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Reflections on Intercultural Learning & Teaching

Brené Brown, the Messy Middle & Intercultural Learning


September. The start of a new academic year. I usually love this time of year. It’s a time for planning. Possibilities. Newness. (Not to mention the fact my kids go back to school.)

But this year is different.

I’m feeling a mix of emotions:  Anxiety that dropping temperatures in Minnesota will soon mean much less time spent outdoors. Disappointment at cancelled plans. Sadness that my spouse is unable to visit his father in Spain. Frustration at how health and safety measures have become so politicized. But also a deep sense of gratitude—for my health, safety, financial security, and that of my loved ones. Excitement about new projects I have underway. Mixed with the occasional guilt—for feeling anything but gratitude given my privilege, as well as a sense that I should be doing more for those who are less fortunate right now.

So many conflicting emotions!

And you know what? That’s okay. It’s important to recognize the messy, complex, and even...

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Intercultural Terms & What Matters More

intercultural learning Aug 18, 2020


I’ve recently received a number of questions from people about why I use the intercultural terms I use as opposed to others. These questions and the ensuing conversations suggest to me that there is often more focus in higher education on the intercultural terms used than on what it is we’re actually wanting to achieve and what it entails.

For example, a participant in one of my programs recently mentioned that their school chose to focus on ‘cultural humility’ rather than ‘intercultural competence’ because the latter seemed more limiting. Elsewhere, someone mentioned they prefer the term ‘global citizenship’ over ‘intercultural competence’ because they felt the former expressed a mindset, the latter a skillset.

Both of these comments somewhat surprised me, but also didn’t. They surprised me because they run so counter to my understanding of and approach to intercultural competence development.

In my mind, intercultural...

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Crisis as Opportunity: A Paradigm Shift for Intercultural Learning?


It seems uncertainty is the new norm. In many ways, this is incredibly scary. But it also presents opportunity.

Author Arundhati Roy recently wrote, “Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next. We can choose to walk through it, dragging the carcasses of our prejudice and hatred, our avarice, our data banks and dead ideas, our dead rivers and smoky skies behind us. Or we can walk through lightly, with little luggage, ready to imagine another world. And ready to fight for it.”

I believe that we are in the midst of a potential paradigm shift in higher education, particularly around intercultural learning. I have been advocating for years that we expand the focus on global mobility in higher education to intercultural learning more broadly. Not because international education and exchange are not important and transformational, but...

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Black Lives Matter & Intercultural Development in Higher Education


Each month, I write a blog post related to intercultural learning in higher education. Choosing the topic has never been as easy or obvious as it was this month. But no topic has ever been more challenging or uncomfortable for me to write about.

I was born, raised, and currently live in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metropolitan area in Minnesota, less than 15 miles from where George Floyd, an African-American, was recently killed by a White police officer.

As a White person who grew up surrounded mostly by people who looked a lot like me, I did not engage in many conversations about race when I was young. I’ve learned a lot since then, largely through my own intercultural work, and can now look back and recognize my obliviousness to the role race played in my life as a type of privilege. And yet, I admit I still struggle and feel some discomfort speaking about race on such a public platform, even though I know how important it is to do so.

But as an interculturalist, I recognize...

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Tips for Fostering Intercultural Learning during COVID-19


We are all living with a lot of uncertainty right now. International educators are not only dealing with uncertainty in their own lives, but also in the lives of their students. Will students be able to travel abroad in the fall? Will programs need to be shortened? Start dates delayed? Will international students be able to get visas to come to our school? Will they decide not to enroll?

So many unknowns! For us, and our students.

Global mobility might be cancelled or on hold for the time being. But intercultural learning doesn’t have to be! 

In fact, I would argue that intentionally focusing on developing intercultural competence is more important now than ever. Previously, we may have been able to move students around the world and hope that such experiences would lead to deep intercultural learning (if you’ve followed me for more than a minute you know that’s not necessarily a given). But now we have to come up with other ways.

Furthermore, as I’ve...

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COVID-19 and the Future of Intercultural Learning in Higher Education


A lot has happened in the world since I wrote my last blog post a month ago, when most colleges and universities were just beginning to consider how to respond to the spreading Coronavirus. Now, most schools have moved instruction and services online. Study abroad programs have been cancelled and students sent home, and many international exchange organizations have laid off hundreds of employees.

Worldwide, people are facing significant hardship and loss, as well as dealing with incredible uncertainty. Most of us are experiencing a wide range of fluctuating emotions, many of them contradictory.

For me personally, this all feels very heavy right now. And yet I’m also feeling hopeful. In this post, I want to acknowledge and make space for the heaviness, while also sharing with you the reasons behind my hopefulness.

An Opportunity to Create a New “Normal”

Lately I’ve heard a lot of references to “when things are back to normal.” Frankly, I don’t...

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Coronavirus, Intercultural Learning & Self-Care

coronavirus mindfulness 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...

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Answering Your FAQs about the Intercultural Development Inventory


In my work helping higher education faculty and staff foster greater intercultural learning, I frequently use an assessment tool known as the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). As a result, I get asked a lot of questions about this tool, especially around why and how I use it. 

The goal of this blog post is to address those questions.

What is the IDI?

The Intercultural Development Inventory was originally created by Mitch Hammer and Milton Bennett, based on Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS). That model has since been revised based on research using the IDI, and is now known as the Intercultural Development Continuum (IDC). The IDI is currently owned and managed by Mitch Hammer of IDI LLC.

The IDI is a 50-question online assessment. It’s considered a cross-culturally generalizable, valid and reliable measure of intercultural competence that does not contain cultural bias. It’s been tested and used extensively with a...

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2019: A Year of Purposeful Experimentation


2019 was a year of purposeful experimentation at True North Intercultural.

I started this company in 2016, providing intercultural consulting and training services to institutions of higher education. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about what’s most effective in helping institutions achieve their intercultural learning goals. I’ve also learned what my own strengths are—intercultural training and coaching—and the magic that can happen when we work within our strengths. As a result, I've honed in on creating high-impact professional development programs that empower educators to more effectively foster intercultural learning. And I’ve learned a lot in the process.

In this (longer than usual) post, I’d like to share some of the highlights of 2019, what I’ve learned, and what the plans are for 2020.

2019 Highlights

We served a LOT of people. And they are doing amazing things! Through on-campus workshops, one-on-one coaching,...

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How to Get Professional Development Funding


In case you haven’t heard, True North Intercultural is now accepting applications for the (recently renamed) signature program, Facilitating Intercultural Learning. As a result, I’ve recently had a number of conversations with educators about how to secure funding for this type of professional development.

In this blog post, I’d like to share some tips in case you too are interested in developing your capacity as an intercultural educator, and need some talking points to help you get the necessary support and funding.


UNDERSTANDING THE TERMINOLOGY

Many people (and institutions) use phrases like ‘intercultural learning’ without necessarily defining what they mean. Below are a few key definitions that will help you explain what you’ll be learning through this program and how it will benefit others as well.

Intercultural competence is the ability to communicate and act appropriately and effectively across cultural differences.

Intercultural learning...

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