How do you teach intercultural topics to somebody whose focus is on business and who hasn’t had many personal intercultural experiences? This was the main question I was faced with when I was invited to prepare a course on intercultural learning on behalf of AFS Turkey/Turkish Cultural Foundation (TKV) for two universities in Istanbul.
This course has certainly been an exciting opportunity since TKV is keen on developing external collaborations, projects and events focused on intercultural learning, which is still a relatively new concept for this part of the world. On the other hand, both the Özyeğin and Kültür Universities aim to contribute to social development by producing creative, original and applicable knowledge in modern education systems.
AFS Turkey designed intercultural communication courses for approximately 110 business students at both universities with the core idea of a 13-week course with non-formal methodologies to be delivered at a formal institution. Quite experienced with delivering intercultural topics through non-formal education for exchange students, host families and other traditional AFS audiences, we had to tweak our approach for this occasion.
After understanding the learning environment, needs and goals for the students we designed an innovative course aimed at creating trust, respect and understanding. Students found it refreshing that different learning styles were accommodated during the course, which also included diverse methodologies such as presentations, lectures, gallery walks, small group or pair works, individual reflections, use of media (movies, videos, music, visuals), games and simulations.
The course syllabus consisted of topics such as intercultural concepts, theories, values, dimensions and values, as well as effective intercultural communication, adaptation and leadership, and it was later turned into a manual for future use. Guest speakers who participated in AFS programmes before and are now involved in various professional sectors supported the course.
Though this all sounds quite exciting, it was not an easy process. We faced some challenges throughout the course, which we solved in creative ways. Initially, it was important to create awareness and broaden the students’ perspectives towards recognising inner diversity and interpersonal and organisational aspects of the notion of culture – they don’t need to travel abroad to meet a different culture.
Connecting abstract concepts to the real life situations is generally hard in delivering a course on intercultural learning. Bearing this in mind, for the duration of the entire course, guest speakers were especially useful in creating the link. One of the tasks students were asked to do is to interview people around them to understand their intercultural experiences. These interviews were thoroughly discussed and posted on YouTube with a specific hashtag. In order to make the best use of the students’ love of technology and their constant use of social media, we also asked them to tweet the responses or comments, post images on Instagram or Facebook, shoot short videos and upload them on YouTube.
Assessing non-formal learning is another discussion we had around this course. We created fair, innovative and “non-formal” evaluations, such as “active participation”, “self-reflection papers”, “guest speaker reflection papers”, “interview videos”, “presentation of evaluations of an organisation, online campaign, NGO, institution etc. from and intercultural perspective”.
Ensuring the sustainability is another challenge as these important discussions shouldn’t be over once the course is done. Students formed “Intercultural Learning Clubs” at their universities for organising intercultural seminars, events, trainings and projects within the campus. TKV’s organisational development team has provided extensive support for putting together student club agendas and that still continues organically today.
Promoting intercultural learning outside of AFS through partnerships with external institutions doesn’t only increase visibility, reinforce brand image and generate possible resources but it certainly extends our mission and vision towards a just and peaceful society at all levels. I encourage everyone in the AFS world-wide network to start spread their expertise on intercultural matters and offering solutions to anyone that might benefit from our services and learning opportunities.
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