Coronavirus, Intercultural Learning & Self-Care

Mar 10, 2020

COVID-19:  It’s seriously upsetting the international education field, and higher education in general (not to mention other sectors). I know many of you are working overtime and grappling with very difficult decisions that impact a lot of people in serious ways. Do we cancel our study abroad programs? Relocate students? Restrict faculty and staff travel? Or even close our doors and move all courses online?

That’s why, in this blog post, I want to talk about something that may seem only tangentially related to intercultural learning for many of you, but is a fundamental aspect of it, in my opinion:  self-care.

Intercultural experiences are all about engaging with the unknown and pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone. Doing difficult things. In order to learn, grow, and make the most of such experiences, it’s fundamental to take care of ourselves so we have the energy to engage in these ways.

Whether we’re crossing cultures, or engaging ambiguity and making difficult decisions in the face of an epidemic like the Coronavirus, self-care is fundamental to our ability to so effectively.

I’d like to share a story/example…

My spouse has been gone for almost a month now, connecting with and caring for family abroad. He currently works part-time for True North Intercultural, and takes the lead on all things related to our kids and household. While abroad, he can work remotely. But he cannot get the kids to school in the morning, do the laundry, cook dinner, drive carpool, etc. So that’s fallen to me, on top of a busy work schedule. (I have huge respect for all the single parents out there who do this full time!)

I’m normally pretty good about creating space in my life to rest, do things I enjoy, and recharge my batteries. However, during this past month I’ve been stealing from time that would otherwise be used for things you might label “self-care” and instead prioritizing work. For example, I typically take a walk after lunch each day to clear my head, stretch my body, and get some fresh air. In the evenings, I’ll often make time to read just for pleasure. But the past few weeks I haven’t been doing either of these things very often, opting instead to jump back on my computer right after lunch or during what little “free” evening time I have to work. Because I have so much to do!

You know the feeling, right?!

But I realized this week how detrimental that’s been. It’s not helping me be more productive. It actually has the opposite effect.

Because the amount of time I spend working is not nearly as important as the level of energy I bring to my work.

Today, one of the big items on my to-do list was to write the monthly blog post. I didn’t have any great ideas for a topic and wasn’t feeling very motivated about the prospect. So instead of sitting down in front of the computer to write, I forced myself to go for a walk. It felt really good to get outside, stretch my legs, breathe the fresh air, and observe a few signs of spring coming to Minnesota. On that walk, the inspiration came to me for this blog post. I got excited to share this message with you. I came home, sat down in front of the computer, and this article poured out of me onto the page.

In other words, I was more productive in less time. And I had a renewed energy for my work.

So what’s the moral of the story?

When times are tough—such as when we are dealing with a lot of unknowns or difficult decisions with no easy answers—we need to take care of ourselves, be kind to ourselves. Focus more on managing our energy, rather than simply dedicating more time to the issue.

Have you ever had a great idea while falling asleep, or been hit by inspiration in the shower? That’s because your mind is at rest. We need to create space—in our minds and in our lives—to allow our deep inner wisdom to emerge and to be able to hear it.

Prioritizing self-care not only helps us tap into our deep inner wisdom, it also helps us show up as our best selves. When you have to deliver bad news to students or colleagues, would you rather show up exhausted and conflicted, or sure, present and empathetic?

So here are some questions for you to consider during these trying times:

  • If you’re really honest with yourself, how are you feeling—both physically and emotionally—right now?
  • How is that serving you?
  • How would you like to feel? What would showing up as your best self look like right now?
  • What can you do to help clear your mind and re-energize your body and spirit? To help you feel how you want to feel and show up as you’d like to show up?

I’d also urge you to talk with your colleagues about this. Discuss what you can do as a team to support one another during this difficult time. So you can each take care of yourself as needed, and all show up as your best selves for one another and your students.

Wishing you well,

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