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How to Facilitate Intercultural Learning

We all have our own perspectives, but a key piece of global competence is being able to step back and realize that others have a different perspective that must be taken into account as well. Today, Melissa Liles, Chief Education Officer, AFS Intercultural Programs, shares a tool they have created to help you do just that.

By guest blogger Melissa Liles

Encountering new and different situations, people, and concepts generates different reactions in different individuals. Curiosity makes some people want to know more. Others experience discomfort when faced with the unknown. And no matter what group you may fall in, it's easy to quickly jump to conclusions rooted in our own perspectives—and reinforced by our family, friends, and even the media.

While it may be easier (and definitely more comfortable) to stick with what's familiar, being more interculturally aware and competent requires pushing beyond our comfort zones to think twice before passing judgment and taking action.

pause and consider multiple perspectives.pngTo help us better assess new cultural encounters, the education team at AFS Intercultural Programs customized a respected intercultural learning tool created by interculturalist Janet Bennett, Executive Director of the Intercultural Communication Institute.

The Describe, Interpret, Verify, Evaluate (D.I.V.E.) tool helps people pause and consider multiple perspectives when confronted with unfamiliar intercultural situations or ambiguous circumstances. You can find out all about this tool and its history in the Intercultural Learning for AFS & Friends Library (search for the document titled Tools to Suspend Judgment). 

To get started, let's choose a photo. For example, an image from the 2016 Olympic games in Brazil that sparked debate about cultural differences in sports worldwide can help nudge critical thinking, suspension of judgment, and foster curiosity. Click here to view it on NY Times.com. (Here are more pictures suitable for D.I.V.E. as well).

Here's how the D.I.V.E exercise works:

1. Describe: What do you see?

To begin with, describe what you see in the photo, sticking to objective and observable facts. Don't think about the meaning behind what you see or how it makes you feel, but rather focus on what you can observe and describe. For example, in this photo we see two women playing beach volleyball, jumping very close to the net, with the ball in the air closer to the women on the left. One of the women is dressed in a sports bikini with a German flag on it. The other is wearing a jersey in blue and black with the letters "EGY" on the back, and her head is covered.

2. Interpret: What do you think is going on?

Once you've thoroughly described the photo, start thinking about various interpretations or explanations as to what is happening, or any assumptions you have about what you described. You can interpret the photo in at least three ways: Perhaps, the woman on the left is about to score a point, if the German defense doesn't work? You could think that either one of the women is conforming to social pressures or being provocative based on the clothes they are wearing. You could also interpret that the woman on the left comes from a Muslim background, given the clothes she is wearing.

3. Verify: Check if your assumptions are correct!

Next, try to verify your interpretations of this picture. You can always check with one or more "(cultural) informants." These are reliable people or sources with insight(s) into the culture(s) or situation(s). It's important to verify from multiple sources so that we see if our interpretations are accurate before we decide how we feel about them. Keep in mind, however, that cultural informants can also be biased and might not have the complete picture themselves. This is why using multiple resources is necessary. For this particular photo, you might verify by checking the news coverage of the match or talk to someone who knows more about women's volleyball.

4. Evaluate: What do you feel about what you think is going on?

The final step is to evaluate: This is where you assess your interpretations, decide what value they have to you, and/or how you feel about the situation now that you have more information. Your evaluations can be positive or negative. For example, you could evaluate that sports jerseys should be uniform regardless of country/culture of origin. Or a positive evaluation of this photo would be to see it as a great representation of intercultural dialogue and learning that can happen at major sports events.

Practice using the D.I.V.E. tool on unfamiliar images or objects you encounter, and that will help you effectively use this tool in ambiguous (intercultural) situations. Note that we often tend to analyze reality from our own point of view and possibly make premature judgments or conclusions based on our own personal values or the values of a group of people that we identify with. In fact, it's human nature to jump to conclusions and classify what we see, and it's very hard to control our subconscious, "gut" reactions. However, using the D.I.V.E. tool to slow down and try to remain objective especially in the face of something new or different is a crucial trait of interculturally competent global citizens.

Connect with AFS and Center for Global Education to share your resources or to get involved.

Image courtesy of Canva.

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