Thankful: Foundations of Intercultural Learning & Teaching Program a Success

Nov 27, 2017
Happy belated Thanksgiving to those of you who celebrate this holiday! As an interculturalist, it can be a bit difficult for me to reconcile celebrating a holiday that is related in some way to one group of people taking over another peoples’ land (that’s a conversation for another blog post). So I try to focus on what I am thankful for and how I can do my small part to help prevent such things from happening in the future.
I’ve been reflecting this Thanksgiving on all that I’m thankful for, not only in my personal life, but especially since leaving my steady international education job to begin True North Intercultural LLC, and the recent success of the Foundations of Intercultural Learning & Teaching professional development program (update: as of 2020, this program is known as Facilitating Intercultural Learning).
This company started as an idea in the back of my mind while I was working as the Academic Director of Intercultural Learning with CIEE (Council on International Educational Exchange). I was developing intercultural curricula for CIEE’s study abroad programs and—more importantly, in my opinion—providing support and training to the resident staff around the world responsible for helping students make the most of these intercultural learning opportunities.
Inevitably, every time I presented on this work at conferences, several educators would approach me and excitedly ask if I could provide the same kind of training to faculty and staff at their school. While these institutions were not in a position to employ a full-time intercultural learning specialist, they understood that their faculty and staff could benefit from learning how to better facilitate intercultural learning. I recognized an important need, and eventually left CIEE to fill it.
Fast forward a year or so. True North Intercultural had become a reality, and I was enjoying providing support—through training, consulting, and coaching—to a number of institutions engaged in innovative, forward-thinking intercultural work.
Yet I recognized another need. I would often hear from educators who wanted to bring me to their campuses, but knew it was not yet a possibility for various reasons. This caused me to reflect back on a project I’d done at CIEE. In order to provide training and support to resident staff around the world, I created an online program that was focused on developing their own intercultural competence and their capacities to facilitate students’ intercultural learning. I will admit—I was initially quite skeptical that deep intercultural learning could happen online. However, I was forced to move past the question of “Can I facilitate intercultural learning online?” to “How can I facilitate intercultural learning online?” The six-week online cohort program was much more successful than I had suspected or even hoped, and I learned a great deal about how to facilitate intercultural learning online in the process.
Drawing on this experience, I decided to develop and offer an online program through True North Intercultural that would cater to individual educators who are eager to help their students bridge cultural differences and maximize intercultural learning experiences, but who don’t necessarily have the tools to do so most effectively. The intention was to reach educators who might not be able to attend in-person trainings, but also to take advantage of the ability to extend the learning over time so participants would have opportunities to integrate their learning into their lives and work during the program.
With more time to develop the program and a better understanding of what’s most effective in facilitating this type of learning online (as well as offline) with educators, I designed a more robust eight-week program and incorporated an element that I feel is critical in intercultural learning—all participants take the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) assessment and receive a one-on-one debrief with me so that they understand their personal intercultural strengths and developmental challenges.
I put the program out there in the world in fall 2017 and crossed my fingers that they would come. And—hallelujah—come they did! The first session of the program filled up before early bird registration even ended (the program is limited to 20 participants in order to create an effective learning community).
Who enrolled?
We had several participants teaching English as a second/foreign language around the world, faculty who teach other languages in the U.S., faculty from a wide variety of departments who take students abroad and/or work with students from diverse cultural backgrounds in the U.S., folks who work in international student services and study abroad, and a number of resident staff working with U.S. students around the world. I was (happily) surprised to find that many of the institutions who have hired me to do in-person trainings on their campus jumped at the opportunity to have their international staff participate in such a program.
How did it go?
The evaluations and feedback have been overwhelmingly positive. The most touching and humbling feedback I received came in the form of an email from a participant who said that the program had inspired him to reach out to a close family member he hadn’t spoken to in years as a result of a “political” disagreement. He wrote, “I started my side of the bridge and I’m happy to report, [the family member] responded positively. In this age of divisiveness, I’m so happy to say that it does look like it’s possible that people can build bridges. Thank you for teaching us how to build more bridges!” I’ll admit, knowing this program affected someone in that way got me a little choked up! 
The following are a few additional comments from participants:
“This program combines a vast gamut of all aspects of intercultural teaching and learning and it is all well-contained and structured in 8 modules that slowly but surely progress as the learning deepens and evolves.”
“This is my first experience taking an online course and it was surprisingly interactive. I appreciated that Tara’s lectures were detailed, involved an experiential component and were brief enough to complete in 10-20 mins. I appreciated the reflective writing exercises, the videos and the mindfulness teaching the most.”
“I really appreciated the materials used, and the flexible nature of the timing involved. Also, I think a lot of people could benefit from this, and especially the IDI.”
“Thank you so much! Overall the course was very well done and informative!! I will definitely recommend it! Great job!”
I am so thankful to the educators who chose to undertake this learning journey with me, as well as the countless educators I engage with regularly who are committed to furthering intercultural understanding (which includes you if you’re reading this!). I am also grateful for the privilege I have that has allowed me to follow my own path and impact the world in my own small, but hopefully positive, way by supporting, helping, and inspiring fellow educators.
I’m excited to announce that, as a result of the demand and positive response to this program, two sessions of Foundations of Intercultural Learning & Teaching will be offered this spring. ‚ÄčIf you’d like to learn to better understand and navigate cultural differences, facilitate others’ intercultural learning, and be a more effective and inspired educator, consider joining me on this journey!
For more information about the program, including upcoming dates and registration information, click here.

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