Reflections on Intercultural Learning & Teaching

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...

Continue Reading...

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...

Continue Reading...

Mindfulness for Intercultural Learning, Part I

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...

Continue Reading...

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

Jul 25, 2017

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.


Continue Reading...

​Getting Beyond the Comfort Zone

Jun 22, 2017

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...

Continue Reading...

Creating Inclusive Communities for Transgender Students (at home and abroad)

May 23, 2017

I’m always telling educators that if we want to effectively facilitate students’ intercultural learning, we need to focus on our own intercultural development. In that vein, I try to seek out opportunities to expand my own perspectives. So when I recently met grey doolin, a transqueer consultant (pronouns: they/them/theirs), I invited them to “guest blog” in order to both expand my own understanding and share that learning with other educators interested in creating more inclusive environments for transgender students (as well as staff).

grey doolin identifies as a transqueer consultant, activist-educator, artist, healer, and true-heart with a background in community mental health. Founder of greyspace consulting and Radical Wayfaring, grey is passionate about teaching others how to provide inclusive and dignifying spaces and services to queer-  and trans-identified individuals. 

Here’s my interview with grey…
Tara: ...

Continue Reading...

Is the SIIC Fellows Program Right for Me?

Apr 11, 2017

Every year around this time, I am contacted by several people interested in applying to the Fellows Program at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC) who want to ask me about my experience in the program.
My intention with this blog post is to share some insider information about the SIIC Fellows Program experience. The opinions expressed here are primarily my own, but I also gathered input from several other past Fellows and from Janet Bennett, Executive Director of the Intercultural Communication Institute (ICI), the organization that sponsors SIIC.
I don’t present this as an “unbiased” review, as any interculturalist knows we all have biases. So here are mine, up front and center: 
I was first a Fellow (although we were called “Interns” back then) in 2008. I attended SIIC as a “Returning Fellow” (or “Rintern” in the SIIC vernacular) in 2010 and 2013. In 2015, I attended as a regular...

Continue Reading...

Starting a Faculty/Staff Intercultural Book Club (Professional Development on a Budget!)

Mar 28, 2017

Recently, I have received several requests for book recommendations from educators interested in organizing faculty/staff book clubs or similar, so I’ve decided to address the question here.
Developing a faculty/staff book club, or organizing some type of lunch-and-learn around a common reading, can be an excellent way to foster intercultural learning on your campus. An added bonus is that it’s an extremely budget-friendly professional development opportunity!   
In addition to being passionate about all things intercultural, I’m also an avid reader. So I love reading books that give me insight into other cultures, help me not just see—but almost step into—another person’s world and perspective. What’s even more exciting, in my opinion, is then discussing said books with other people who offer yet another perspective.
In an effort to help anyone who might want to consider starting such a book club, I...

Continue Reading...
1 2 3 4 5

Do you want to help students learn across cultures, but aren't sure where to start?

Sign up to receive a free copy of An Educator's Guide to Intercultural Learning, and additional resources, support, and inspiration to help you foster intercultural learning.