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Reflections on Intercultural Learning & Teaching

Institutional Approaches to Intercultural Learning Series: Spotlight on Augsburg University

best practices case study 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

Uncategorized 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

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

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

Uncategorized 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

curriculum design 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

mindfulness 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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Mindfulness for Intercultural Learning, Part I

mindfulness Aug 30, 2017

One topic that’s come up a lot lately in my trainings that I find people are very eager to learn more about is mindfulness. In this blog post—part one of a two-part series on mindfulness—I discuss what mindfulness is and why it’s an important component of intercultural learning. In next month’s post, I’ll provide some specific ideas about how educators can incorporate mindfulness into their intercultural work.

Definition of Mindfulness

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn, who is largely responsible for bringing mindfulness to the secular world, “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

We spend most of our lives operating on automatic pilot, with unconscious scripts guiding our actions. This is necessary and useful because it frees up mental capacity to focus our attention on more complex tasks.

However, there is a limit to the efficiency and helpfulness of operating on...

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The #1 Thing You Can Do to Help Students Navigate Cultural Differences

Have you ever wondered how you can better help your students navigate cultural differences (at home or abroad)? I’ve been asked this question by many educators, and my answer often surprises them.

Without hesitation, I would encourage you to first focus not on your students’ learning, but on your own intercultural development. Research and my own experience both strongly suggest that an educator’s degree of intercultural competence impacts how they help students learn through intercultural experiences.

The Intercultural Development Continuum

Before I explain why it’s so important to first focus on yourself, let’s explore what intercultural development entails. Intercultural competence can be defined as the ability to communicate and act appropriately and effectively across cultural differences. Effectively means we achieve what we set out to achieve. Appropriately means we do so in such a way that any other parties involved feel respected.


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​Getting Beyond the Comfort Zone

Update: True North Intercultural now offers a FREE online training on this very topic! It comes with a useful activity and ideas of how you can use or adapt the activity in your context. Click here to enroll in the course now.

I likely never would have met my spouse if I had not consistently and intentionally pushed myself outside my comfort zone while studying abroad.

While spending my junior year of college in Sevilla, Spain, I had what you might call a mantra. I regularly reminded myself of a favorite Eleanor Roosevelt quote: “Do one thing that scares you every day.”

For example, when I stood at the edge of the cafeteria in the residence where I lived one day and surveyed the room, these words rang in my head and inspired me not to sit with the other students from my program, but to instead approach two good-looking guys I had never seen before (go big or go home, right?) in order to make local friends and practice my Spanish. So I introduced myself (in...

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