Tess Thomas, International Student Coordinator at The Students' Union, Bath, reflects on the ‘Developing intercultural understanding in Higher Education’ session she attended as part of EduFest 2019.
"As a staff member in The SU supporting international students predominantly with welfare issues, I was keen to learn more about how intercultural understanding could be incorporated not only in extra-curricular activities, but also within the curriculum itself."
We started with an engaging ice breaker from Isabella Stefanutti of the Skills Centre, based on a Council of Europe resource, asking us to reflect on our own intercultural encounters, followed by a talk on what intercultural understanding is (and what it is not), from Dr Trevor Grimshaw, a specialist in intercultural communication from our Education department. Both activities challenged perspectives on what is culture, how we experience those different to our own and applied this thinking to different cultures within higher education. I found the criticism of cultural events as potentially ‘tokenistic’ and ‘distracting from real issues’ as real food for thought, as I will be involved with organising a range of cultural events with student groups throughout next year to celebrate our culturally diverse community.
Next followed examples of current units in different departments that incorporate intercultural understanding, by allowing students to reflect on cultural contexts for their learning, including vernacular architecture and sport & culture in the global marketplace. Peer-Assisted Learning (PAL) was also introduced by the Peer Support Coordinator and a student Senior PAL Leader as an existing scheme at Bath where students can learn new perspectives and engage with others from different cultures by working collaboratively. It was heartening to hear of both improving the intercultural understanding of our students academically, as well as the encouragement to the audience that this should be implemented across more departments so that our students feel like they belong and are represented in their curriculum.
Culture was positioned across the session as dynamic, not static and intercultural understanding as something that cannot simply be ‘completed’. Adopting critical perspectives and acknowledging the importance of the context in which we present our information in the curriculum also came out as key themes.
At the end of the session we were asked, just as we were at the start, if intercultural understanding should be developed inside/outside the classroom or both, and I was pleased to see that more attendees chose both. With more of our staff thinking about intercultural understanding in the curriculum I hope to see new developments across departments, and continue this thinking with more sessions like this one!
Do you want to discuss the challenges and opportunities in developing intercultural understanding in the curriculum? Do you need practical solutions? Contact Dr Eleanor Parker, Curriculum Development Officer (Inclusion) and find Inclusivity resources on the Learning and Teaching Hub
Keep an eye out for more events on this theme in Semester 1 2019/20.