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Reflections on Intercultural Learning & Teaching

Brené Brown, the Messy Middle & Intercultural Learning


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...

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Black Lives Matter & Intercultural Development in Higher Education


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...

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Answering Your FAQs about the Intercultural Development Inventory


In my work helping higher education faculty and staff foster greater intercultural learning, I frequently use an assessment tool known as the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI). As a result, I get asked a lot of questions about this tool, especially around why and how I use it. 

The goal of this blog post is to address those questions.

What is the IDI?

The Intercultural Development Inventory was originally created by Mitch Hammer and Milton Bennett, based on Bennett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS). That model has since been revised based on research using the IDI, and is now known as the Intercultural Development Continuum (IDC). The IDI is currently owned and managed by Mitch Hammer of IDI LLC.

The IDI is a 50-question online assessment. It’s considered a cross-culturally generalizable, valid and reliable measure of intercultural competence that does not contain cultural bias. It’s been tested and used extensively with a...

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What Does Intercultural Competence Have To Do With Entrepreneurship?

Last month marked the three-year anniversary of me leaving my stable, full-time job to start True North Intercultural. Reflecting on the journey so far, I’ve noticed a striking number of parallels between intercultural learning and entrepreneurship. I’ve realized that the work I’ve done around my own intercultural development has actually helped me as an entrepreneur.

And so, in this post, I’d like to discuss how intercultural learning has contributed to my success in building a business. The reason I share this is because I think there are a lot of people who don’t see a connection between intercultural learning and their discipline or area of work. They assume intercultural learning is only about interacting more effectively with people from different cultures.

While that’s certainly an important goal of intercultural learning, developing our intercultural competence also involves building skills that are useful in tons of other areas of our...

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From the Margins to the Center: The Shifting Role of Intercultural Development in a Polarizing Society

Are you feeling frustrated, dismayed, disillusioned, angry, sad, or powerless about the current state of the world? If so, you’re certainly not alone. But my experience at two conferences recently gives me hope and makes me believe we may actually be able to play a part in turning the tides… 

Last week, I attended a regional NAFSA (Association of International Educators) conference, followed by the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) biennial conference. As I reflected on the week, I came to a powerful realization:  we are in the midst of shift—both as a society, but also within higher education—when it comes to the role of intercultural learning. While developing intercultural competence was once seen as a “nice to have,” growing trends in our society are now forcing individuals and organizations to recognize such capacities are actually “need to haves” and to begin to do something about it.

Let me explain why I...

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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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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.

Intercultural...

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