February 2021 marks the five-year anniversary of True North Intercultural. I am often asked about my career path and what led me to start this company. It occurred to me that, while I have shared bits and pieces, nowhere have I fully explained in writing how or why I founded this company. This seems a good occasion to share True North Intercultural’s origin story.
As a kid, I wasn’t exposed to much cultural difference. I grew up in a relatively homogeneous (White) suburban area of the United States where most people looked like me. My family didn’t talk about race, and the only international travel we did was to the occasional resort in Mexico that felt more like a U.S. American bubble.
Attending a more diverse college was a welcome culture shock, so to speak, where I learned a lot about myself and the world through interactions and relationships with peers from different backgrounds. I studied Communication, which spurred an interest in culture and how we...
This past year—and the first few weeks of 2021—have made it abundantly clear just how deeply divided our society is. It’s more evident than ever that just being in the vicinity of people from different backgrounds, cultures, or walks of life—whether on campus, in our communities, or abroad—is not sufficient to help us learn to engage more effectively and appropriately across those differences. Much less to create a more equitable, just society!
As I’ve said before, intercultural competence can no longer be viewed as a ‘nice to have’ skill in our world. It is a ‘need to have.’ That means our educational institutions need to get serious about intentionally facilitating intercultural learning.
In this blog post, I suggest three things you can do to get more intentional and creative about fostering intercultural learning at your institution this year.
#1: Understand and align with the mission.
Take a look at your...
We made it to the final month of this crazy year! I must admit, in my house, COVID + Minnesota + winter has meant an increase in Netflix consumption. In addition to enjoying the latest season of The Crown, my family has also been watching the docuseries The Royal House of Windsor (apparently we can’t get enough of the royal family). Last night, we watched an episode about how Prince Phillip sought to modernize the monarchy when his wife, Queen Elizabeth, took the helm in the 1950s. However, the royal family wouldn’t hear of modernizing. Fast forward to the 1960s—times had changed drastically, and not only was the royal family more open to the idea of modernization, but they realized it was necessary, and Prince Phillip was there to lead the way.
It occurred to me that those of us who have been advocating for more intentional focus on intercultural learning in higher education may now find ourselves in a situation similar to that of Prince Phillip in...
I’m very excited to announce the launch of a new True North Intercultural offering—one that’s been well over a year in the making! Navigating Cultural Differences is a self-paced online course for higher education faculty and staff who want to develop their intercultural competence and create more inclusive classrooms, campuses, and communities.
I have wanted, for a very long time, to offer a more accessible online intercultural course for educators. When I started on the journey, however, I never could have anticipated just how critical it would come to be. It is clearly evident to me that greater intercultural competence is needed to help address the divisiveness and injustices in our world today.
This course has been a long time in the making because I knew that to achieve wide accessibility, it would need to be largely self-paced. I was skeptical such a training could be created that would achieve the kind of objectives I’m committed to. Because I feel very...
On September 22nd, U.S. President Donald Trump signed an “Executive Order on Combating Race and Sex Stereotyping.” Known as Executive Order 13950, it basically says that diversity, equity, and inclusion trainings that discuss topics such as systemic racism—or that suggest that narratives focused on “color-blindness” are inadequate—are “offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating," (1) and limits federal funding for such trainings.
When I first heard about this order, I was sure it would lead to significant backlash and would soon be rescinded. I also assumed institutions of higher education would be among those leading the way. I was reminded of when, just a few months ago, the United States Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE) announced that people in the country on student visas would not be allowed to remain here this fall if their courses were offered online. Many colleges and universities banded...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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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