Important to see the world as it is – not as we are

Foto from workshop
(From left to right): Tina Lisberg Bundgaard, VIA International,  Arian van Hulsel, Fontys International Business School, Linda Huskes, HIE, Diane Simpson, Humber College. 
Intercultural skills are more important than ever – for students, educators, employers and society. But how can universities help develop such skills and awareness? A recent workshop in Denver, Colorado, tried to address the question.

“If you take in international students, you have a responsibility as a university to help them, as well as your faculty and domestic students, communicate with each other."

Such was the encouragement to the more than 40 representatives from universities around the world, when they met in Denver, Colorado, on Monday. At a workshop hosted by VIA University College in cooperation with Humber College, Canada, and Fontys International Business School from the Netherlands, participants discussed how to help students and staff increase their intercultural awareness and communication skills.

“Societies, as well as educational institutions, are increasingly diverse. This presents a great opportunity for international education. But many institutions and people are challenged by it. And as educators, we have a responsibility to help our students and faculty,” said Linda Huskes, a consultant at HIE, who facilitated the workshop.

Strong commitment to internationalisation

The three organizers of the event in Denver all have a strong commitment to internationalization – both in terms of mobility, cooperation and developing international study environments at home.

"The topic of intercultural awareness is important to us and many of our partners around the world. We all encourage students and staff to look beyond borders and develop global mindsets. But intercultural settings can be challenging to navigate – for students and faculty,” said Tina Lisberg Bundgaard, senior international adviser at VIA University College.

Flexible minds and curiosity

Discussions among workshop participants were plenty. Based on film clips from educational films produced by Crossing Borders Education, people talked about the importance of having a flexible mind, engaging in dialogue, and understanding that others may see the world differently.

However, intercultural communication is “the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with people of other cultures” despite these differences.

“Being curious is crucial if you want to communicate within and across borders. Unfortunately, people tend to lose their curiosity when they get older. I see a role for educators here,” said Linda Huskes.

Sophie Kells, an international communications specialist with Maastricht University and workshop participant, said having a flexible mind can help students navigate in an intercultural setting.

“Seeing the world through other people eyes is an important skill for students to develop,” Sophie Kells said.

Intercultural skills are in demand

According to Tina Lisberg Bundgaard, employers today look for graduates with proven intercultural communications skills.

“VIA just released a report showing that being able to navigate in a global world is the single most important thing for employers looking to hire graduates. In addition, we believe students with intercultural skills are assets to local and global societies. And that’s important to us as an educational institution,” Tina Lisberg Bundgaard said.

The refugee crisis is a potent example

As the workshop progressed, discussions became more emotional. Videos of intercultural meetings between students made participants think about their own experiences as educators and human beings. This included the negative effects on society of prejudice, poor judgement, and people unwilling or unable to accept the unfamiliar.

“The refugee crisis in Europe is a potent example of why we cannot ignore the need for global awareness. It affects us all. As educators, there is something we can do about it,” said Linda Huskes.

In cooperation with Crossing Borders International, she has developed a toolkit for how universities can work with intercultural awareness.

Find out more

Contact:

Tina Lisberg Bundgaard, Senior International Adviser
VIA International
Tel: +45 87 55 15 04
E: tlb@via.dk

Original foto from the workshop

Original foto from the workshop