• July 23, 2019

Studies show that students have the most growth in learning through cross-cultural experiences when they have targeted training and educators who help them to do following:

Immerse in difference – stepping into a new environment is some, but not all, of the equation
– Learn to reflect – becoming aware of the ways that they and others subjectively frame their experiences
– Learn to re-frame – shifting perspectives and adapting behavior to match other cultural contexts

Our complete GLA Facilitator Packet is designed to guide you in becoming a transformative educator in this context, giving complete instructions which will allow you to facilitate the activities and empower students to make the most out of their time abroad. These can be great starting points or additions to lesson plans for educators of all disciplines, even if there is no international trip on the horizon.

Growing as a facilitator of student intercultural competence is a rewarding journey, not only in terms of the amplified learning and growth of your students, but also in terms of your own enhanced experience abroad and increased global competencies.

Notes on Facilitating Students’ Intercultural Competence 

Intercultural Competence is Lifelong Learning
It is important to note that intercultural competence isn’t achieved overnight. It requires intentional learning over weeks, months, and years. The Walking Tree experience is designed to be a launch pad for each student’s journey towards becoming a successful cross-cultural leader and global citizen in today’s world.

Intercultural Competence Development Requires Work
Most of us tend to think that going abroad automatically results in growth and personal development. You might be surprised to find that this is NOT always the case. The research is clear that students grow the most when they are immersed in the local culture in authentic ways, and when they have support contextualizing and reflecting upon their experiences. This is why targeted pre-departure activities and ongoing on-site cultural mentoring are so critical to student development.

Most Students Are Early in their Intercultural Journeys
Your learners are going to be at different stages in terms of the experiences and mindsets they are bringing to the table. That said, it should be noted that there are certain patterns to how people relate and react to difference. We can assume that the majority of your students will be somewhat early in their intercultural development journeys. Most have had little experience with extreme cultural difference, domestic or international, and many are relating to any difference they encounter in one of three ways (Modified from the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), M. Bennett, 1986):

Denial – Lack of awareness of differences – assuming that their patterns of meaning-making and behavior are the only reality.
Defense – Awareness of difference and finding it threatening – a polarizing lens that uses broad stereotypes of “us good, them bad” or, in some instances “them good, us bad.”
Minimization – Dismissal of difference in favor of emphasizing universal commonalities of all people – glossing over legitimate differences in vantage point, especially differences in power and privilege.

Each of these three mindsets has a particular sticking point that, when resolved, will help each student progress on his or her intercultural journeys towards competence. For students in denial of difference, they need very low-intensity exposure to observable differences between cultures. Students in defense against difference need encouragement to find neutral or positive commonalities between themselves and people who are different from them. Finally, students in minimization of difference, benefit from exercises that help them see themselves as cultural beings shaped by a particular set of cultural influences.

You’ll notice that none of the above categories places a strong emphasis upon how cultures differ specifically, let’s say, in value structures or communication styles, or in social justice issues such as power and privilege. These topics are incredibly important for later stages of intercultural development, but they are less valuable (and potentially alienating) to introduce them to students who are earlier in their intercultural journeys. Doing so would be the equivalent of a student jumping from arithmetic to calculus. For this reason, our initial activities focus on cultural self-awareness and intercultural relationship building, as opposed to specific cultural differences.

How We Show Up As Facilitators

Part of the art of facilitating student learning abroad is knowing when to step up and when to step back.

Know the material – Remember discussing books in class back in high school? Hopefully, your teacher facilitated some rich learning conversations. To do this effectively, he or she needed to have read and thought about the book ahead of time. When facilitating student learning abroad, the deeper you can go in your own journey and prepare in advance, the better prepared you will be.

Invite surprises – Recognize that you’re on a learning journey with the members of your group. You might have some things figured out. They might have some things figured out. But nobody has all of the answers. Be open to surprises. As a facilitator, this looks like inviting participants to share their experiences and perspectives. They should be doing most of the talking.

Push – Learning comes from challenge. Your job as facilitator is to craft group settings where participants wrestle with their current understanding of who they are and how they relate to others. Structure challenging activities, pose tough questions, and sit with the discomfort of knowing your participants might be struggling.

Nurture – We’re willing to take risks when we feel safe, and it is only when we’re vulnerable and open that we’re able to learn. As facilitators, we need to create spaces where participants feel respected and heard. This means establishing, modeling, and enforcing norms around respectful listening and presuming the good intentions of those sharing.

Take charge – You have the authority to take the group where it needs to go. In fact, the group is counting on you to guide them successfully. This can look like beginning a session with learning goals in mind and corralling the group back on track if it gets too off topic.

Serve the group – Your role is to serve the group by supporting it in getting wherever it needs to go, which may be a tad different than where you think it should go. Great facilitators know when to let the group direct itself down uncharted waters or step back and ask the group where it would like to take the conversation.