How does one develop the ability to think through the lens of interculturalism?
How does one develop appreciation for interculturalism?
What steps can be taken to move toward an attitude of interculturalism?
What makes a person intercultural?
How do I answer the question, "Where are you from?"
These are some of the questions I've pondered over time as I have worked my way through the Council of International School standards or the NEASC Ace Principals or the International Baccalaureate Programme Standards and Practices. There is a common theme that resonates through all three and it is the ability to interact with other cultures, to appreciate diversity and work with others with an open-mind. I look around me at the staff I'm working with and wonder how we will grow together as an intercultural staff. We are all speaking English but we all come from different countries. We can communicate but cannot always communicate. We speak English but we don't speak the same culture. How can we move beyond that to hear and understand each other? My life by nature has led me to become adaptable, flexible and open-minded. Sharing my story, experiences and the steps I've taken to become more and more internationally minded may help guide you in the same direction.
My father was an Air Force test pilot so I grew up moving every three to four years changing schools and neighborhood friends. We never lived on a military base as dad's position allowed for us to live as civilians. For middle school, our family got the amazing assignment of NATO in Brussels, Belgium where I attended Brussels American School. This move was pivotal in my development as I embraced new languages and cultures. I fell in love with traveling and in love with Europe. My brother and I spent time with local people at church and in our neighborhood. We rode our bikes throughout the countryside and thoroughly enjoyed the European lifestyle. We became European. Moving back to the United States in the middle of the school year was traumatic for us both. We experienced extreme culture shock. We had become third culture kids.
Over the next 16 years, I continued to move around the country every few years with my parents and then my husband and our new family. I have lived in seven different US States on both coasts and in the center of the country. In 2003, we made the decision to relocate to Cancun, Mexico. I wanted my own kids to have the opportunity to live outside the USA as I knew it would be good for them and make them more open to culture. We did not seek out expats to be our friends or to socialize with. Most of our social interactions were with Mexican people. While living there my 2 kids attended a bilingual school where they became balanced bilinguals. Our kids play We attended church with Mexicans. Our best friends were Mexican and we became family. We all learned Spanish, Mexican traditions, customs and culture. I listened to the Mexican perspective on global events and began to understand Mexico. My family became Mexican.
Mexico is a part of me. I lived there in that one city for 11 years when I had never lived anywhere that long before. I now feel like I have three identities. I can identify myself as an American, a European, or a Mexican. I was born in Alabama but never really lived there. I have no strong attachment to a particular city in the USA because of frequent moves though I love my country and my family who live there. I always have a feeling that I need to get back to Europe and live there again as an adult since those years were so special to me. After so many years in Cancun, I get very homesick for Mexico at times.
When I left Mexico as a newly single woman, I landed in Iraq, my fourth country to call home. There I was extremely blessed to meet my current husband a couple weeks after arriving, an Iraqi Australian man, who became my connection to the local Kurdish culture. With him, I was able to experience Iraq through the lens of the Kurds. We traveled around the countryside visiting different towns and historic sites. He would share stories about the Kurds, Persians and Arabs. I was fascinated. For the first time I was learning ancient history through the lens of people in the Middle East. I was learning about current events through the perspective of the Kurds and Arabs I was able to interact with. Through museum visits, exploring the countryside and conversations with locals, I developed a completely different understanding of the Middle East lifestyle, politics and history.
Now that I am living in Turkey, I've tried to learn some of the language during the year and a half that I've been here. I have some Turkish friends and one who is very dear to me who help me understand the culture here. My husband and I have explored the city, finding our favorite Turkish food restaurants. We have traveled all over Turkey. I began to take traditional Turkish marbling classes known as Ebru art. I will be moving again in 6 months. If I were to stay here longer, I would continue to make a greater effort to build community with locals and immerse myself more in the Turkish culture by connecting with Turkish friends and learning the language.
From my experience becoming an intercultural person involves putting many of the IB learner profile attributes into action with intention. It means cultivating risk-taking by moving away from your comfort zone and making friends with people who don't speak your language or culture, eat your food or listen to your music. It means being open-minded; to appreciate new cultural experiences without judgement as a caring person. It means looking at world travel as a chance to discover history through the lens of perspective respectfully and to consider the different ways the story has been told over the years. It means being a caring communicator, listening for understanding and considering the other viewpoints. As a lifelong learner, one lives as an inquirer, investigating cultures, perspectives, ideas and customs. Get out there and inquire intentionally, get to know others and appreciate the vast differences with grace.
Have I arrived? Am I a perfect example of interculturalism? Some days I do great and other days I fail miserably. It is a choice every day to choose to react to the circumstances with a better, more effective mindset. I hope that every day it becomes more natural for me and that I do not become resistant to change. It is a daily journey that I intend to walk out to the best of my ability alongside my faith, family, and friends.
As an international educator, I work with colleagues in my local and global network regularly to implement concept-based inquiry. It is a journey of discovery, learning and growing our own understandings about the ways children learn.
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