New approaches to intercultural communication 2

Correct citation:

Vallazza, O. (2012, December). New approaches to intercultural communication_2. Published at http://tinyurl.com/a468kmd LinkedIn Forum on Alternative Perspectives in Intercultural Communication, available at https://worldconnections.wordpress.com/2013/01/02/new-approaches-to-intercultural-communication-2/

This thread is like a Pandora box full of possibilities. It continues the discussion posted at https://worldconnections.wordpress.com/2011/04/06/new-approaches-to-intercultural-communication/

Allow me to add a few comments about new approaches to Intercultural understanding, i.e. to the understanding of intercultural situations. This is something that I feel strongly about, and that’s also why I became a member of this group.

When we consider culture as a process in-flux, then essentialist definitions would seem too easy. If cultures develop like open systems, then their level of complexity increases, and at that point it’d be a poor choice to adopt linear, Cartesian tools to understand such complexity. We are now already using a new language, but we also need other tool.

I’d like to go back to the examples of Alsace and South Tyrol in my previous post and to your comments on the book American Nations by Colin Woodard. The discourse behind nation building intentionally avoids recognizing the existence of the cultures that existed prior to the creation of a national state. Consequently, I can safely say that nation states are funded on created myths, and sustained by the belief that those very myths represent the quintessential character of a nation. The word quintessential is an amplified form of the word essential, which – for the sake of our discussion – sounds a lot like essentialist. In other words, discourses behind nation building are politically motivated, to the exclusion of other, previously existing ones. Nation states are per se antithetical to multiple cultural identities, although there have been a few examples in history where the state was not in conflict with multiple, concurrent, transversal, overlapping language and ethnic cultural expressions. The Habsburg Empire was one such entity. It was declared unsustainable and dead way before its actual and factual demise, simply because it was at odds with the very premises of nation states. Something similar is happening today with regard to the European Union, which is presented in many circles as not-credible and utopian. This is a linear view of culture(s), one that lacks both depth and breadth, and only accepts one mono-dimensional cultural slant, eliminating or deliberately disregarding other possibilities. Such exclusiveness has been very often enforced through violent approaches aimed at the forced acculturation of entire populations, with ethnic cleansing being just one of the most obvious and brutal aspects of such endeavors. Discourses of nation building first remove other “competing” cultures (through a more or less violent process of cultural simplification and mystification), also by presenting other cultural perspective as threats and unworthy; then they reinforce the validity of the very mono-culture that they have imposed. To do that, the same linear view of culture that had been used to selectively install the prominent culture is used to establish strict guidelines within that same culture. That is when essentialist definitions are created, cherished, celebrated, and followed.

An example of such approach is the naturalization test administered to new US citizens (http://tinyurl.com/33u6r8z). To me, the test represents a quintessentially US-American example of acculturation, as it doesn’t offer an alternative to pre-defined definitions. That is of course understandable, if we consider the test as the product of the very nation building discourses on which the country is based. Going back to the supranational Austro-Hungarian Empire, it should not come as a surprise that its demise was sanctioned with U.S. President Wilson’s blessing. The question may be asked whether the mere existence of that type of state, if left on the map, would have represented a danger (or alternative) to the idea of nation on which the (US) Union was based as described in Woodard’s book on American Nations.

In our search for new intercultural communication frontiers, we are now faced with new possibilities offered by a non-essentialist approach to cultural understanding. That may entail two kinds of discovery: first, the non-conflicting and non-conflictual presence of multiple cultural views in the same geographic area; second, the non-essentialist character of each of these cultures. Let me briefly examine both.

I believe that a change of perspective would ignite a process of transformation. Whether the outcome of that is a desirable or a contested one remains to be seen. In the assumption that a desired outcome emerges from such transformation, the co-existence of multiple cultural views in a certain region (I avoid the use of the term “state” on purpose) may bring about more intercultural cooperation and even promote a process of third-culture building as suggested by Casmir, Evanoff and others. (see literature at the bottom). At the same time, the switch to a non-essentialist representation of each culture may heal issues of intra-cultural exclusion, power and access within each of the cultures present in the region. That will also require a new set of tools for dealing with cultural differences and nuances, tools that won’t be based on established definitions of culture, but rather on the understanding of the dynamics that govern the systemic interactions occurring within a web of multiple cultures and experiences stemming from their relevant historical, geographical, philosophical, religious, and environmental contexts.

My preceding comments touch on both personal and “professional” levels of inquiry.

Let’s start with the first one. You mentioned your family ties to the Habsburg Empire, and your desire to find tools that will allow you and others to elaborate and expand on “the streams of discourse that we carry with us.” I believe that is an interest that you share with a lot of people who are trying to achieve a more holistic form of ascribed identity. Let me say now that I also trace my roots to the Austro-Hungarian world. My grandfather was a career officer in the k.u.k. army, his personal path not unlike that of many of his contemporaries, who came from very diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. In my grandpa’s case, according to his military records, he spoke fluently German, Italian, Ladin and knew enough Hungarian to be posted in Budapest. When I was a kid little I knew of all this, as – after the end of WW I – his experience was banned even from family memories – no questions asked. It wasn’t until a later time that I became interested in my own family’s heritage, but by then it was too late to ask the protagonists, as by then they had already died. Apparently, the discourse that had sustained the first part of my grandpa’s life was quickly dismissed, demonized and removed from public view, with total disregard for all those people who shared that particular Weltanschauung. This refers to what I mentioned in my last post, i.e. that the discourse behind nation building intentionally avoids recognizing the existence of the cultures that existed prior to the creation of a national state. That kind of active plagiarism not only affected Austria-Hungary as an entity, but also the lives of millions who found themselves robbed of their personal histories. Now, having mentioned this, I would say that when it comes to tools, I’d definitely include personal engagement in the understanding of one’s own history. That is very important. Without framing culture within its proper historic context, it’d be very difficult to understand all the nuances of one’s heritage, and how that same heritage interfaces with personal experience and relevant discourses. I am talking here about the emergence of an individual narrative that is not separate from cultural archetypes and discourses. To achieve such level of consciousness, a good amount of genuine and inquisitive research must be carried out. A set of simple “tools” (as simple as paper and pen), and serendipity would probably help.

And here I come to the second level of inquiry – the professional level – that we need to consider in order to elaborate and enact new ways of understanding culture(s). Compared to the kind of personal inquiry I described above, this is a very different scenario. I said in my other post, that a linear approach would not serve well. Once we accept the idea that cultures are open system, always in flux and extremely non-essentialist, with an ever-increasing level of complexity, then we must find ways to move into a new era of intercultural inquiry. I don’t have the expertise to make scientifically sound suggestions, but I feel that system thinking would provide a plausible, viable alternative to the linear definitions and understanding of cultures that have been used so far. Of course, one thing is to build one’s own personal tools of cultural understanding: many of them have been already arrived at as part of the many discussions on Intercultural Competence and similar concepts. Another thing is to create a model informed by our new “theories” on culture, a model that would withstand empirical and practical challenges and that could be used as a new meta framework that could serve as a new reference for future intercultural work and research. Due to its non-linear, systemic nature, the crafting of such model will be a true challenge. Given the fact that similar models already exist in other disciplines, I am hopeful that in time even in our field we will make headway in that direction. This would require the elaboration of what Gregory Bateson called An Ecology of Mind. The kind of work he did may well serve as an inspiration for the vision we are trying to explore.

The good news is that we do not really have to start from scratch, as there has been already a great amount of intercultural work around these concepts. What’s missing is the kind of meta framework that I mentioned earlier. This could be undoubtedly a fascinating venue to explore, one that incorporates, expands, and transcends the very models that have guided the work of interculturalists for decades.

Casmir, F. L. (1999). Foundations for the study of intercultural communication based on a third-culture building model. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 23(1), 91-116.

Evanoff, R. (2001). Discussion Paper on intercultural dialogue and education. UNU – United Nations University Accessed on-line on September 2, 2009 at http://www.unu.edu/dialogue/papers/evanoff-s5.pdf

These are some additional thoughts.

In a discussion appeared in the Linkedin Group Competence in intercultural Professions, I posted some thoughts on the future of Intercultural Communication in which I elaborated on some of the issues I raised in this thread. You can read that post at: http://tinyurl.com/3z4lcbt

Next is an excerpt from a Master’s research on multicultural identity formation that I did in 2010. It connects the two levels inquiry mentioned in my last post — the contextualization of personal narratives along with the development of a systems-thinking meta model for the understanding of cultural complexity.

EXCERPT:

Furthermore, for Kim (1994) processes of intercultural identity formation depend on external (present, past, context) and internal factors (temperament, desirability), both influenced by power issues. In more recent studies, Kim (1994) embraces an alternative “Systems Approach to identity” that envisions the possibility of complex identities that interact in a constructionist, dialogical fashion towards possible identity transformation. This would lead to the emergence of an in-flux intercultural identity that “would discourage the obsessive adherence to the rigid categorization of people, [and the] exclusive loyalty based on past group affiliations” (p. 17). This is summarized in a recent paper on Intercultural personhood (Kim, 2008) on her systems-based evolutionary view of intercultural identity. The term intercultural personhood would then be synonymous of multicultural identity.

Kim’s views are clearly located within a systems-thinking tradition such as Casmir’s and Martin and Nakayama’s, although the latter place her among traditional humanistic, interpretive scholars (Martin & Nakayama, 1999).

CITED BIBLIOGRAPHY

Kim, Y. Y. (2008). Intercultural personhood: Globalization and a way of being.  International Journal of Intercultural Relations: IJIR. 32(4), 359.

Kim, Y.Y. (1994). Beyond Cultural Identity Intercultural. Communication Studies  IV:1 1-24. Retrieved on Dec. 2, 2008 at http://www.trinity.edu/org/ics/ICS%20Issues/04%20ICS%20IV%201/Microsoft%20Word%20-%20p%20%201%20%20Y.%20Y.pdf

Martin, J., & Nakayama, T. K. (1999). Thinking dialectically about culture and communication. Communication Theory, 9, 1-25.

Vallazza, O. (2010). Processes of nurturing and maintenance of multicultural identity in the 21st century. A qualitative study of the experience of long-term transcultural sojourners. Master thesis. Linköping University, Sweden. Available at Linköping University press: http://urn.kb.se/resolve?urn=urn:nbn:se:liu:diva-59533

FLIP: dissonances in expectations and assumptions

COURSE: Fostering Learning in Practice

FORUM: Koala 5

TOPICS: expectations, assumptions, identity

WEEK 7 – TASK 1: dissonant expectations and assumption (link to forum)

Link to blog

  • Reconciling my perceived lack of experience in the field of education and the its unrelatedness to the intercultural dimension with my personal identity and its clear cross-cultural framework.

During assignment 1 I perceived a lack of experience in and exposure to the field of education. Whereas many of us sounded firmly grounded in their professional practices, I felt I was instead analyzing my current work environment without having – as a part-timer – much standing among my co-workers. To overcome such lack of “credentials” I developed my hot issue around the intercultural dimension, which appears very external to my current workplace, and has more to do with me than with my professional practice. If I were to identify dissonant expectations and assumption in these reflections, I would say that my strong interest in cross-cultural issues does not always resonate with the affordances found in my workplace. I feel as if I belonged to a relative small group of professionals engaging in a “mission” that does not get much recognition. My identity is heavily informed by my intercultural experience. It emerges from a rich narrative that reflects available discourses in intersecting fields relevant to the intercultural dimension of the human experience. This course asks me to draw connections between my identity and my workplace, but the reality at work does not easily accommodate the very intercultural dimension that I am advocating for.

FLIP: ASSIGNMENT # 1

COURSE: Fostering Learning in Practice

ASSIGNMENT # 1
A hot issue in my workplace and its relationship to learning and identity

integral paper available at: O_VALLAZZA_Assignment1_FLIP.doc

Comments:

Yolanda pointed out that my paper includes my learning from other courses.. This is the way I see the ALGC. Didn’t we start with the capability envelop and our learning plan? A pivotal part of mine was/is the “making sense” of my life/professional/academic experiences, in an attempt to organize all that into a systemic whole. This course has been so far very helpful in that regard.  I try to stick to a systemic view, which implies making references across disciplines and contexts. My assignment 1 links some of my reflections to previous learning experiences, hopefully not to the detriment of the assignment’s specific requirements. Feedback from teachers will tell.

Next week’s tasks seem to offer a great opportunity for all of us to address our learning experience. I look fwd to the discussion.

FLIP: IDENTITY (3)

COURSE: Fostering Learning in Practice

FORUM: Koala 5

TOPICS: Identity, Chappell, Rhodes, Solomon, Tenant and Yates, Selfwork

WEEK 5: IDENTITY (3)

Link to Blog

Link to Forum

Hi Terri, Edouard

I would like to write some comments to both of your thought-provoking posts.

I’ll begin with what Terri described as a two-level identity, one rooted in deeply entrenched cultural experiences, the other emerging almost “on demand” as required by a specific context.

I am familiar with both types of identity. I see the first one as a version of ascribed identity that we derive from something external. It has been embedded in ourselves through different processed of enculturation, education, up-bringing, and many people are not even aware of that. I personally do not always subscribe to those identity tags, as I believe they are meant to make me conform to a prescribed cultural framework. Chappel recognizes the danger of such lack of awareness when he talks about “how the ‘outside’ gets ‘inside’.” (p.6)

The other, “lighter” level of our identity instead sounds more like a form of avowed identity, one that we claim for ourselves to serve us in our relational interactions in a variety of different contexts. Interculturally I consider this as one very important intercultural competency, i.e. the ability to relate to different cultural contexts. In this regard, here is a quote:

“Intercultural communication competence then is defined as the mutual avowing confirmation of the interactants’ cultural identities where both interactants engage in behavior perceived to be appropriate and effective in advancing both cultural identities.” (Collier, 1989, “International Journal of Intercultural Relations”, 13, 287-302 in Wijseman, R.L. and Koester, J. “Intercultural Communication Competence”, 1993)

Cross-cultural contexts are complex scenarios filled with this kind of identity negotiation processes. Stella Ting-Toomey, a scholar of Intercultural Communication, defines effective identity negotiation as “the smooth coordination between interactants […] that requires an individual to draw on a wide range of cognitive, affective, and behavioral resources to deal with novel, identity-improvisation situations.” (Stella Ting-Toomey, Communicative Resourcefulness – An Identity Negotiation Perspective” in Wijseman, R.L. and Koester, J. “Intercultural Communication Competence”, 1993)

I believe that these definitions go hand on hand with the perspectives on identity presented in this course, and share the same vocabulary.

Edouard, you mentioned the role of ID cards. Those are artifacts that clearly reflect the identity that has been ascribed to us. One may carry a passport that does not really reflect that person’s national identity. The identity embedded in our ID cards is based on the assumption that identity is something that we are born with. To me, the data contained in such documents express a very static view of identity that does not recognize our personal bibliographies. As you said, the ID states “who the person is,” which is a picture of that person frozen in a specific time. ID’s do not reflect people’s rich narratives, but they can be useful resources for as to analyze and put together someone’s history. (think of the documents that allowed us to trace back the Diaspora of African slaves to their original place of birth from where they were taken).

A question you may want to ask is how much you believe such ID’s represent you. Think for example that in the 70’s U.S. President Nixon introduced legislation to classify Americans according to stereotyped ethnic groups – white, black, Asians/Pacific Islander, American Indian/Eskimo, and Hispanic. Today, countless forms require people to check a box that corresponds to one of those ascribed identities. Needless to say that I do not feel represented by any of them. A similar view of a static identity was presented in a movie called Classified People about racial profiling in Apartheid-era South Africa.

FLIP: IDENTITY (2)

COURSE: Fostering Learning in Practice

FORUM: Koala 5

TOPICS: Identity, Kate Watson: Narratives of practice and the construction of identity

WEEK 4: IDENTITY (2)

Link to Forum Link to my e-portfolio blog

Cate Watson: Narrative of practice and the construction of identity in teaching

Keywords: Professional Identity, Narratives, Discourses, Transcription, Power issues, Resources, (Avowed identity)

SUMMARY OF THE ARTICLE

In her narrative analysis of her interview with Dan, Watson emphasizes that Dan’s identity draws both from his personal history and from the institutional context of his professional practice.

This confirms Davies’ views on how identity develops at the interface of the INSTITUTIONALCONTEXT and our PERSONAL HISTORY, as I have pointed out in my previous post.

Basically our actions contribute to the contraction of our identity. “As Cameron (2001, p. 170) argues, it is not because of some essential core that we behave as we do, rather it is by acting in a particular way that we construct our identity.” (p.521)

This theme appears consistently throughout the article. Here are some excerpts:

“Identity only has meaning within a chain of relationships, i.e. there is no fixed point of reference for ‘an identity’.” (509)

“Professional identity is equated with Giddens’ (1991) notion of ‘self-identity’, as a reflexive project, when applied to the context of our working lives.” (p.510)

“But if identity is conceived as an ongoing process of identification, then how is this achieved? Hinchman and Hinchman (2001, p. xiv) suggest that ‘Identity is that which emerges in and through narrative’. This again highlights the external, relational nature of identity construction. In this view identities are constructed in the narratives we create and tell about our lives; how we externalize ourselves to ourselves and to others.” (p.510)

THEMES AND CONCEPTS

Watson explores the notions of discourses and narratives. We construct our narrative by collating selected episodes that we consider salient for out identity and the way we want to be perceived. This is again of case of avowed identity.

“In other words, people construct narratives and narratives construct people, and our identities emerge through these processes.” (p.510)

She cites a definition of narratives given by Gubrium and Holstein (1997, p. 146) as “accounts that offer some scheme, either implicitly or explicitly for organising and understanding the relation of objects and events described. Narratives need not be full-blown stories with requisite internal structures, but may be short accounts that emerge within or across turns at ordinary conversation, in interviews or interrogations, in public documents, or in organizational records.” (p. 513)

The task of a researcher is to identify and explore such narratives, and relate them to a specific context.

RELEVANCE TO MY HOT ISSUE

I believe that both articles examined this week are very helpful in framing my hot issue, as they defy the binary definition of identity.

The article provides a solid platform for further investigation of issues of identity and how they relate to my professional practice.

Given the prominence of the intercultural dimension in my hot issue, I will expand my study of such concepts to include literature that specifically addresses the intercultural dimension of identity.

In particular, I will review

Intercultural Communication: An Advanced Research Book by Adrian Holliday et al. ,

a book that provides for interesting and thought-provoking analysis of the themes presented by Davies and Watson.

I would like to adopt an interdisciplinary approach to understanding these issues, as I believe that a systemic view is necessary to allow personal histories to interface with context and relevant broader discourses.

Specifically, I will try to explore answers to such questions as:

  • What may have informed the construction of my identity and how does it interface with the context of my current professional practice?
  • What are the contradictions/tensions between my avowed identity and the institutional context in which I operate?
  • What is the ascribed identity that has been assigned to me?
  • What discourses (institutional, academic, personal, cultural) provide the background software on which my hot issue is playing out?
  • What are the lesson to be learned and the action to be taken?

Hot issue

COURSE: Fostering Learning in Practice

FORUM: Koala 5

TOPICS: Hot issue, Case study

OSCAR’s CASE

HOT ISSUE

TITLE:  Given the demands placed on teachers in today’s hectic professional practices, introducing and fostering intercultural communication awareness and competences outside the instructional framework provided in specific courses is difficult. Unfortunately, unless such capabilities are anchored in the curriculum, chances for intercultural relativism and misunderstandings will float like mines in the education field

CONTEXT AND ROLE

I am a European teacher at an art college in Seattle, WA (USA) that attracts a good number of international students. I teach general education and foreign language courses. The latter ones are design to provide an arena not only for language acquisition and practice, but also for the development of rudimental intercultural communication competencies, which are – however – not specifically recognized in the academic syllabus.

Outside the technical role as a foreign language instructor, I am also acting at an institutional level – in that I am bound by college policies and educational mission – and at the interface of cross-cultural discourses – in that I provide my students with opportunities to recognize patterns and assumptions that relate directly to their identities and world views. These cross-cultural discourses cover several areas of both personal and academic relevance, and are not usually recognized as part of the learning context.

GINGER: CAN YOU GIVE AN EXAMPLE FOR CLARITY?

See my comments below.

My personal background in and exposure to a broad spectrum of intercultural communication literature and experiences make me particularly sensitive to all issues related to cultural diversity and differences. In my teaching experience – however – I have rarely witnessed any institutional recognition and support for intercultural communication classes. I believe that when it comes to that, the general approach is that things will sort themselves out one way or another, and that teachers are well-versed in dealing with all sorts of academic, pedagogical and cultural issues. I happen to dispute such view.

THE CASE

Last quarter an incident happened in my Italian language class, where over half of the students did not speak English as their first language.

One day I was trying to get two female students from Korea to speak up a bit, as their voices were barely audible, and others, including myself, had problems hearing them.

“Would you mind to speak up a bit? It’s difficult to hear you,” I said, and noticed that one of the two students fell silent for the remainder of the class. When I approached her after class, she broke down in tears. She was visibly upset, so I asked if there was anything I could have done. “There is nothing you can do anymore. You have already ruined everything,” she responded.  If I remember correctly, she even said that I had ruined her life because I had exposed her in front of the class as a bad student.

Of course it wasn’t true. I had not tried to make her look bad. My invitation to speaking up was directly linked to what it takes to learn how to speak a foreign language. I apologized to her if I had said something that might have upset her, but that didn’t seem to make her feel better, so I added: “If you want to talk about this, please come and see me whenever you’d like,” and I left it to that.

The situation did not occur again, and that particular student did rather well in the class, but she never quite changed the level of her voice, and remained barely audible till the very end.

CROSS-CULTURAL DIMENSION

The cross-cultural dimension of this case is undeniable. As a long-time learner of intercultural communication, I immediately recognized that the situation was presenting itself as difficult, ripe with the potential for intercultural misunderstanding, compounded by the danger of power issues that are present in a higher education context. The student may have been dealing with issues of asserting and negotiating her own cultural identity in an alien environment, in a fashion very similar to that described in DE Vault’s article on Ethnicity and Expertise. Hers is one of the discourses that I have identified in this critical incident. Another intersecting discourse is the one emerging from my own experience and studies, covering a vast area that is both very personal, i.e. experiential, and academic, i.e. rooted in formal studies.

GINGER: Which discourse are you referring to?  Is it at odds with De Vault or complementary?

DISCOURSES/ NARRATIVES/ METAPHORS

The discourses I am referring to are those that emerge from the actors’ personal narratives. In this particular case, my student’s narrative embedded – I assume – in her cultural background and personal history, intersect my own narrative, which is the result of a multi-dimensional experience made up of a lifetime exposure to other cultures and of formal studies of issues of intercultural communication.

Said intersecting narratives are not at odds with de Vault’s ideas. In fact, she made it clear that, in order for us to be able to understand someone from a different culture, we also need to address our own biases and assumptions. To do that, I believe we need clarity about our own narrative and a mindful and noticing approach to understanding the other. I am also aware of the risks entailed in using metaphors, as described in Mason’s article. For example, the metaphor of “Asians” being reserved and their fear of “losing face” that would seem to provide some guidance in this case scenario may or may not be appropriate in the case of this particular student. That would be too easy. Hence the usefulness of broader narrative analysis which, as I pointed out, is unfortunately would require much more time than we usually have in our professional lives.

My understanding of the situational dynamics can also be considered within the “emic” and “etic” dichotomy discussed in De Vault’s article.[1] How equipped am I to be able to be effective in facilitating such critical cases with a high intercultural component? Is my intervention going to be only partly effective because of my etic involvement?

GINGER: I’m not familiar with these terms.  Maybe a bit of explanation?

Etic and emic

I learned these terms in class on cross-cultural counseling. In a nut shell, emic refers to the perspective of an insider, i.e. of people belonging to a specific culture.

Etic instead is the perspective of an outside observer who does not belong to that specific culture.

The issue is very important, as it relates to how we see other cultures and is directly liked to issues of identity, representation and otherization. It is particularly relevant to ethnographic research, but also to cross-cultural counseling, where very often the counselor is an outsider and lacks the personal connection to a particular cultural context. De Vault’s institutional ethnographic study is a good example. Janetta claims that her insider’s knowledge of specific cultures put her in a better position to provide effective nutritional counseling.

I had included a link for more information and emic and etic approaches.

http://web.archive.org/web/20080418104024/http://faculty.ircc.edu/faculty/jlett/Article+on+Emics+and+Etics.htm

MY PRELIMINARY REFLECTIONS ON THE ISSUE

This issue matters to me because I believe I have a high level of intercultural communication competency that makes me acutely aware of the difficulties experienced by international students, and nevertheless I apparently fell into a trap.

GINGER: Could you explicitly name the trap as you see it?

By trap I mean being caught “off guard.”  Here I mean the trap posed by the random occurrence of intercultural communication incidents when we least expect them and when we think we are doing everything we can to steer clear of them. Only after the incident happened I realized its intercultural dimension, even though I should have been aware of that.

I was not prepared to deal with this specific incident, also because, like De Vault says, I was distracted by other priorities.

I believe that the way I acted was an attempt to manage the high demands of my professional life and to oversimplify my teaching approach, detaching it from its cross-cultural context. In spite of my training, the level of my alertness was lowered.

GINGER: What do you mean by ‘oversimplify’ my teaching approach?

Brookfield defines this as teaching innocently, i.e. “means thinking that we’re always understanding exactly what it is that we’re doing and what effect we’re having.” I might have believed that by sticking to the lesson plan I was going to have a smooth ride. Instead, the incident proved that a state of mindful alertness would have been helpful in averting the surprise (what I described as being caught off guard).

I believe that this case could have been dealt more effectively if considered from the view point presented in Mason’s article on Forces for Development, one that emphasizes noticing, mindfulness, and reflection activities. All that took a back seat while I was concentrated on “teaching.”

Developing and nurturing the discipline of noticing, i.e. the mindful ability to be present and attend to others’ needs, allows me to act in a professional, appropriate manner. At a personal level though, my interaction and dealings with others are generally informed by this approach.

GINGER: How could it have been handled more effectively?  From your hindsight noticing and reflection, what could you do differently?

See my previous thoughts above. Briefly, I believe I should have kept in mind the powerful influence of intercultural nuances and the ever-present impact of the cultural dimension on everything we do in today’s globalized world. Even if such dimension is not explicitly recognized in the curriculum, I should have known better.

In this particular incident, I believe that – aside from a more mindful attitude on my part – there was little I could have done to turn it into a broader learning experience for my students. For that to happen, however, a much more persuasive approach would be needed, one that would make it possible for teachers to include such learning in their courses. This would require an institutional commitment and willingness to seriously sensitize teachers and staff. This is basically what I am advocating in this document. (see next section on What Next?)

CONCLUSION. WHAT NEXT?

With regard to cross-cultural communication awareness, the process of cultural identity negotiation and the attentive approach to someone’s narrative as presented by De Vault may be valuable tools for dealing with critical incidents like this one, although an intensive, narrative-oriented mode of investigation is not always feasible due to many other concurring commitments and lack of time and.

On the other hand, maybe there is a way to revive the importance of intercultural communication competencies that will give students, administrators and teachers a way to understand and appreciate the variety of cultural discourses that are by now a pivotal part of our teaching and learning universe.

Not everyone involved will become an intercultural specialist, but I sincerely hope that everyone would become at least mindful of the dynamics of cross-cultural interaction and of the traps that they can create.

I believe that designing curricula with an embedded cross-cultural dimension will enhance both the learning environment and the opportunities for personal growth and active citizenship of all the people involved.

GINGER: Can you give an example of ‘en embedded cross-cultural dimension’?

This is a great question! It links reflection to action.

From my point of view, I believe in adding cross-cultural communication awareness and competence to the college mission statement, including the list of graduation competencies. In so doing the learning environment would hopefully become more mindful of issues that are currently occurring under the radar.

The readings for this segment of our course are very helpful in identifying a framework for meaningful and effective intervention. In this case, however, I would need to refer to literature that is much more focused on the theme. It is necessary to adopt a vocabulary based on a non-essentialist view of culture; to explore and clarify issues of identity, assumptions, otherization, representation through an approach based on thick description of personal narratives and discourses. This is a lot to discuss at this stage, but it gives an idea that a long-term transformation of current approaches will require a convinced and convincing effort, otherwise we will have to resort – like I did – to a quick fix that does not really do justice to the complexity of our cultural diversity.

GINGER: Oscar, Your case is very clear and well presented.  What I like about the case is that you are addressing the micro level – your classroom – and seeking solutions at the macro level – embedding cross cultural dimensions in learning environments.  Your conviction about the need for intercultural communication is clear. What I think would strengthen the case is if you could make it more specific in terms of your learning and learning dimensions.  For me the interesting question is what will you do next time you are in a similar situation?  How will the noticing and mindfulness practically effect your actions?


[1] http://web.archive.org/web/20080418104024/http://faculty.ircc.edu/faculty/jlett/Article+on+Emics+and+Etics.htm

 

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