We are officially one year into this pandemic. It’s been a challenging year, no doubt. But as any good interculturalist knows, challenges also offer opportunities for learning and growth.
In this blog post, I’m reflecting back on how this year has impacted the area of intercultural learning in higher education and what we can learn, and looking forward to where we go from here.
The following are a few lessons that I hope higher education has learned from the past year.
Lesson #1: The need for intercultural competence has become glaringly obvious.
This past year—perhaps more than any in my lifetime—has made the injustices of our world startlingly obvious. They’ve always existed, of course, globally and locally. But the pandemic has highlighted the disparities, while cell phones and social media are bringing greater attention to the brutality and oppression many—especially people of color—experience. And at a time when...
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...
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...
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...
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...
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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