Module 1 – Getting Started – What is a ‘culturally introspective’ practice?
Whether to prepare students for a study abroad experience or for teaching in a diverse classroom, as faculty we all can benefit from learning how our culture informs our teaching, our values, our reaction to difference. Becoming aware of the influences that forged what we believe is true and important is an asset in all types of intercultural interactions. It helps us put our views and values in perspective; i.e. see them as part of many other ways of thinking, and not a basic human truth.
What is ‘Cultural Introspection’?
- It is a conversation with oneself, to make meaning of our lives, and to continue learning to address the tension in one’s life, between oneself and the world (Chávez, & Longerbeam, 2016)
- Culture shapes who we are, how we think, how we behave in the world and how we relate to others.
- Culture is acquired through mimicry, entrainment, language learning, vicarious conditioning, modeling, canalization, and practicing […] Self-study brings automatically acquired and maintained culture under the microscope (Weigl, 2009, p. 349).
- Cultural introspection involves looking inside oneself, at the ways in which our culture has shaped every aspect of us; our values, beliefs, behaviours, assumptions, and our interactions with others.
Specifically, cultural introspection facilitates:
- learning to understand our reactions to the Other
- an appreciation that an “international experience” (whether going to study abroad, an international exchange or engaging with diverse others in a classroom), can be more than travelling or working with people from another country. It can be an opportunity to learn more about who we are, where we come from, and ways to understand and respect others who are different from ourselves.
- understanding our own lens of the world when preparing students for international experiences
- accepting our vulnerability and being honest with ourselves
- accepting challenges to our assumptions, underneath our teaching practices and within an unfamiliar environment
- reconnecting with human cultural tradition of storytelling and incorporating Indigenous ways of meaning-making
- accepting that introspection might not bring solutions or resolutions
- focusing on our relationships with others
- increasing our awareness of our effect on others. The role of intercultural learning is to better understand each other in order to better live with each other
Why use cultural introspection?
Making connections between our cultural influences and the way we learn and teach, and the way we function in the world, collaborate with different others and build relationships helps us:
- understand how people’s learning is influenced by their culture, hence the differences and difficulties we may encounter in a different cultural context
- understand how we react in an unfamiliar learning environment such as a study abroad experience, and how we can better guide students we are accompanying
Cultural Introspection is an approach that:
- is not deficit based. It avoids prescriptive views of culture (i.e., in England it’s polite to…)
- is less euro-centric, allowing for different ways of knowing (other epistemologies) and being
- allows for multiple means of exploration facilitating greater inclusion (writing, speaking/recording, drawing or other…)
- acknowledges that our own experiences of learning directly influence how we teach and interact with others (such influences might be the same, or might be the opposite, but the influence is still relevant)
- implies a deep dive into our own history, i.e. where we come from, what influences our views and biases
Weigl’s (2009) identifies five propositions connecting cultural self-study to the development of intercultural competence:
- Cultural self-studiers become more curious about other cultures
- Concepts and categories used to describe oneself subsequently are used more sensitively and accurately to describe others
- Self-studiers are more likely to anticipate the pervasiveness and authority with which culture operates in others’ lives
- Cultural self-awareness increases self-studiers’ capacity to identify bias
- Self-studiers discover an emerging capacity to arrest their automatic enactment of their culture in order to more accurately participate in the experiences of those from another culture
(Retrieved from Weigle, 2009, p. 350)
While there is no one agreed-upon definition of intercultural competence, it can be described as a combination of knowledge, skills and attitudes that enables individuals to act and communicate in respectful ways appropriate to the context / situation (Uehlinger, n.d.); “Some of the common elements of intercultural competencies across different cultures include respect, self -awareness/identity, seeing from other perspectives/worldviews, listening, adaptation, relationship building, and cultural humility” (Deardorff, 2020, p.4).
Study abroad or international exchanges are insufficient in and of themselves in developing intercultural competence. Indeed, in some instances, they can do more harm than good (e.g., in terms of reinforcing negative stereotypes, acts of ‘voluntourism’ etc. – see Tiessen, 2012). The development of intercultural competency is a life-long process of committed self-reflection (Uehlinger, n.d.) and critical examination.
In order for faculty to help students develop intercultural competency, faculty themselves need to enhance their intercultural teaching competency (ITC). ITC is, ITC refers to an instructor’s ability, “to interact with students in a way that supports the learning of students who are linguistically, culturally, socially, or in other ways different from the instructor or from each other.”
Instructors who are skilled in facilitating intercultural learning in diverse classrooms not only model awareness of their own cultural identity, power, and positionality, but also find ways to provide students with opportunities to reflect on their identities, including their core values, beliefs, cultural assumptions, privileges, and how they communicate with members of other cultures and other disciplines (Dimitrov, N., & Haque, A., 2016, p.14).
As such, cultural introspection is a tool to develop intercultural competencies. As Deardorff (2020) states:
Regardless of the methods and tools to develop intercultural competencies critical reflection is a crucial part of the development process. [It] includes three dimensions: a) making meaning of one’s experience through description, analytical, and critical considerations, which b) can be communicated in a number of ways, such as in written form, orally, or as an artistic expression, and c) then taking action based on one’s reflection […] Critical reflection is considered to be a precursor to transformation, which refers to a non-reversible shift in a person’s perspective toward greater inclusiveness, openness, flexibility […] Specifically, critical reflection involves asking questions, such as, “What did I learn from this? What worked well, and what could be improved (in me)? What voices/perspectives are being represented? Whose voices are missing? What else would be helpful to know? What will I do with the knowledge/insights gained from this? (…) Stepping back and engaging in this kind of deeper reflection is crucial in the development of intercultural competencies (Deardorff, 2020, p. 9-10).
Start thinking about your culture. Begin by identifying what is important to you, and why it is important. What are your truths? Where did you learn ‘those truths’ as being important?
Read the Appendix A: Guide to writing a culture and teaching autobiography, Chávez, & Longerbeam, 2016, pp. 209-214, which provides a list of ways we can begin thinking about culture and our values. Specifically, explore different ways of introspection by:
- making notes, draw pictures, or write a short story about your reflections
- explore https://newcreativejournaling.com/ or other creative sites that you know, and experiment with more ideas on creative reflection. It may include collage (paper, images, texture, mixed media), drawing (spontaneous, positive drawing, doodling, mandala) or writing (illegible, spontaneous, dialogue, non-linear), or a mix of techniques
- see the handout Metaphoric Expressions for examples
- read From cultural story to teaching insight (Longerbeam & Chávez, 2016, pp. 3-15)
- write a brief self-introduction on the Blackboard Learn Discussion Board
Chávez, A. F., & Longerbeam, S. D. (2016). Teaching across cultural strengths: A guide to balancing integrated and individuated cultural frameworks in college teaching. Virginia: Stylus Publishing.
Deardorff, D. K. (2020). Manual for developing intercultural competencies: Story circles. UNESCO. Retrieved from https://unesdoc.unesco.org/ark:/48223/pf0000370336
Dimitrov, N., & Haque, A. (2016). Intercultural teaching competence in the disciplines: Teaching Strategies for Intercultural Learning. Centre for Teaching and Learning Publications,16. Retrieved from https://ir.lib.uwo.ca/ctlpub/16
Longerbeam, S. D., & Chávez, A. F. (2016). Going inward: The role of cultural introspection in college teaching. New York: Peter Lang Publishing.
Tiessen, R. (2012). Motivations for Learn/Volunteer Abroad Programs: Research with Canadian Youth. Journal of Global Citizenship & Equity Education (2)1, (Special Edition), 1-21.
Uehlinger, C. (n.d.). Intercultural competence: But what is it? Retrieved from http://sietar.ch/intercultural-competence-but-what-is-it-by-dr-christa-uehlinger/
Weigl, R. (2009). Intercultural competence through cultural self-study: A strategy for adult learners. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 33, 346–360.