Case Study: One Professor’s Intercultural Learning & Teaching Journey

Aug 06, 2019

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 program. And since then, she has been a member of the Intercultural Educators Community, a membership for alumni of the Foundations program that includes ongoing coaching and a supportive community to help participants implement what they’ve learned and continue their intercultural learning and teaching journey.

Tara:  What initially prompted you to seek out support around intercultural teaching and learning?

Kelly:  The Finance Department at my school has an exchange agreement with a university in China, so I have lot of students from China, as well as from many other countries, in my classes. For a few semesters, my Real Estate classes were composed of about 50% students from China, 25% from the U.S., and 25% from other countries.

Real estate is something we often think about on a local level, but I wanted to make my classes more relevant to the international students as well.

In particular, I was struggling with some of the group projects I’d assign. I didn’t want to make students choose a local development project to look at when a lot of the students aren’t from the local area. So I was thinking about what I could do to make my classes—and the group projects—more relevant to all students.

Tara:  What are some of the key things you’ve learned?

Kelly:  I first reached out to you thinking, “Hey, I need a couple of exercises that I can use in this diverse class. What can you give me?” Ha! Here I am, two years later, now understanding this a much bigger issue that’s not going to be solved with just a few exercises.  

One important thing I’ve learned is that it starts with me. I have to look at how I view diversity and do some self-exploration and training and learning for and about myself.  And that’s going to make me a better facilitator when trying to get other people to consider different perspectives.

I’ve also come to understand it’s a continual evolution. For example, taking the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) and learning about the various ways people might approach cultural differences, for me that was helpful because I’d never thought of intercultural learning as a continuum, where people are coming at it from different places. You have to remember to try to meet people where they are and explain things in a way that works for them.

Tara:  What are you doing differently in your classes as a result of engaging in your own intercultural learning and teaching journey?

Kelly:  One of the big things I’ve done is look at the group project and try to identify ways to make it a global project. I’ve added some components to the rubric to encourage students to consider various perspectives, including a more global perspective.

I intentionally put students into diverse groups, rather than just letting them choose their own groups. Based on your suggestions, I’ve changed the grading, as well as how I frame the project, to encourage students to focus on the process of working in an intercultural team just as much as they focus on the final product.

So I’ve slowed down, I’ve included more steps, I’ve added points for process, and I’ve created time for group team-building in class. And the feedback in general seems to be very positive. Students seem to get more out the group project work than they did before.

Tara:  I know this is very much a work in progress, but what impact have you noticed?

Kelly:  Personally, I’m definitely gaining a greater awareness of culture and of the need to take the time to slow down and reflect and discuss. I’ve learned the importance of looking at things from different perspectives, and helping my students do the same.

I didn’t fully understand the difference between things like diversity and inclusion and intercultural learning before. And now I can see how it’s really this bigger conversation. I hope it is making me a better teacher!

What has it done for the students in my classes? For some, it gives them that first sense of understanding. They might think, “I was always kind of afraid to work with international students, but it was actually a pretty fun experience. Look at how our project turned out better because we had different ideas and perspectives.” Or “I never really noticed how I might just want to divide and conquer and get my part done, and have everyone else do the same, but there might be a benefit to taking the time to come up with an idea together, versus each just doing our own part and combining it.”

So what I’m doing is at least introducing my students to some of these topics and ideas and making them think about it.

Tara:  You also just led your first study abroad program (a short-term summer program in northern England). How would you say what you’ve learned about intercultural learning and teaching impacted your facilitation of that program?

Kelly:  It made me really try to think intentionally. One of the courses I taught was Global Business Topics, and I tried to incorporate intercultural learning into that. For example, we talked about “What is culture?” and did the cultural analogies activity I learned in the Foundations of Intercultural Learning & Teaching program.

I just tried to be conscious about talking about culture. I was really impressed with some of the things that the students came up with and how they engaged in these conversations.

I also really emphasized the importance of debriefing. At one point we had a one-week break in our session, and the next day we spent an hour talking about the different things that happened while they were on break. Many of them traveled to different places around Europe—like Paris and Rome—so we talked about what that was like and how it was different than being in an English-speaking country.

So I tried to be conscious about discussing culture and making sure we took enough time to not just do things, but to then debrief those experiences.

Tara:  What are the biggest “ahas” or insights you’ve had so far from your intercultural learning and teaching journey?

Kelly:  The biggest one is probably just that it is a continual process.

Going through the materials and homework in Foundations of Intercultural Learning & Teaching, then discussing with others in the program, was so helpful. You’re learning from what you have going on and what others are doing. I felt like I learned a lot during that program and definitely developed my own intercultural competence.

But then I joined the Intercultural Educators Community, and during every group coaching session, you bring up one little thing you have going on or you’re working on, and you get great feedback from others instantly. Something as simple as, “I was thinking of doing this culture exercise on my study abroad program,” and people are like, “Here’s what you could do to make it even better,” and the group gives me three concrete ideas that I can go and use right away!

So the biggest thing I’ve learned is that this is a continual process, and you have to force yourself to continue to think about it and talk about it, or it’s easy to just get back to, “I’m going to teach them what the textbook says.” You have to force yourself to think about how you can continue to grow.

And the other thing I’ve learned that’s most valuable for me as a facilitator, is that you have to plan, you have to come up with some sort of exercises that you’re going to do in class, and then probably most importantly, you have to take the time to slow down and debrief and talk about what was the value in that activity, exercise, or experience.

For example, maybe a midterm evaluation, where you say, “We learned about this at the beginning of the semester. Let’s talk about how you’ve been applying it.” It’s easy to just keep on moving, but it’s important to slow down and talk about what we did, or talk about how your group meetings have been going so far, or whatever that might be.

Tara:  So, for other educators who might think their work has nothing to do with intercultural learning or teaching, what would you say to them?

Kelly:  I think everyone needs to think about intercultural learning and teaching, especially the way that our world works these days.

For example, I’m in an organization that’s been looking at the real estate community and discussing the fact that we want and need to be more diverse. We’re global companies, our customers are from a wide variety of backgrounds; our workforce needs to be representative of the customers and clients we’re serving. And that’s probably true of any business. Whether you like it or not, with technology and how the world is moving, you have to understand culture to manage a business.

And it’s not just about including a chapter on culture in your courses. It’s not even about having everyone take a culture class, thinking then they’ll get it. Intercultural learning really has to be integrated within everything that we do. If we’re the educators trying to create tomorrow’s leaders, we need to be thinking about it so that we can appropriately equip our students to be successful leaders.

Also, the facilitator really has to have buy-in. Just like the top manager of a business can’t say, “This is what I want you to do,” if s/he doesn’t believe in it themselves. You have to have buy-in at the top, and I feel the same way about teaching something. It has to be ingrained throughout. And the only way to do that is to have the educators believe in it, buy into it, and show it.

If you're interested in integrating intercultural learning into your work, consider joining the Facilitating Intercultural Learning program (our newly-expanded version of the program Kelly participated in).

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.