Starting a Faculty/Staff Intercultural Book Club (Professional Development on a Budget!)
Mar 28, 2017
Recently, I have received several requests for book recommendations from educators interested in organizing faculty/staff book clubs or similar, so I’ve decided to address the question here.
Developing a faculty/staff book club, or organizing some type of lunch-and-learn around a common reading, can be an excellent way to foster intercultural learning on your campus. An added bonus is that it’s an extremely budget-friendly professional development opportunity!
In addition to being passionate about all things intercultural, I’m also an avid reader. So I love reading books that give me insight into other cultures, help me not just see—but almost step into—another person’s world and perspective. What’s even more exciting, in my opinion, is then discussing said books with other people who offer yet another perspective.
In an effort to help anyone who might want to consider starting such a book club, I offer the following tips and reading list.
Tips for Getting Started
Here are some things to consider when organizing a faculty/staff book club:
- Clarify your goals before you start. This will impact who you invite and what type of book you choose. Do you want to help faculty leading short-term study abroad programs think about how to foster intercultural learning on those programs? Is your department looking to better serve growing numbers of international students? Or do you want to start a conversation on campus about creating a more inclusive environment? Knowing what your goals are will help you decide who to invite and what to read.
- Keep the group relatively small, around 8 – 16 participants.
- Choose a book that aligns with the goals.
- Consider how the conversations will be moderated. Will you use a set of general questions (such as ‘What stood out to you from the reading?’) to guide your conversations each time, have one regular moderator, or rotate the role? You could also consider pairing people up and having each pair take a turn moderating (this adds an extra layer of perspective sharing since co-moderators will likely need to confer with one another prior to moderating).
- Decide when, where, and how often to meet. While many social book clubs read an entire book between meetings, for a faculty/staff professional development book club, I recommend taking smaller bites, meeting approximately once a month to discuss one chapter or section.
The following are a few book recommendations and the goals or types of educators they may best fit. I’ve purposefully kept the list short, and invite you to add your suggestions in the comments section.
Student Learning Abroad: What Our Students Are Learning, What They’re Not, and What We Can Do About It. Edited by Michael Vande Berg, R. Michael Paige & Kris Lou (2012).
- A must-read for anyone involved with international education. This would be great for faculty leading short-term study abroad programs or international education staff. The book is divided into four sections, and meetings could each focus on a different section (with section three best addressed over multiple meetings).
Developing Intercultural Competence and Transformation: Theory, Research, and Application in International Education. Edited by Victor Savicki (2008).
- If you read Student Learning Abroad and found it to be a good fit for your group, consider following it with this book. It will spur further conversations about how to help students develop through international education experiences.
Figuring Foreigners Out: A Practical Guide. By Craig Storti (1999).
- With five chapters (each appropriate to discuss during a separate meeting) consisting primarily of self-guided exercises, this book offers a helpful framework for a group of people interested in but new to the intercultural world to discuss some foundational concepts and their relevance to the participants’ personal and professional lives.
Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind, 3rd ed. By Geert Hofstede, Gert Jan Hofstedede & Michael Minkov (2010).
- Hofstede is widely known for his ground-breaking research that explored and outlined several key frameworks for understanding cultural differences. Divided into four parts and twelve chapters, parts I (the concept of culture) and II (dimensions of national cultures) could be used on their own, while part III (cultures in organizations) is a great addition for any group that wants to discuss the role of culture in the workplace.
Personal Leadership: Making a World of Difference. By Barbara Schaetti, Sheila Ramsey & Gordon Watanabe (2008).
- This book outlines a holistic, introspective methodology for learning and leading across differences, and would be ideal for a group that already understands some basic intercultural frameworks and wants to further explore how to practice intercultural competence.
Contemporary Leadership and Intercultural Competence: Exploring the Cross-Cultural Dynamics within Organizations. Edited by Michael Moodian (2009).
- As the title implies, this book focuses on intercultural competence as it relates to leadership and the workplace. It’s appropriate for anyone in higher education, but especially those in the business sector. Groups could easily pick and choose from the wide array of chapters by leaders in the intercultural field.
Novels (fiction and non-fiction that reads like fiction)
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures. By Anne Fadiman (1998).
- One of my favorite books of all time, this is—as the title implies—a true story about the cultural divide between a Hmong family with a child diagnosed with epilepsy and the U.S. American medical system. This is essential reading for any educators in the medical, counseling, or other caring professions. It’s also highly relevant to anyone working with immigrant students and their families.
The Namesake. By Jhumpa Lahiri (2004).
- One of my favorite authors pens a fictional story that follows the life of a young man born in the U.S. to parents who emigrated from India to study. This book is sure to inspire interesting conversations about the challenges international students and their spouses face in the U.S., identity development, cultural assimilation and adaptation, the challenges faced by immigrant families, and more. The Namesake has been turned into a movie as well.
In Other Words. By Jhumpa Lahiri (2017).
- In this memoir, author Lahiri shares her story about relocating to Rome to move from writing in English (never 100% her “native” tongue to begin with) and follow a dream of becoming fluent and writing in Italian. Originally written in Italian and then translated into English, this book will inspire good conversation among educators interested in language learning.
Americanah. By Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie (2014).
- This wonderful work of fiction from Nigerian author Ngozi Adichie follows the experiences of a Nigerian woman who comes to the U.S. to study, while her Nigerian love interest eventually makes his way to London. It is sure to inspire important conversations about race, identity, culture shock, power and privilege, and so much more.
A few novels on my “to read” list that I’m guessing would also inspire great conversations among educators include:
- Between the World and Me, by Ta-Nehisi Coates
- Hillbilly Elegy, by J.D. Vance
- Behold the Dreamers, by Imbolo Mbue
Those are some of my top recommendations. What are yours? If you have suggestions for books (or articles) that you think would be good for a faculty/staff book club or similar, please share them in the comments section.
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