Saturday, March 17, 2012

Nations have interests, people have friends

On my drive into AU Thursday morning, I saw a motorcyclist texting at a stoplight. While cell phones may now be ubiquitous, I had yet to see one in this surprising context. The evolving impacts of technology and expectations for accessibility it creates were one of the interesting themes of today’s sessions.

Before these sessions began, however, Dr. Motoo Unno jumpstarted the conference with his somber yet invigorating opening presentation. One year after last year’s tragedies in Japan, he reflected upon the global response and attitudes within the country. As someone who majored in music, I was struck by the power of the music within the video. Additionally, though, I held on to a quote from a military representative in the film, that while “nations have interests, people have friends.” Our challenge as interculturalists seems to be just this: helping our students and clients look past their work and projects to more fully engage in the relationships that their partnerships offer. This is both the reward and challenge of cross-cultural work.

This theme of relationships between people ran through today’s sessions – from Suzanne Zaldivar’s reminder that work issues are nearly always about people, not work, to Profs. Carmel and Espinosa’s discussion of coordinating time zones in global teams.

As is the hope in a good conference, the comments and discussions from the participants were as thought provoking as many of the presentations themselves. I was thrilled to hear Suzanna Zaldivar again this year after enjoying her presentation so much at last year’s conference. We could clearly spend much more than two days discussing these issues, as I was reminded during Valli Murphy and Chris Cartwright’s presentation on Assessing Intercultural Effectiveness, when time prohibited us from learning more about their interesting assessment tools.

Language and the power of our word choices was a theme from last year’s conference. This issue resurfaced this year in discussions about needs assessments – with one participant offering that perhaps a more appropriate approach is to refer to them as “asset building,” since needs assessments may imply a deficit model. I found this distinction helpful as I’m working on a project related to assessment.

If forced to give a criticism or “low point”, I’d just say this: given the popularity of the sessions, we outgrew many of the SIS classrooms, which made some of the movement in our group work challenging.

In general, however, the size of this conference allows for such interesting and rich conversations amongst participants. I was still processing all the interesting presentations I’d heard and people I’d met late into the night!

Friday, March 16, 2012

Day Two of the IMI Conference

For me, the second day of the IMI Conference was just as busy as the first. I arrived and right away began to immerse myself in the day’s seminars.
I started off learning about the benefits and detriments of short-term study abroad programs. Then I learned about how to gain an edge in the career world by highlighting international experience. The day took a more serious turn as I spent my third session learning how to communicate across traumatized cultures.
The highlight of my day was the final session entitled “Mediation and Culture: Contrasting Schools of Thought about Mediating Interpersonal Conflict.” During this session, we discussed the different methods of mediation and also participated in a simulation and observation. The simulation required two volunteers from the audience to mediate a disagreement between Mr. Miller, an American business man, and Mr. Singh, an Indian business man. As for the selected volunteers, I was one of the lucky ones to put my mediation skills to the test.
I’ve hardly handled mediation before, and mediating between two people from very different cultures was surprisingly difficult. Instead of hearing one story at a time, I had to try to cut through two very distinct versions of the same scenario. I had to interpret gesticulations, phrases, and mannerisms as best as possible without interjecting my personal biases. I did not intend to take sides, but of course when we did the group debriefing and received feedback from the audience, a few people noted that they felt I had sided with the client from a culture similar to my own. A few people who were from a culture similar to Mr. Singh’s also said that they felt themselves siding with him without meaning to. It’s not even so much that I was siding with him so much as Mr. Miller’s character was more familiar to me, and therefore easier to comprehend.
Though this was only a simulation, I have a greater understanding of why there are communication issues cross culturally and can see how a war could start from a simple misunderstanding. As the mediator, it was my job to understand both sides as well as possible and then to help them to understand each other so as to diffuse any potential conflicts that may develop. In a world that is globalizing as rapidly as ours, the role of mediators becomes even more critical to fostering an understanding across cultures.
Though it was only roll playing, I still felt the pressure of mediating between these individuals successfully and doing my best to eliminate my personal biases from the situation. Even though I thought I was doing a decent job, it was apparent to some members of the audience that I was not. As far as I can tell, mediation is one of the more challenging careers that one could choose to undertake, so of course now I have a sparked curiosity in the field and am looking into masters programs that would give me more skills and insight into the world of mediation.
Other highlights of the day came from everyone who congratulated me on volunteering to take part of the simulation. Apparently I’m braver than I thought because everyone kept telling me that they were too nervous to volunteer! Also, being applauded during the lunch presentation along with my fellow scholarship recipients was a great feeling. I got to shake hands with many of the people who made my attendance at the conference possible and I hope that I get to return next year.  

Tales of a Successful Conference

Another very successful day. I have simply been energized beyond what I thought possible during these two days. There were several highlights today dispute the slow start with the "lowlight" of the day/conference. The first session I chose to attend was cultural diplomacy. I am not quite sure what I had envisioned for this, but it did not grab my attention as there was not the interactiveness of other sessions to keep me engaged. I was unable to stay through to the end.

The second session was much more engaging and relevant: Meaning and Spirituality in Resilience Across Cultures, with Ray Leki. Having recently lost two siblings, one in November and one a couple weeks ago, I was a little unprepared for the challenging work of finding the relationship between meaning, spirituality and and culture. However, with the wonderful support of my three group mates Valli, Jody, and Duncan, as well as the support received by Ray, I was able to work through the exercise with a strength I did not know I had.

The luncheon keynote speaker and the next session I attended were with Milton Bennett. What a true treasure he is to have at this conference. He continues to refine and adapt his work, including the the DMIS, and is willing to share thoughts, insights, and whatever else might come up in the classroom or out! He is a very generous individual.

The last session of the day turned out to be a reaffirmation to me that mediation is a field that greatly interests me and I need to further explore this field. Jared Ordway was passionate, entertaining, and very good at presenting the material. The mediation activity was extremely well done ~ although I wish we had more time to each have the opportunity to mediate. I am also very excited to learn of the courses offered at Champlain College as it is much closer to my home in Northeastern New York.

The out of class exchanges have been engaging and full of the vibrancy I have recently lacked. I would like to thank the IMI for their generous EDF Scholarship that enabled me to attend this year. I plan on returning next year!

Diving into a new world

I would like to start this posting by saying thanks to Anna Marie Trester, who brought me to this conference. Without her alerting me to it as well as alerting me to scholarship application, I would have never known about it and would have missed two truly inspiring days.
Similar to Manon, I found the interactive exercises the most useful part, and they will most likely be the best remembered. Against the backdrop of my experiences at academic conferences, where audience-engagement and interactivity is clearly not demanded (and possibly not desired?), this conference was so refreshing, enjoyable and at the same time, so content-rich.

After having read Manon's post, I realized that we attended the same sessions all day long on Thursday. In contrast to Manon, I have no personal relation to Japan and I left Dr. Unno's keynote address on Thursday morning with some need for clarification about the point he was trying to make in his talk. The film he showed in the beginning was very moving (which certainly was its intent) and I had difficulties holding my tears back (but as I later learned, other people also cried or were about to cry, which made me feel less embarrassed). At the same time, the relation between the film, which was taking up a large portion of the overall presentation, and the his presentation was not very clear to me either. This uncertainty was compensated by Dr. Unno's lively and to a certain extent entertaining presentation-style, which was a pleasure to listen to.

Like Manon, I also attended “Global Leadership: Fresh Skills for Facing Cross-Cultural Chaos” by Suzanne Zaldivar. This presentation was interactive and engaged the audience considerably. Manon described one of the exercises, involving a picture-magnifying-line. For me, this exercise was very useful in clarifying several aspects of communication. Most revealing among them was my insight of the limiting aspect of assumptions. As a result of my belief that I indeed was sharing the same pictures with someone led me not to challenge that belief, and consequently, I did not see the necessity to try to request further details about the picture. In another exercise in this session, performed in partner-work, one partner was prompted to a share a story of interpersonal problems s/he has experienced while the other partner advised the speaker on her/her course of action in solving the problem, but without asking for further clarification. In the next part of this exercise, the same roles were assigned but this time, the listener could ask questions. Responses to this two-part exercise varied widely. While some participants expressed feeling to be more at ease with the second part of the exercise due to the additional context that emerged thanks to the questions by the listener, I felt a little intruded. When I presented my interpersonal problem to my listener without any questions asked, I could just tell the part of the story that felt comfortable to me, but being prompted to clarify and explain certain aspects of my story revealed parts that were not so pleasant to me (and, of course, I understood that that was part of this exercise).

The next session that I attended on Thursday morning was one by Valli Murphy and Chris Cartwright “Assessing Intercultural Effectiveness: A Model and Case Study. Again, the hands-on exercise was most useful and, even more important, more memorable. We were given the case of the business man Germán (Mexican-American, not a German as some wrongfully assumed in the room), who despite his Mexican roots, failed at his 6-months assignment in Mexico. Since I am a total freshman (or better freshwoman) to the field, it was fascinating for me to hear the solutions to Germán’s situation the other participants in my group envisioned. Overall, this was a well-structured and content-rich session.

During the lunchbreak, I also listened with great interest to Dana Priest and her talk about Top Secret America. Having seen some of her reports and the pictures of the "secret" buildings in the Washington Post made her talk less frightened than it otherwise would have been. One of the issues Dana raised was particularly thought-provoking to me. In order to obtain security clearance, the individual must have lived and must continue to live a rather isolated and insulated life-style. Dana challenged this requirement, claiming that such a life-style is not very conducive to the ability to recognize and anticipate possible threats or security-related challenges, particularly if they stem from a different culture. 

In the afternoon, I first attended Neil Goodman's session on "New Trends and Challenges in Cross-Cultural Training". The session did fully grab my attention, which could also be attributed to its timing right after lunch. 

Luckily, the day ended with my personal highlight of the day - Ursula Lietzmann's Global Coaching session. As Manon already pointed out, Ursula presentation focused on the individual. Some of her statements particularly stuck with me, among them the importance of recognizing one's core values and beliefs to build a stable core. This prerequisite of a stable self, like a stem, allows one to move the branches into different directions. Similarly revealing was a short exercise in which we had to find an identity affiliation that we have not brought to the conference and describe positive aspects of this identity. Recognizing and building upon one person's full potential means also to draw from the multiple identities and the strengths of these identities one person embodies. What a powerful message!

The wine and the wonderful company was the perfect for a cheerful winding down of the evening.  

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My first day at the 13th Annual IMI Conference

I wasn't sure exactly what to expect when it came to this conference. I applied for the Education & Development Fund scholarship as a result of a suggestion from my professor, Aleksandra Nesic, who is also in attendance at IMI as a presenter. I talked to my uncle and grandparents about having a place to stay in the chance that I earned the coveted award, and I checked my airline miles to see if I had enough points to cover the cost of the flight.

Thankfully, I was chosen, and all of the other elements fell into place. 

I am not from DC, but I have family here and I come to visit at least once a year. I love this city, and earning a free ticket to this convention on top of having everything else taken care of was a huge blessing. Considering how much good fortune I had already received, I was pleasantly surprised at how much more grateful I felt at the end of the first day than when it began.

The first seminar I attended discussed a topic that I feel is especially relevant to me as well as to many of my family members and students that I work with at Florida State University's Global Engagement Center. It was entitled "Who am I- Really?: Re-defining Identity in a Culturally Complex World" and discussed the concept of CCKs or Cross Cultural Kids.

We discussed what defines identity and how it is formed. How can one be expected to fit their cultural identity into a box when it is becoming more and more common for someone to be born to parents of differing nationalities, raised in another culture, and then consistently exposed to additional cultures as a result of life events including but not limited to international adoption, being the child of an immigrant, product of a mixed race relationship, etc? As a CCK myself, I encounter this daily. I do not look like either of my parents. My dad is African American. My mother is European American, more specifically she is of French and German lineage. Both have a little bit of American Indian in them. My mom is very fair skinned with pin straight hair. My father has a very dark complexion with coarse hair. My skin tans easily. I have really curly, dark brown hair with lighter highlights. I have been asked if I am Brazilian, Hispanic, Ethiopian, and if I take the time to straighten my hair, I can even get Asian Indian. My parents are divorced, and that apparently is a common scenario for growing up cross-culturally. Where does that leave me? How do I define my identity? How does anyone?

The presenter for this seminar, Ruth E. Van Reken, suggests focusing on our similarities BEFORE our differences. She also made a valid argument that more research needs to be done so that we can better understand the formulation of identity. She mentioned that many people, when they admit that they don't know who they are, are often directed to a psychologist for an evaluation. While this is somewhat humorous to me out of context, I can certainly see the seriousness of this situation in context. 

Knowing who we are is the basis for our life. We have to be able to understand and characterize where we are coming from so that we have a clear understanding of where we are headed. Being able to define who we are is critical to our sense of well being and the foundation of both individual and social success. Often times, knowing who we are, who we REALLY are, is the foundation of our life's purpose and can determine what we spend our lives pursuing.

I'm very thankful that I chose this seminar. Though I came away with more questions than answers, my questions are more specific and I have a clearer idea of what I'm looking for. 

Part of my assignment for these blog posts is to write about the low points of the day as well as my highs. My only complaint that I have about this conference today, is that there are too many topics to be able to narrow each seminar session down to one. At any given time, there are three or four seminars taking place at once, and each one is on a topic that I have read about or feel very interested in. Between the four sessions I attended, I took a grand total of 13 pages of notes. Tomorrow, I will be bringing my laptop so I can save some trees! 

Reigniting the Passion of Intercultural Relations

     How do I begin to comment on a truly exceptional day? It began with an evocative keynote opening at breakfast with Professor Motoo Unno. It has been one year since the Japanese disaster that devastated the country and indeed the world. The film showing the tsunami and the ensuing relationships of friendship from around the world over the past year as the Japanese people piece their lives back together had many, including myself, in tears. I have many friends in Japan, including the very first Japanese city I lived in, Sendai in 1989/1990. Needless to say, the morning began on a very interpersonal note in the deepest sense.

     The first session I attended was Global Leadership with Suzanne Zaldivar. There was a great deal of information and discussion and the interactive highlight came when each participant was given a photo and told to find the person with a similar photo, but using words only, not the actual photo. I had immediately assumed I was looking for a match. When the photos were revealed, we organized ourselves in a timeline... or photo line to discover the the first was a photo of a rooster comb and each of the 29 subsequent photos were taken from a more distant place such as the rooster, then people watching the rooster, to a photo of a house and village that were on a stamp, on a letter, and so on until the story narrative ended in a photo of the entire planet Earth. The main take-away for me here is that no one can work alone to solve challenges and that every department is interconnected and cannot work independent of each other. The new global leader joins values that are not easily joined.

     The second session, Assessing Intercultural Effectiveness with Chris Cartwright and Valli Murphy, spoke of the uses of tools such as the Kozai Groups' Intercultural Effectiveness Scale (IES) and had a great case study the had actually occurred. In this case, the IES was given a month into a foreign posting and although the real case did not have a happy ending, it clearly showed the need for such tools to be used in pre-departure trainings to ensue the right competencies and the right fit. Again, the highlight for me was in the activity allowing us time to come up with a plan the might have helped this client become more successful.

     The luncheon keynote, presented by Dana Priest was both informative and frightening in the sense that the American Government is growing at an alarming rate post 9/11 concerning Homeland Security and that no one really knows all that is going on or how many people there really are for the sake of keeping our American society safe.

     Discussing New Trends and Challenges in Cross-cultural Training was Neal Goodman. The fact that technology is now advanced to a point that expensive face-to-face meetings can occur virtually is not necessarily the best means to an end. The session was interesting, yet I find myself conflicted in this situation.

     The Global Coaching session by Ursula Lietzmann brought training on to a personal level using Milton Bennett's DMIS and Kegan's Adult Development Perspective. It was a lively discussion that dealt with individuals rather than corporations.

     The best part of the day was interacting with a host of people from around the world and those that have studied and worked around the world. 9 pm was still too early to be parting from old colleagues and new. There are so many more conversations and dialogues to have and to continue. Such a brilliantly successful day!

Intercultural Communication in Healthcare

I have to say that I absolutely love the IMI's special focus on intercultural communication in healthcare setting. As a student who will graduate with a nursing degree in 8 weeks, I have often been puzzled by the lack of training in cross cultural care. While some of my clinical instructors (one comes to mind) have discussed it on occasion, it has been ad hoc. In other words, I see a clear need for systematic integration of intercultural communication into nursing education.

As was discussed in some today's workshops, part of this can and is being addressed via additional training. The Joint Commission (aka JCo), which is the organization responsible for certifying all US hospitals, has begun to push hospitals to offer their employees with intercultural training. While there is no doubt that valuable lessons can be learned by exposing healthcare workers to intercultural case studies and providing informative workshops on traditional rituals, there is also a need for broader institutional change. The impediment is not simply limited to a lack of skills. Hospital culture is extremely hierarchical and often highly risk averse. This helps to provide quick action and ensure safety. However, it also means that mistakes can result in punishments well beyond what fits the crime (this is true for nursing students as well). As a result, doctors and nurses are often afraid to show any weakness. This means that when they come across a patient from a different culture, they are challenged by a lack of skills on their part, but also by external pressures that prevent them from fully engaging.