2019: A Year of Purposeful Experimentation

Jan 07, 2020

2019 was a year of purposeful experimentation at True North Intercultural.

I started this company in 2016, providing intercultural consulting and training services to institutions of higher education. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what’s most effective in helping institutions achieve their intercultural learning goals. I’ve also learned what my own strengths are—intercultural training and coaching—and the magic that can happen when we work within our strengths. As a result, I've honed in on creating high-impact professional development programs that empower educators to more effectively foster intercultural learning. And I’ve learned a lot in the process.

In this (longer than usual) post, I’d like to share some of the highlights of 2019, what I’ve learned, and what the plans are for 2020.

2019 Highlights

We served a LOT of people. And they are doing amazing things! Through on-campus workshops, one-on-one coaching, conference presentations, consulting projects, and online programs, in 2019 True North Intercultural served over a thousand educators, from countless institutions. Those educators are now not only navigating cultural differences more effectively, many are also integrating intercultural learning into their courses, study abroad programs, orientations, advising sessions, and more.

More repeat clients. In 2019, I had more repeat business than ever before. Institutions I’d previously worked with contracted True North Intercultural once again or enrolled additional educators in our programs. This, to me, is one of the best signs that what I am doing is working.

Expanding awareness of and interest in intercultural learning. Although I’m an introvert, I have pushed myself outside my comfort zone in 2019 to increase awareness and interest around intercultural learning. For example, I spoke to an audience of over 500 educators from Latin America at the AFS Symposium in Buenos Aires (and spontaneously did the Q&A in Spanish). I was a guest on two podcasts (Lecture Breakers and Making Global Learning Universal, the latter of which will be released in early 2020).

In addition, True North Intercultural offered a ton of free resources in 2019, including multiple highly-attended webinars, a monthly blog and newsletter, An Educator’s Guide to Intercultural Learning, and a free online training. Almost 3,000 educators now receive our monthly newsletter, and 666 have gone through one of our online trainings. I also started a free Facebook group, the Intercultural Educators Community, to bring together educators interested in this topic. In just a few months, it’s grown to almost 400 educators from around the world.

Improved signature program, Facilitating Intercultural Learning. In 2019, I ran both a public and a private cohort of our online professional development program previously known as Foundations of Intercultural Learning & Teaching. Working in this ongoing, in-depth capacity with educators who are dedicated to improving the state of our world through intercultural learning has been incredibly rewarding, especially when educators respond like this (used with permission):

"Working with Tara has been an eye-opening pleasure which has not only allowed me to explore and deepen my own perspectives on the fascinating field of intercultural learning, but has also empowered me to begin introducing these perspectives with my students and faculty and staff colleagues. Tara Harvey is an extraordinary teacher and coach who helps us work through how best to achieve our teaching goals and gives us the tools and teaching activities to do so."

Juliette Monet
Director of Study Abroad & Associate Director of JYF in Paris, Sweet Briar College

I spent the latter half of 2019 redesigning the program based on feedback from participants and my own insights. The biggest and most exciting change is that we’ve added a significant small-group coaching component! The first cohort of the new version of the program began this month, under the new name, Facilitating Intercultural Learning.

Offered our first scholarship. I was able to offer the first scholarship to the earlier version of the Facilitating Intercultural Learning program, and had over 50 educators from around the world apply!

Started a membership for Facilitating Intercultural Learning alumni. From the start of the original version of the Facilitating Intercultural Learning program, alumni have asked how they can continue working with me and receive ongoing support from the community of intercultural educators they’ve come to value in the program. As a result, I developed a membership program specifically for alumni of Facilitating Intercultural Learning. It provides ongoing small-group coaching and support as educators continue implementing what they’ve learned.

I love working with this group, helping them develop into the best intercultural educators they can be, as they help me do the same. In fact, a small group from the alumni program will be presenting together at the WISE Conference at Wake Forest in February 2020. The title of our session is “Practice Makes…Progress: The Role of Our Own Intercultural Practice in Our Work as Educators.” 😊

Piloted an introductory online course. Due to the success and expansion of the Facilitating Intercultural Learning program, I wanted to offer an introductory-level online course at a lower price-point. So in fall of 2019, I piloted a course called Introduction to Intercultural Learning & Teaching, which enrolled 95 educators.

It was extremely validating to receive feedback from the first cohort of participants such as the following (used with permission):

"I have to thank you for the Intro course. For the first time, in a very long time, I am feeling challenged, engaged, and intrigued by the information you’ve presented. In truth, I am reconnecting to my core foundations and passion for intercultural learning while pushing them into a whole new arena. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!"

Jessica Rasmussen
ESL Instructor 


"I appreciate the True North message has always been consistent: know yourself first. It forces me to step back and reflect on my own experiences and implicit biases as the most important starting point for understanding, and preparing to teach, intercultural learning. I’ve been looking forward to participating in a True North course for nearly two years! Thanks for creating an affordable option for us."

Marcella Kirschbaum
Career Coach, David Eccles School of Business, University of Utah

Developed a model.
As I got more intentional about my offerings in 2019, I also developed a model, or framework, that defines the True North Intercultural approach and how it’s different from other intercultural programming. It’s based on my years of experience and research around three areas in which educators need to develop in order to more effectively foster intercultural learning. I’ve presented on this model within my programs and elsewhere, and it seems to resonate strongly with educators. I plan to continue to refine and share this model in 2020.

Became my family’s sole financial provider. As I mentioned in a previous post, in January 2019, my spouse left his corporate job so that he could prioritize what’s most important to him, including spending more time with his aging father in Spain, following the death of his mother. He has joined True North Intercultural in a part-time administrative capacity, as director of finance (he loves spreadsheets and numbers even more than I loathe them). He has also taken over the “lead” with all things related to running our household and caring for our two kids. As any parent can likely appreciate, this has given me significantly more time and energy to focus on work. Which is particularly important since True North Intercultural is now our family’s sole source of income.

Leadership in the field. In addition to my work with True North Intercultural, I’ve been providing leadership in the area of intercultural learning within higher education by serving on the Steering Committee for the WISE Conference (Workshop on Intercultural Skills Enhancement) at Wake Forest, on the NAFSA Region IV Team as Teaching, Learning, and Scholarship Representative, and by participating in what was basically a think tank around intercultural professional development in higher education at Purdue University.

Writing a book. If you’ve been in my orbit for a while, you’ve likely heard that Dr. Mick Vande Berg and I have been working on writing a book aimed at helping educators foster intercultural learning. The process has been long and winding, with several stops and starts. But in 2019 we invited two more authors to join us—Drs. Chuck Calahan of Purdue and Terrence Harewood from the University of Indianapolis—and are on track to submit the book to the publisher in 2020.

Invested in my own professional development. I believe very strongly in the transformational power of continuous learning, so I invest time and money in my growth and development in several areas. Most notably in 2019, I attended a three-day leadership retreat called Facilitating Cultural Change, and joined a mastermind with a highly diverse group of amazing female-identifying entrepreneurs. Investing in my own personal and professional development helps me serve you better, just as investing in your development will help you better serve your learners.

Key Lessons Learned in 2019

Importance of ongoing training and support. I’ve seen how impactful programs can be when they provide ongoing training and support to help educators develop their own intercultural competence and build their capacity and confidence in facilitating intercultural learning. One-time workshops are great to raise awareness, but ongoing training, coaching, and support is what’s necessary to truly move the needle when it comes to fostering intercultural learning in higher education.

Less is more. Admittedly, I did too many different things in 2019, spread myself too thin at times. For example, in spring, following two weeks of intensive one-on-one work, I had almost four weeks of back-to-back travel. This included two overnight flights in a row, which resulted in me spending a day in Argentina not experiencing the culture, but sleeping so that I could be “on” for the speech I was giving the next day. I realize this is a privileged position to be in—to have the work, the ability to travel, and someone at home to care for my kids and make this possible—but the truth is it was also exhausting. And it didn’t fully align with my values.

While it may seem counterintuitive, I’ve learned that by intentionally focusing on only a few programs/offerings—and making sure these are things that capitalize upon my strengths as an intercultural trainer and coach—I can help educators in a deeper, more impactful way.  

Plans for 2020

So what’s on the horizon for me and True North Intercultural in 2020? While 2019 was defined by purposeful experimentation, 2020 will be all about focusing on what’s working best and going deep there. My goal in 2020 is for True North Intercultural to become the leader in intercultural professional development for faculty and staff in higher education.

How will we do that?

Focus on a Few Select Offerings.  Specifically, in 2020, True North Intercultural will focus on the following types of programming (for more info, click here):

  1. Facilitating Intercultural Learning:  This 12-week professional development program brings together all the services I’ve offered separately in the past—in-depth training, IDI assessment and debriefing, small-group coaching, time-saving curricular materials, and a supportive community—to most effectively help educators develop their own intercultural competence and learn how to facilitate others’ intercultural learning. In 2020 we’ll offer Facilitating Intercultural Learning four times. Participation in this program is by application only, and the cohorts are kept small for maximum impact. We will take applications throughout the year, always for the next cohort. If you’re interested in learning more or applying for the program, click here.

  2. Facilitating Intercultural Learning Alumni Program:  As more educators graduate from the Facilitating Intercultural Learning program and the demand for ongoing support and “next level” training increases, the membership program for alumni of that program is being expanded to meet that need.

  3. Introductory Online Course:  The plan in 2020 is to revise the introductory course that was piloted in 2019, narrowing and deepening the focus to help educators more effectively and appropriately navigate cultural differences.

  4. On-Campus Workshops:  I will continue to offer (full- and multi-day) on-campus intercultural workshops for educators, as I think these are a great way for institutions to raise internal awareness about what intercultural learning is and why it’s important. But I’m limiting the number of such workshops I travel for each semester. (Click here to schedule a call to discuss the possibility of getting on my calendar for a workshop.)

  5. Customized Intercultural Capacity-Building Projects:  I will also continue to partner with institutions of higher education on longer-term (1-3 year) projects aimed at developing intercultural capacity on a larger scale. I’ll reserve the majority of my campus visits for such capacity-building projects. (To learn more about partnering with True North Intercultural to build intercultural capacity at your institution, click here.)

Publish our book!
  If all goes according to plan, 2020 will be the year we turn in our completed book to Stylus.

Grow the team. This year, I plan to grow our administrative team so I can focus more on what I do best—training, coaching, and supporting educators on their intercultural learning and teaching journey—and True North Intercultural can serve more educators. (If you happen to know any self-motivated, detail-oriented, organized individuals who might be interested in a part-time Executive/Marketing Assistant position, please send me their info!)

Continue spreading awareness about the importance of intercultural learning in higher education. If you haven’t done so yet, consider joining our free Facebook group, subscribing to our new YouTube channel, or connecting on LinkedIn. And definitely join the True North Intercultural mailing list (you'll get a free resource when you do)! That way you won’t miss any future resources, and can easily help spread the word about the importance of intercultural learning and teaching within your own circle.

Deepen my understanding around DEI, social justice work, and similar, and the connections with intercultural learning. This is an area I’m very interested in, and have been focused on in my own professional development (check out this video for my thoughts on the topic). I plan to continue my learning in this area in 2020, and explore this topic in greater depth with educators in the Facilitating Intercultural Learning alumni program.

Continue building a business and life that energizes me. One very important thing I’ve learned over the years is that how I manage my energy matters more than how I manage my time. I try to exercise at least four times a week, as well as move my body and get out in nature every day. I love reading, so I make time for it daily. I’ve seen how these actions fuel my productivity and creativity much more than putting in more work hours. Spending quality time with my family, sharing new experiences, and pushing myself outside my comfort zone—these are all things that I value and that fuel me. One thing I’ve learned through my business mastermind is that increased responsibility needs to be accompanied by increased self-care. I think this is even more true in the intercultural field, where we can sometimes look around and feel disheartened. So in 2020, I want to be even more intentional about making time for the things that energize me, not despite how busy I am and all the responsibilities I have, but because of them.

Looking back on this year, I am amazed at the progress made and so grateful to you and all the educators, institutions, and students that have come along on this journey with me. I look forward to continuing to serve and make an impact with you in 2020!


Join the Conversation!

Enjoying the blog? You’re invited to join me and an amazing group of higher education professionals committed to fostering intercultural learning at the next Intercultural Leadership Forum! You'll have a chance to connect with others doing this work and gain new insights as you move toward your intercultural goals.