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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 learning.

I touched on this in last month’s post, and it came up again at CILMAR. Conferences and other types of “one and done” professional development opportunities are useful for expanding awareness, but to truly develop intercultural competence at the individual level and build capacity at the institutional level, we need learning to go deeper.

This is something I’ve witnessed personally, and am thankful to increasingly be able to work with institutions that are thinking about long-term strategies to build intercultural capacity. That’s also why I’m in the process of developing a year-long train-the-trainer program that includes all the elements of intercultural training and support necessary for an institution to start building intercultural capacity in a sustainable way (more on this below).


#2:  The need for further discussion on the intersection of intercultural, social justice, and diversity, equity and inclusion work.

Many people often think intercultural development is only about engaging more effectively with people from other countries. However, it is really about bridging cultural differences of any kind—national, ethnic, regional, gender, socio-economic, religious, etc. Furthermore, the distinction between “international” and “domestic” is becoming increasingly blurred in this globalizing world.

We talked quite a bit about the importance of bringing together people who are doing work in areas of intercultural development, social justice, and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI), to discuss our shared goals and how we might support one another in this work. We are not suggesting these approaches are the same or should be subsumed into one, but acknowledging that we may share some similar and/or overlapping goals, and could learn a lot from one another.

As someone who is primarily an interculturalist, with a deep passion for social justice and DEI issues, I recognize there are important differences between these approaches. For example, the U.S. should not export our ideas or approach toward social justice issues abroad, as they may not be culturally appropriate. At the same time, however, issues of power, privilege, positionality, colonialism, and oppression exist and need to be addressed worldwide.

The consensus among our group was that there needs to be more bridging among professionals in these different areas, and discussion about how we might work together and learn from one another to make this world a better place.


#3:  The importance of not only addressing individual intercultural development, but coupling this with intercultural development at the team, organization, and systemic/structural levels.

Another discussion that needs to be more prominent is that of how we can address intercultural development at the organizational and structural levels, in addition to the individual level. This is one area, in particular, where interculturalists can perhaps learn from social justice and DEI approaches.

In most True North Intercultural programs, we discuss the importance of examining not just our own intercultural strengths and challenges as individuals, but also those of our institutions. Developing the intercultural competence of individuals within an institution is a critical first step, but then those individuals need to work together to identify and take action where changes are needed at the institutional level.

This issue also ties back to the first theme, that of needing to create spaces where we can go deeper. A half-day or even multi-day workshop is not going to have a long-lasting impact on the intercultural development of an entire institution. What’s needed is ongoing training and support that begins with individual development, and helps teams of individuals working together to make changes at the group and organizational levels.


Conclusion & Continuation of the Conversation

So those are the three key themes, at least from my perspective, that came out of our time together at Purdue last month. As I said, no decisions have been made yet as to next steps for this group. However, the conversation has provided affirmation to me that the changes I’ve been making to True North Intercultural’s programming are on point, and has also caused me to make some updates to strengthen the offerings.

In this vein, I’d like to introduce my newest program, the Intercultural Educators Academy, a year-long, highly supportive training and coaching program meant to help educators and institutions of higher education build intercultural capacity. If you are interested in learning more about it, please click here.

Also, I’d love to create a space here where others can add to the conversation. Please feel free, in the comments section below, to share your thoughts—either your responses to the themes identified above, or other ideas about professional development related to intercultural teaching and learning in higher education.

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