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.  

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