sessions of SIIC (and thus assist in two three- or five-day workshops).
What exactly do Fellows do?
Fellows engage in a wide variety of tasks prior to and during SIIC. Before SIIC even begins, Fellows help with the following tasks:
Once SIIC begins, Fellows not only assist faculty during the workshops, but also fulfill a variety of jobs during their free time. These tasks are assigned during the first week and Fellows have some choice in the matter, although the expectation is that Fellows will do whatever is needed of them to help SIIC run smoothly. The following are some examples of responsibilities Fellows might have:
How do Fellows assist the faculty?
This can vary widely depending on the faculty members and how many Fellows are assigned to a given workshop. Fellows and faculty meet prior to the start of each workshop and discuss what faculty need and expect from their Fellows.
For the most part, Fellows attend the workshop and participate as everyone else does. But they are also there to support the faculty in whatever ways needed – which could mean bringing materials to the room, getting extra photocopies when needed, going for technical support, taking and sharing out good notes, etc. Some faculty debrief with their Fellows at the end of each day, reviewing the feedback forms as a group and discussing how the day went.
Each week, there is a designated day when faculty eat lunch with the Fellows assisting in their workshop, which provides a great opportunity to get to know one another better. Most faculty are very giving and see this as an opportunity to help their Fellows learn and grow in their career.
What are the benefits of participating in the Fellows Program?
Take a look at the list of faculty: http://intercultural.org/siic-workshop-information.html. With 17+ years of experience in the field and a small handful of publications, I’m a total rookie among these names (but please don’t let that keep you from signing up for one of my workshops!). If you’ve explored literature in intercultural communication, diversity and inclusion, social justice, or similar areas, you’ve certainly come across many of these names – Janet Bennett, Michael Paige (my fabulous PhD advisor), Donna Stringer, John (Jack) Condon, Nagesh Rao, Stella Ting-Toomey, Kathryn Sorrells, George Renwick, “Thiagi” Thiagarajan…and the list goes on. SIIC offers an opportunity to not only learn from them, but chat with them over lunch as well. The Fellows Program allows even further inside access to the faculty. Janet Bennett explains, “There are few other ways to access these faculty members in such an ongoing way. The faculty genuinely care about the Fellows, and often stay in touch with them for years.”
Most former Fellows I’ve talked with agree that the biggest benefit of participating in the program is the relationships they developed, both with faculty and with other Fellows. Nadine Binder from Germany, a first-time Fellow in 2015, says the most impactful part of the experience for her was “meeting new, inspiring and amazing people, becoming part of a great community/family, deepening and applying [her] knowledge, working closely with faculty, and being part of a unique experience.” Shannon Mason, who was part of my 2008 Fellows cohort and has returned almost every year since, says what surprised her most about the experience was “how accessible and approachable the faculty were.”
Personally, I served as a Fellow (or Rintern) for numerous faculty members. They have all been kind and giving, in addition to being incredibly knowledgeable. I have stayed in close touch with some, and less so with others. Mick Vande Berg was one of the first faculty members I assisted, back in 2008. We have stayed in touch ever since, usually connecting at least once a month. I can honestly say I wouldn’t be where I am in my career or understanding of intercultural learning if not for his mentorship. He allowed me to research a program he started for my PhD dissertation; I was eventually hired by CIEE (at Mick’s urging) to take over that program when he retired; now we often co-facilitate (look for our five-day workshop on the 2017 SIIC calendar) and are currently co-authoring a book together.
In addition, I’m still in regular contact with at least half of my Fellows cohort, plus many other Fellows I’ve met over the years. We continue to learn from one another, help each other along in our careers, collaborate on projects, share resources, and enjoy spending time together whenever our paths cross.
Many Fellows cite the Personal Leadership training and the opportunity to put into practice that learning as a major benefit of the program. Nadine Binder says, “Learning about Personal Leadership during the Fellows week had a massive impact on my private and professional life and continues to do so.”
Another, lesser known, benefit of the Fellows Program is that if you do a good job, you are invited back as a “Rintern” in future years. Rinterns are not required to participate in the Fellows training again or to stay as long as the Fellows. They help out behind the scenes as well – sometimes taking more of a leadership role, such as by managing the book store – as well as assisting the faculty. Rinterns are especially needed during the third session of SIIC, after many of the Fellows have left. Janet Bennett explains, “Probably the best benefit is the right to return as Rinterns as often as they want to take more classes. For an intercultural professional, this is an enormous benefit—being able to take as many classes as you want from this amazing network of faculty.”
Who is the Fellows Program best suited for and vice versa?
The Fellows Program welcomes and encourages people to apply from diverse backgrounds in every respect. Janet Bennett explains, “We are looking for graduate students to college presidents (we have had both as Fellows).” She looks for diversity in age, ethnicity, gender, and all other forms of cultural difference.
In addition, ICI is seeking applicants who have travelled substantially or, preferably, lived in another culture. Speaking multiple languages is a plus as well. Bennett explains, “We look for a willingness to do anything, flexibility, sense of humor, poise, patience, and cultural humility.”
According to Bennett, the Fellows Program is not typically appropriate for traditional age undergraduate students; they are usually referred to the New Interculturalists Program (for information on that program, visit http://intercultural.org/new-interculturalists-program.html).
Former Fellows agree the program can be a great experience for people from a wide variety of backgrounds and experience levels, as long as they are open to engaging the process. A lot of the tasks Fellows must do are not glamorous. You must be dedicated to serving something larger than yourself and interested in taking a learning orientation toward the process of working on a multicultural team.
Chris Cartwright, who first participated in the Fellows Program in 2004 and is now the Director of Intercultural Assessment at ICI, says the program is ideal for “someone who is ready to stretch themselves and learn on a meta-level what it is to form an intercultural team, while simultaneously facilitating this same experience for those around them.”
Who is not a good fit for the Fellows Program or vice versa?
The Fellows Program requires a significant investment of time and energy. It may not be for you if:
How competitive is the application process? Any tips?
Acceptance rates obviously depend on the number of applicants, which fluctuates from year to year. Yet Janet Bennett, who oversees the selection process, explains, “Chances are, if you are recommended highly by someone in the SIIC network, and write a thoughtful application with very solid experience, you will get selected. If that person drops us a short note, even better.”
Chris Cartwright suggests aspiring Fellows should discuss in their application other shared or cohort learning experiences they’ve had. “We're looking to build a strong team – individual achievement is not an indicator of success in this context,” he explains.
To summarize, SIIC is a great opportunity for personal and professional development in the intercultural field. The Fellows Program offers a means to take that learning even further by intentionally putting it into practice on a multicultural team and by developing meaningful relationships with an amazing group of people.
The Fellows Program is a lot of work though and requires a significant investment of time and energy. (I understand this deeply – I had to leave my 18-month-old daughter for longer than I ever had before to participate initially…when I first arrived, I flopped down on my dorm bed and sobbed with guilt). Nonetheless, I found the experience to be incredibly worth the sacrifice. I can’t promise that to everyone, of course. But if you’ve read this far and the opportunity still excites you, I say go for it! And be open to what the experience may bring.
For more information about the SIIC Fellows Program, visit http://intercultural.org/fellows.html. The deadline to apply is usually around the end of May (late April for early acceptance).
If you have attended SIIC or the Fellows Program, please share your own experiences in the comments section!
Recently, I have received several requests for book recommendations from educators interested in organizing faculty/staff book clubs or similar, so I’ve decided to address the question here.
Developing a faculty/staff book club, or organizing some type of lunch-and-learn around a common reading, can be an excellent way to foster intercultural learning on your campus. An added bonus is that it’s an extremely budget-friendly professional development opportunity!
In addition to being passionate about all things intercultural, I’m also an avid reader. So I love reading books that give me insight into other cultures, help me not just see—but almost step into—another person’s world and perspective. What’s even more exciting, in my opinion, is then discussing said books with other people who offer yet another perspective.
In an effort to help anyone who might want to consider starting such a book club, I offer the following tips and reading list.
Tips for Getting Started
Here are some things to consider when organizing a faculty/staff book club:
The following are a few book recommendations and the goals or types of educators they may best fit. I’ve purposefully kept the list short, and invite you to add your suggestions in the comments section.
Student Learning Abroad: What Our Students Are Learning, What They’re Not, and What We Can Do About It. Edited by Michael Vande Berg, R. Michael Paige & Kris Lou (2012).
Developing Intercultural Competence and Transformation: Theory, Research, and Application in International Education. Edited by Victor Savicki (2008).
Figuring Foreigners Out: A Practical Guide. By Craig Storti (1999).
Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, 3rd ed. By Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstedede & Michael Minkov (2010).
Personal Leadership: Making a World of Difference. By Barbara Schaetti, Sheila Ramsey & Gordon Watanabe (2008).
Contemporary Leadership and Intercultural Competence: Exploring the Cross-Cultural Dynamics within Organizations. Edited by Michael Moodian (2009).
Novels (fiction and non-fiction that reads like fiction)
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. By Anne Fadiman (1998).
The Namesake. By Jhumpa Lahiri (2004).
In Other Words. By Jhumpa Lahiri (2017).
Americanah. By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014).
A few novels on my “to read” list that I’m guessing would also inspire great conversations among educators include:
Those are some of my top recommendations. What are yours? If you have suggestions for books (or articles) that you think would be good for a faculty/staff book club or similar, please share them in the comments section.
“By and large, university professors begin their faculty careers with fresh degrees and highly refined academic and research skills. We are content experts. We know our subjects; we can write about them, talk about them, research them, defend them. But most of us have spent very little time learning how to teach and virtually none preparing ourselves to deal effectively with controversy.”
(from the Start Talking resource mentioned below)
In the wake of the recent, highly-polarized and polarizing U.S. election, I have been thinking a lot about how to effectively engage in conversations across difference and, in particular, how we as educators can facilitate such dialogue. As an intercultural educator (whose research and studies have actually focused on the learning process), helping people bridge across differences is an important part of what I do. I know how hard it can be. So I recognize and understand that educators in other disciplines might not be particularly keen on facilitating these types of conversations, which are often laden with emotions (students’ and ours). It can be scary to allow students to go down an emotional path, especially when we don’t know exactly where it leads. But students need to have this kind of experience in an environment where they can learn constructive processes for dealing with such controversy. If we want students to be able to communicate and interact effectively and appropriately with people who are different from them, we have to provide spaces for them to learn to do so developmentally across the disciplines. Some institutions try to meet this need by encouraging more students to go abroad. But we don’t have to go to another country to find opportunities to interact with people who are different from us. And just being exposed to another culture or confronted with difference will not necessarily produce the type of intercultural skills I’m talking about (all the polarizing rhetoric surrounding the U.S. election demonstrates that).
So how do we provide these spaces? How do we help our students engage in constructive conversations through which they can learn from one another and grow together instead of growing apart (or worse)? And, quite frankly, how do we practice this ourselves so that we can be more effective at modeling and facilitating this type of engagement for students?
I’d like to share a story. Many years ago, I was teaching an intercultural communication course for students with personal international experience. As I do with all of my intercultural courses, on the first day I explained the objectives for the course—which included asking students to push themselves outside of their comfort zones and try to see things from different perspectives—and we spent time collaboratively setting expectations and ground rules that would help us together achieve the objectives.
One day part-way through the semester we were discussing racism, power, and privilege. The sole African-American student in the class made a statement indicating he felt blacks couldn’t be racist. Several students began to react almost immediately to this statement. It’s hard to recall, but I’m guessing I probably had a bit of a physical reaction as well—a physical “uh-oh,” if you will. I had no idea where this conversation would lead us. But I also recognized our collective reaction to this statement as a signal that we needed to have the conversation. I took a breath. “Time out,” I said, signaling a ‘T’ with my hands as if I was a referee. I reminded students of the expectations we’d set at the beginning of the semester, highlighted this as a learning opportunity, and asked them to listen for understanding as opposed to formulating their own response while others were talking. I asked them to raise their hands and wait to be called on if they wanted to speak (not the typical protocol in the class). Then I asked the student who had made the statement if he would care to explain further what he meant. He did, and the conversation proceeded from there with students asking questions, sharing, and demonstrating respect for one another’s very differing opinions and experiences. They did not reach agreement, but it was obvious they were trying to understand one another. After a while I said it was time to move on and we did. The whole conversation probably lasted no more than ten minutes.
At the end of that class (and even on the end of the semester evaluations) numerous students commented on how beneficial they found the conversation and how pleased they were that I allowed them to discuss such a controversial issue in class. Several said that they had assumed I would shut the conversation down the minute the initial comment was made.
Looking back, there are things I recognize I could have done better and things I’ve learned since that I hope I would be able to apply if a similar situation were to arise. I’m not saying that it’s a perfect example of how to facilitate a difficult conversation. The point I want to make is this: something unexpected arose in class, I made an in-the-moment decision that this was a conversation we ought to have and could be a learning opportunity and so provided a framework and guidance to facilitate such a conversation, and it was greatly appreciated by the students. More importantly, they hopefully walked away a bit more knowledgeable about how they can effectively engage in conversations across difference. If nothing else, I think it was more productive than if I had let the student’s comment dangle or shut it down, which would have likely led to less productive conversations out of class later.
I certainly do not have all the answers when it comes to facilitating difficult conversations, but would like to share the following suggestions and resources that you might find helpful.
I want to end by sharing another story that I believe emphasizes the value of doing our own intercultural work (and may perhaps expand your idea of intercultural competence). My father and I have always been quite different. From our political views to attitudes toward our bodies and health, we’ve always been on opposite ends of the spectrum. Although he was quite private and never much liked difficult conversations, he always met my attempts to understand (and, admittedly, often to convince) him with a kind and frequently humorous response. I have spent much of my adult life working to practice what I preach around intercultural competence in my relationship with him, especially trying to empathize and understand the perspective of someone addicted to smoking for over 50 years (who continued to smoke when diagnosed with COPD, put permanently on oxygen, and even after being diagnosed with lung cancer). Although I love my father dearly, trying to understand this from his perspective has been extremely difficult. My dad passed away in October at age 65. Looking back, I am incredibly thankful that I have an intercultural practice and worked to apply these skills in my relationship with him (even though it sometimes seemed futile). I can’t say I understand his perspective completely, but I see him and the choices he made in a much more complex light than I once did. And I have compassion where I could have had bitterness. I know that this has helped me be more of the person I want to be these last few years in our relationship and in his death.
As I said earlier, I know I have more to learn when it comes to engaging in and facilitating difficult conversations. I think this is a skill that needs to be practiced regularly and will always involve a certain level of ambiguity. In addition, cultural context plays an important role and these suggestions are aimed primarily at a U.S. context; approaches in cultures where, for example, communication tends to be more indirect, would likely differ significantly. But I hope my thoughts and the following resources might be helpful to some of you. I invite you to share your own insights, feedback, and experiences in the comments section. And if you enjoy the blog, please sign up to receive my monthly newsletter, which includes additional resources.
Start Talking: A Handbook for Engaging Difficult Dialogues in Higher Education: A free downloadable guide developed by Alaska Pacific University (APU) and the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) with support from the Ford Foundation. The guide reports a threefold initiative consisting of the following: they engaged in training via a series of faculty intensives, went out and taught differently for a year, and then came back together to share what they learned.
The University of Michigan’s Center for Teaching and Learning: The website provides some helpful guidelines for discussing difficult or controversial topics.
Intercultural Conflict Style Inventory (ICS): The ICS is a cross-culturally valid assessment tool for identifying core approaches to improving communication, resolving conflicts and solving problems across cultural differences.
Kegan, R. (1994). In over our heads: The mental demands of modern life. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Fink, L.D. (2013). Creating significant learning experiences: An integrated approach to designing college courses, 2nd ed. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Schaetti, B.F., Ramsey, S.J., and Watanabe, G.C. (2008). Personal Leadership: Making a world of difference: A methodology of two Principles and six practices. Seattle, WA: FlyingKite Publications.
The following are a number of helpful references that discuss IDI-guided development, or how to facilitate intercultural learning in a developmental way:
Bennett, J.M. (2009). “Transformative training: Designing programs for cultural learning.” In Contemporary leadership and intercultural competence: Exploring the cross-cultural dynamics within organizations, ed. M.A. Moodian, 95-110. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Bennett, M.J. (2012). “Paradigmatic assumptions and a developmental approach to intercultural learning.” In Student learning abroad: What our students are learning, what they're not, and what we can do about it, eds. M. Vande Berg, R.M. Paige, and K.H. Lou, 90-114. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Hammer, M.R. (2009). “The Intercultural Development Inventory: An approach for assessing and building intercultural competence.” In Contemporary leadership and intercultural competence: Exploring the cross-cultural dynamics within organizations, ed. M.A. Moodian, 203-217. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
Hammer, M.R. (2012). “The Intercultural Development Inventory: A new frontier in assessment and development of intercultural competence.” In Student learning abroad: What our students are learning, what they're not, and what we can do about it, eds. M. Vande Berg, R.M. Paige, and K.H. Lou, 115-136. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
Gregersen-Hermans, J., and Pusch, M.D. (2012). “How to design and assess an intercultural learning experience.” In Building cultural competence: Innovative activities and models, eds. K. Berardo and D.K. Dearorff, 23-41. Sterling, VA: Stylus.
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I'm Tara Harvey, Ph.D., Founder of True North Intercultural. I started this blog to provide resources and support to educators interested in fostering intercultural learning. Thanks for reading!
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