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.

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