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Reflections on Intercultural Learning & Teaching

Spotlight on Wofford College’s Intercultural Living & Learning Community

Jul 24, 2018
This post is the fourth in a series highlighting how different institutions are supporting intercultural learning. While previous posts have looked at institution-wide approaches, this one discusses one particular project—an intercultural living and learning community—developed by two professors at Wofford College, an independent liberal arts school with approximately 1,700 students in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
At Wofford, first-year students can choose to participate in a living and learning community (LLC), which means they live together while taking two classes linked by a common theme. In Fall of 2017, professors Dan Mathewson and Britt Newman, who teach religion and Spanish respectively, teamed up to offer an intercultural-themed LLC, and invited me to partner with them in the process.
Origins of the Intercultural Living & Learning Community
Mathewson has taught an introductory religion course at Wofford for many years and is always...
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Institutional Approaches to Intercultural Learning Series: Spotlight on Taylor University

May 21, 2018
This is the third post in a series highlighting how different institutions are supporting intercultural learning. This month, the spotlight is on Taylor University, a non-denominational Christian liberal arts college in rural Upland, Indiana, with just under 2,000 students.
According to the university’s website, approximately 80% of students have an overseas experience while at Taylor. Short-term faculty-led programs are growing rapidly, with Taylor sending about 15% of the entire student population on such programs (referred to as “global engagement experiences” at Taylor) each January the past few years.
For that reason, Dr. Charlie Brainer, Associate Dean of International Programs, explains, “Increasing faculty intercultural learning and expertise in leading student groups abroad is vital to our efforts.” In early 2017, Brainer reached out to me about partnering with True North Intercultural to build the intercultural capacity of...
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Institutional Approaches to Intercultural Learning Series: Spotlight on Purdue University

Apr 22, 2018
I often get asked by educators, “What are other schools doing to foster intercultural learning?” So I’m answering this question with a blog series highlighting several institutional approaches to intercultural learning.
For background on how I’m defining intercultural learning (hint: it’s about much more than learning about other cultures), see last month’s post, which featured Augsburg University, a smaller, private school in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
This month, the spotlight is on Purdue University, a state school with more than 40,000 students in West Lafayette, Indiana.
A Focus on Developing Intercultural Competence at Home and Abroad
In late 2011, Dr. Charles Calahan, then a faculty member at Purdue, was asked to take on a new position that would focus on developing intercultural competency both on campus and through more intentional, targeted study abroad efforts.
Calahan, whose title is now Assistant...
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Institutional Approaches to Intercultural Learning Series: Spotlight on Augsburg University

Mar 19, 2018
I often get asked by educators, “What are other schools doing to foster intercultural learning?” So I’ve decided to answer this question with a blog series highlighting several institutional approaches to intercultural learning. In this month’s post—the first in the series—the spotlight is on Augsburg University.
Defining Intercultural Learning
First, let’s define intercultural learning, an often-misunderstood concept. Intercultural learning involves developing one’s intercultural competence. Intercultural competence can be defined as the ability to communicate and act appropriately and effectively across cultural differences. Effectively means we achieve our aims. Appropriately means we do so in such a way that any other parties involved feel respected.
Learning about other cultures is not the same as intercultural learning. Ideally, as one develops their intercultural...
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Examining the Syllabus as Cultural Artifact

Feb 26, 2018
Have you ever stopped to consider how your syllabus—and even your institution and country’s educational system—is influenced by cultural values, beliefs, and assumptions?
Our educational institutions—and everything we do within them—are socially and culturally constructed.  We all have beliefs, values, and assumptions when it comes to what “good” and “bad” education look like, and it’s important for us to reflect on what those are, where they come from, how they shape our work, and how they might be perceived by and impact others.
But where to start?  How about with your syllabus!
Examining the syllabus as a cultural artifact is a helpful exercise for educators to deepen our own self-awareness and create more inclusive communities on our campuses and in our classrooms.  In addition, it can be a great activity to do with students who are studying in another country so they can examine their own...
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Challenges & Practical Realities of Assessing Intercultural Learning

Jan 21, 2018
In November I facilitated a webinar entitled, “Assessing Intercultural Learning: Beyond Assessment Tools.” Due to the high interest in and positive reception of that session, I decided to also write a blog post on the topic.

In this post, I discuss some of the challenges involved in assessing intercultural learning, and share the webinar slides, which contain practical examples of ways to address these issues.
Formative & Summative Assessment
First of all, it’s important to distinguish between two primary types of assessment—formative and summative—and think about the role both play in intercultural learning.
Summative assessment is typically given after the instruction or learning experience is over. It provides information about what has been learned. The goal of summative assessment is to evaluate student learning at the end of an instructional unit by comparing it against some standard or benchmark.
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Practicing Intercultural Competence at the Holidays

Dec 18, 2017

Winter break is almost here, and many of us will soon be gathering with family and friends to celebrate various holidays. These holiday gatherings can be a lot of fun, but they can also be stressful. One reason is because they oftentimes require us to engage with people with whom we don’t always see eye to eye.
I’d like to invite you to re-frame the holidays as an opportunity to practice intercultural competence, and perhaps build some bridges and promote peace in the process.
Two difficulties that even fairly interculturally competent people oftentimes have (see the July 2017 blog post for more information about developing intercultural competence) are applying their intercultural skills when engaging with people who have a more polarizing (“us” vs. “them”) approach to cultural differences and when engaging with close family or friends. Yet intercultural competence is relevant not just when traveling abroad or...

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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.
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...
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Developing Intercultural Learning Objectives

Oct 24, 2017

Significant learning is learning that makes a difference in how people live—and the kind of life they are capable of living. We want that which students learn to become part of how they think, what they can and want to do, what they believe is true about life, and what they value—and we want it to increase their capability for living life fully and meaningfully.
— L. Dee Fink

This is the quote that introduces my recent chapter, entitled “Design and pedagogy for transformative intercultural learning,” in the book Learning Across Cultures: Locally and Globally, edited by Barbara Kappler Mikk and Inge Steglitz.

It may seem overly optimistic to some, especially in today’s world, but I choose to believe that I can somehow make a positive difference in this world. Not in a massive, everyone-will-know-my-name kind of way, but more like a stone-producing-ripples-in-a-pond kind of way.

It is with this optimism, balanced but not overtaken by a heavy...

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Mindfulness for Intercultural Learning, Part II

Sep 26, 2017

This is the second in a two-part series on the relationship between mindfulness and intercultural learning. Last month, I discussed what mindfulness is and why it’s an important component of intercultural learning (click here to read Part I if you missed it). In this post, I address the need to move from mindfulness as concept to mindfulness as practice, and provide specific ideas about how educators can incorporate mindfulness into their intercultural work.

Mindfulness in the Intercultural Field

Mindfulness has been recognized as an important concept in intercultural communication for some time. In her 1999 book, intercultural communication expert Stella Ting-Toomey explains that stereotyping is inevitable, and we must learn to distinguish between mindless stereotyping and mindful stereotyping. Ting-Toomey (1999) states:

“While mindful stereotyping evokes an open-minded attitude in dealing with others, mindless stereotyping reflects a closed-ended mindset. Mindless...

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