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Reflections on Intercultural Learning & Teaching

Rethinking International Education (Free Live Webinar)

Next week, many colleges and universities will be celebrating International Education Week. Is your institution or organization doing anything special? If so, what? Would you classify any of it as being focused on intercultural learning? Why or why not?

What do you see as the relationship between international education and intercultural learning? Unsure? Do you see them as one and the same? Or is one the responsibility of student services, and the while the other falls within academic affairs?

I spent years working in the field of international education—first international student services and then study abroad. I pursued a PhD and “niched down” to focus on the process of developing intercultural competence through international education experiences (what I often refer to simply as “intercultural learning”). Now I focus on intercultural learning both inside and outside international education.

But I’ve noticed that there is very little...

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Recap of the CILMAR Intercultural Learning Leadership Retreat

Above (from top left, clockwise): Darla Deardorff, Kris Acheson-Clair, Dawn Whitehead, Hazel Symonette, Mick Vande Berg, Terrrence Harewood, Beth Zemsky, Leigh Stanfield, Amer Ahmed, my empty chair, Chuck Calahan. Also present, but not pictured: Annette Benson, Allan Bird, Chris Cartwright, Joenita Paulrajan.


Wow, my September was busy! One of the things I had the pleasure of doing was spending two days at an Intercultural Learning Leadership Retreat, organized by Purdue University’s Center for Intercultural Learning, Mentorship, Assessment & Research (CILMAR).

CILMAR brought together a diverse group of intercultural educators to brainstorm about the future of professional development related to intercultural learning in higher education, and we enjoyed a lively discussion (and good company).

Although next steps have not yet been determined, I would like to share here three themes that stood out over the course of our two days together.


#1:  The importance of deep...

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The Trouble With Conferences


As the academic year begins for most of us, I want to ask: what are your professional development plans for the year?

And what is your institution doing this year to build intercultural capacity among faculty and staff, those who are most responsible for shaping the experience students have at your school?

At the risk of inciting some controversy, I want to strongly suggest thinking beyond standard professional development conferences. Don’t get me wrong—conferences are great for many things.

But if your goal is to develop intercultural capacity at your school or organization, conferences are not the best investment of professional development funds or time.

Here’s what conferences are great for:

  • Networking. Attending conferences is a good way to meet and maintain relationships with others in your field.

  • Presenting and sharing research. You can build your resumé and share your knowledge and expertise by facilitating a conference session or presenting your...
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Case Study: One Professor’s Intercultural Learning & Teaching Journey

Above: Professor Kelly Jameson (back row in white, holding the child in green) and fellow faculty, staff, and their families in Alnwick, England, where she recently led a nine-week study abroad program (and lived in this castle!).


In this post, I’m interviewing Kelly Jameson, Professor of Real Estate and Finance at St. Cloud State in Minnesota, about her own intercultural learning and teaching journey, and how it’s impacted her work.

I hope that Kelly’s story will inspire other educators—especially those in fields seemingly unrelated to things intercultural—to see how they and their students might benefit from learning about and incorporating intercultural learning and teaching into their work.

Kelly and I first worked together in spring 2017, when she sought out intercultural coaching due to the growing number of international students in her courses. In spring 2018, she went through the ten-week Foundations of Intercultural Learning & Teaching...

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Leaning into our Learning Edge During Intercultural Experiences

Above: My kids, learning (in Spanish) the basics of how to scuba dive.


At the beginning of summer, my spouse and two kids and I typically spend several weeks in Spain, where my spouse’s whole family lives. During our recent trip, I was reminded of the importance of finding and embracing our “learning edge” during intercultural experiences. And also how different that can be for each one of us.

My kids are currently ten and twelve. Anyone who is a parent of—or close with—multiple children knows how different their ways of engaging the world can be.

Our trips to Spain are great opportunities for me to observe my kids’ personalities and strengths in action, and also to see where the new and different starts to make each of them (as well as myself) uncomfortable. That’s what I call the “learning edge.”

In most of my intercultural trainings and online programs, I talk with educators about the importance of helping learners find their...

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Increasing Buy-In for Intercultural Learning

 

Recently, I sent out a survey to my audience to find out what your burning questions are around intercultural learning. One theme that I saw come up over and over in the responses is an issue around getting buy-in, both from students as well as from faculty, staff, and administrators. The question continually asked was: How do we convince others this is important? There seems to be widespread frustration that many students and educators don’t necessarily see the value of intercultural learning and training.

 

Re-Frame the Issue as an Opportunity to Practice Bridging Across Differences

I want to suggest that we re-frame the issue, not as one of convincing others, but one of bridging a cultural gap. This is an opportunity to use our own intercultural skills to communicate and act in ways that are effective and appropriate with people who have different perspectives and experiences than us.

Let’s try to move away from seeing the issue as one of “them not...

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The Art of Debriefing for Intercultural Learning


In last month’s blog post, I shared some of my favorite resources for intercultural learning activities. This month, I’m following up with a discussion about the importance of effectively debriefing those activities and other intercultural learning experiences. Because the learning really is in the debrief.

This is true whether the “activity” is an intercultural experience—such as a site visit during study abroad or an intercultural dialogue session on your campus—or an in-class activity such as one pulled from the resources mentioned last month.

The activity is where you set the stage. The debrief is where you dig into the learning. 

Why Debriefing is So Important

Experiential Learning Theory tells us that experience alone does not lead to the kind of deep, transformational learning that is the goal of intercultural education. As Kolb (1984) says, “Learning is the process whereby knowledge is created through the transformation of...

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My Go-To Resources for Intercultural Learning Activities

intercultural activity Apr 17, 2019

Whenever I conduct train-the-trainer workshops with educators—whether on campus or through my online program, Foundations of Intercultural Learning & Teaching—I almost always have multiple people ask something like this:  “These are great activities you’ve done with us! Where can I find more activities like these?”

So this is a very practical post meant to answer that question. One caveat though—please remember that the effectiveness of an activity depends very much on the facilitation, not just the activity itself. And effective facilitation requires an educator to work on their own intercultural competence (see the July 2017 post for more info).

That being said, when you’re designing an intercultural orientation, training, or similar, you don’t have to recreate the wheel. There are tons of great resources where you can find intercultural activities to help you achieve your objectives. Do start with your objectives though, and...

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What Does Intercultural Competence Have To Do With Entrepreneurship?

Last month marked the three-year anniversary of me leaving my stable, full-time job to start True North Intercultural. Reflecting on the journey so far, I’ve noticed a striking number of parallels between intercultural learning and entrepreneurship. I’ve realized that the work I’ve done around my own intercultural development has actually helped me as an entrepreneur.

And so, in this post, I’d like to discuss how intercultural learning has contributed to my success in building a business. The reason I share this is because I think there are a lot of people who don’t see a connection between intercultural learning and their discipline or area of work. They assume intercultural learning is only about interacting more effectively with people from different cultures.

While that’s certainly an important goal of intercultural learning, developing our intercultural competence also involves building skills that are useful in tons of other areas of our...

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Four Easy Activities for Developing Values Awareness & Intercultural Competence

intercultural activity Jan 29, 2019

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about values. Earlier this month, my spouse left a high-paying job with no idea what his next step will be. In fact, the same day he left his company, he also left the country for the rest of the month.

The reason he left is because he’d realized he was no longer living in alignment with his core values, primarily family and freedom.

My spouse was born and raised in Spain, which largely shaped his attitudes and values surrounding work, money, and family—attitudes and values that don’t always square with corporate America, especially a high-stress job that requires him to be physically present the vast majority of the time. He has come to realize that while he is happy to work hard, he needs a job that gives him independence and flexibility to be more present for his family.

This misalignment has become increasingly obvious to him as our kids get older and the years away from family in Spain—including aging parents—add...

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