Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

A Possible Intercultural Learning Project

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I’ve had an interesting day where I was kinda immersed in intercultural virtual exchange.. First for an EVE (Erasmus+ Virtual Exchange) board meeting and then for my Unicollaboration Keynote (slides, video, gdoc, vconnecting session after are all available at http://blog.mahabali.me/unicollab2018)

And something occurred to me, an idea for a research project. I talked in my keynote and in our EVE board meeting around the idea of who sets the agenda for virtual exchange and how that influences what ends up happening.

And an idea in my mind right now is that when someone from US or Europe approaches virtual exchange, their motives are completely different from people who approach it from my part of the world. It would be interesting, I think, to ask educators who participate in programs like Soliya and COIL and similar… What motivates them to do so, what they hope their students would gain… And see if there are similarities and differences across regions.

One of the things that triggered this was a question of what would happen if an Arab funder funded such programs instead of e.g. Erasmus. I know at AUC there is a South-South dialogue beside the more known US-Egypt one..

I suspect that people from Arab/Muslim countries consider cross-cultural dialogue with US/West for one or more of the following:

  1. A compulsion to dispel stereotypes about this part of the world around violence, closed-mindedness and such
  2. For some people, a sense of representing their religion positively
  3. Improving students’ capacity for working in multinationals via the experience of working with others around the world
  4. Enhancing global citizenship
  5. Improving values like tolerance and respect for the “other”, empathy, etc.

The latter point is one that may be common for European/US counterparts, but they likely have none of the rest. For the most part, US (well pre Trump anyway) didn’t have to be on the defensive, and Europe usually does not need to be in that position. But also – for me, the latter point is important as a entry point to discussing issues of discrimination and intolerance locally – it is actually easier to open it up globally and then to reflect on it locally. I know in Europe and US there are internal issues such as these related to race and immigrants and such – issues that they probably need to solve internally, and I’m not sure how intercultural dialogue fits in, in those discussions.

I’m also interested in the kinds of concerns teachers have about power and barriers in intercultural virtual dialogue or exchange – about how they feel about the (usually necessary) hegemony of English as medium for communication for example. Francesca Helm brought this up in today’s VC session and it also came up in the EVE meeting. It’s a particularly tough one for Arabic, because as Chahira and I said, Arabic dialects aren’t always mutually comprehensible, and you sometimes need to use another language to communicate (or our common modern standard Arabic which is still a very elite language to use because it’s meant for writing and is no one’s native spoken language). I really liked Chahira’s assertion that we need not be embarrassed nor ashamed by this. But how do we have cross-cultural dialogue when we don’t have another language but our own?

Another thing I did not have time to say is that when someone doesn’t have another language, they also have less cultural awareness outside their own language (to varying degrees) and so it’s still an issue beyond just language.. To find common ground. In actuality, fluent English speaker is likely more familiar with US/UK culture and this supports the conversation in ways that strangely privilege both the US participants and the fluent speaker herself. But it’s also a highly skewed dialogue because that person is likely representative of a privileged hybrid elite, and not of their “home” culture.

I need to stop now. But yeah. Possible research study.

6 Comments

  1. So needed. This is old now (2003-ish) but we tried out a similar idea with students in Russia,Mexico and Japan. My colleague has published 3 articles on it researchgate.net/scientific-con…

  2. The information below on seminars that feel cross-cultural and a place for someone to start. I’ve been in a discussion group called Hard Conversations on racism in America and prior to that a short course given by Patty Digh on racism that included The Color of Fear documentary that was very powerful.

    In North America, black and white communities are held apart by the dominance and tradition of racism to the point of being almost separate nations over here. So we don’t really live under any unifying sense of shared culture, more a condition of a divided people living uncomfortably close. But a curiosity nonetheless and maybe more so as current divisions mostly promoted by fools here just CAN’T be sustained in a global economy. (Just occurred to me that one main weakness in America is the supposition that our power in the world is some kind of proof of how wasted an effort it is to know or study other cultures–we are the best, well…by being the best).

    Anyway, my little knowledge of Arab / Muslim culture is of a fondness for discovery and the ability to assimilate what is needed and appreciate opportunity. Or at least that’s what my Muslim friends tell me when I ask how they came to settle in Canada’s north 125 years ago, organize an economy and run the town I live in. Alternately, even though my neighbors are Canadian citizens, they are also practicing Muslims, many of whom simply won’t cross the US border for the hurt they are made to feel from some Americans. Does that mean the US is closed to Muslims? Or maybe the question should be, is America worth the trouble visiting?

    Enough! I’m starting to think about barriers, political situations that will be over soon and collaborations as impossibilities.

    Expanded from posting by Mary Steller at The Art of Activism – Hard Conversations Alumni Face Book Group
    Lee Mun Wah
    Stirfry Seminars and Consulting
    Innovative tools for Diversity Training
    http://www.stirfryseminars.com/

    Scroll Down this page for details on this seminar in Berkeley California:
    Cross-Cultural Facilitation Skills for Diversity Trainers, Educators & Therapists: Five Day Intensive
    http://www.stirfryseminars.com/events/

    Excerpts of training films, this one focusing on “The Color of Fear” very powerful.
    https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL_eqXCQWALEvlukIIjR-5T00yR0TqUIU5

    “We are crossing the river by feeling for stones” – Deng Xiaoping on difficult ventures.
    from “Collaborating With the Enemy – How to work with people you don’t agree with or like or trust”. by Adam Kahane

  3. Okay, as someone who studies language and intercultural learning in telecollaboration and study abroad focusing on U.S. Arabic learners (and interviews their Arab partners as part of my research) I have a lot to say about this 🙂

    1) #1 is definitely a concern for U.S. learners even pre-Trump, especially when partnered with the Arab world. It’s as you suggested a major motivator for Arabs to participate, I can’t think of a single participant who hasn’t listed it as a reason.

    2) I actually think this sentiment in both parties + the idea of “East-West” exchanges in a way reinforces the divide by not being critical about how this is presented (not that I think they should stop or there aren’t differences, but this is too dichotomous if that makes sense)

    3) You should absolutely mix languages as needed in exchanges. This is normal multilingual behavior—(like at AUC where there’s not a dialect divide!) 3aadii! English only helps no one, including Arabic learners, or U.S. learners who need to be exposed to multilingualism.

    And probably I should stop there, but I could discuss this topic forever 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment, Emma. Re #1, do you mean Arab Americans or Americans in general? And I agree re #2 and I always found it most complex when someone is a cultural hybrid that they almost had to sort of identify with a particular “side” which is not really fair, if it means choosing between ur mom and dad’s nationality or between where u grew up vs where u were born. And it’s definitely not something others should impose upon us or make us have to choose

      • I mean Americans generally although in a couple different ways. Some are interested in dispelling stereotypes about the Arab world for other Americans, some are interested in dispelling stereotypes about Americans (especially political ones), some are interested in both.

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