Beth Jones was a recipient of a PACADA Professional Development Grant for the 2017 year. Beth is an academic advisor in Exploratory Studies and used her funds to attend the NACADA regional conference!
Article by: Beth Jones
We’ve all had those experiences—the ones where it feels like you are having one conversation and your student is having an entirely different conversation. Something just isn’t clicking. You feel like your message is clear, but how is it being received? And, are you accurately interpreting the message you are receiving?
For anyone who has worked with students or has had a conversation with anyone EVER (so all of us!), these aren’t uncommon experiences, but they are more common when two people come from different cultures. Did you pick the right word? Did you read their body language correctly? Did you use an obscure idiomatic expression like when pigs fly that made no sense to the other person? Intercultural conversation is a minefield of potential misinterpretation. In his book The Art of Crossing Cultures, intercultural communications consultant Craig Storti defines an unsuccessful “cross-cultural encounter” as “whenever one or more of the parties is confused, offended, frustrated, or otherwise put off by the behavior of any of the other parties” (26). Sound familiar?
This is exactly why intercultural competence is such an important skill to cultivate. But, what is it exactly? Intercultural Development Inventory, LLC defines intercultural competence as “the capability to shift cultural perspective and appropriately adapt behavior to cultural differences and commonalities.” Study after study has clearly proven the importance of developing intercultural competence for learning, working, and beyond. According to research by IDI, LLC founder Dr. Mitchell R. Hammer, students who study abroad gain many benefits from greater intercultural competence including an increased interest in other cultures, more intercultural friendships, less anxiety about other cultures, and higher overall satisfaction with their study abroad experience. In fact, many Purdue courses and programs use the IDI as their primary assessment tool to measure intercultural competence among their students. Some programs even require students to complete the assessment to participate in study abroad programs. But, the assessment is not just for students. The IDI is available to all faculty, staff, and students through Purdue’s Center for Intercultural Learning, Mentorship, Assessment, and Research (CILMAR).
Purdue’s academic advising web page on advising competencies lists cultural competency as one of the core skills advisors need to master to have successful interactions with students. This particular competency, as explained on the Purdue web page, suggests that advisors should “engage in self-reflection, be aware that cultural identities influence thinking and behavior,” and “exhibit the relational skills to advise effectively across differences.” It is important to note that these skills do not just extend to interactions with international students, however, but to any interaction where there is difference.
There are, of course, many ways to improve your intercultural competence skills such as through traveling abroad and getting to know people from other cultures, but there is a catch when we attempt to freestyle how we gain these skills. Human nature means we are pretty terrible at actually assessing just how refined our intercultural competence skills are—a notion the IDI supports. In other words, we most likely have a mindset that doesn’t align with our actual skillset—a gap, if you will. We may see ourselves one way but interact with the world differently. According to IDI, LLC, it is a myth that we can gain deep intercultural competence through experience alone—as if it is as easy as getting a tan while soaking up the sun’s rays. The truth is we often enter those experiences from our own cultural perspective thus limiting what we may actually gain in intercultural awareness. In the words of CILMAR Intercultural Learning Specialist (and my husband) Dr. Daniel Jones, the formula for intercultural development is “intentional interactions + time + reflection.”
So how can you lessen or close the mindset/skillset gap so that your heart and mind are more in sync? This is where the Intercultural Development Inventory assessment comes in. According to the IDI, LLC web article “Why Should You Consider Using the Intercultural Development Inventory?”, the IDI is the “only theory-based assessment of intercultural competence [that] allows you to see an individual’s or group’s progression along a continuum of cross-cultural competence.” It is a highly researched instrument that can help individuals and groups “make sense of cultural differences and also how they respond to cultural differences.”
Once you have taken the 50-question assessment, an Intercultural Development Inventory Qualified Administrator (just over 100 at Purdue including me) holds a debriefing session with you to review your results and make a plan for further development along the IDI continuum. You receive an individualized developmental plan that “guides the person through a series of activities and self-reflections” to help you intentionally move forward on the IDI continuum and to better understand and notice “patterns of difference” (“The Individual Development Plan”). These activities can include brief writing exercises and suggestions for continued learning and reflection such as attending training programs, traveling, and reading journals and books. The goal is that you complete these activities using the intentional skills that make them meaningful intercultural development opportunities rather than passive experiences informed by the limited worldview we all start out with.
Before becoming an administrator, I had to take the assessment and be debriefed. The experience was deeply meaningful—almost therapeutic. It forced me to reflect on aspects of my past and how they inform my outlook and actions and how to grow beyond my limitations. The entire experience is designed to be objective and developmental.
Taking the IDI and being debriefed can help those of us who work in higher education become better at what we do most—serve students. I have found that my experience with the IDI has not just broadly improved my intercultural competence but has also given me better language for how to engage with others wherever there is difference.
If you would like to learn more about the IDI, visit https://idiinventory.com where you can read more about the assessment as well as view some short introductory videos. Additionally, you can contact an intercultural learning specialist with CILMAR by emailing email@example.com. The assessment is $15 for staff/faculty and $11 for students. CILMAR also offers training to become a qualified administrator of the IDI as well as ideas about mitigating costs of the assessment.
If we are going to talk to students about the importance of study abroad and developing skills for an increasingly global workplace, we have to do our part by seeking out opportunities to develop these skills for ourselves. Knowing where we are on the IDI continuum and how we can grow can help us all better navigate the often tricky, culturally ambiguous situations we sometimes find ourselves in and that can only make us better advisors, instructors, or whatever it is we may be to our students and each other.
Suggested readings and resources:
- The Art of Crossing Cultures, Craig Storti
- Cross-Cultural Dialogues: 74 Brief Encounters with Cultural Difference, Craig Storti
- Students Learning Abroad: What Our Students Are Learning, What They’re Not, and What We Can Do About It, Michael Vande Berg, R. Michael Paige, Kris Hemming Lou