Here’s a story for you, Maha 🙂 It sounds like it will be an absolutely beautiful keynote speech insha Allah!
Okay, so Maha Bali my colleague is giving a keynote at the upcoming Uni-Collaboration Conference, about Flipping the Script on Intercultural learning. She plans to integrate in her keynote stories from different people about how they have changed their views of intercultural learning. In her invitation for people to contribute, she asked the question:
What kind of assumptions did you have before, about intercultural learning, have recently been challenged or changed?
So here’s my story response
So I did the Facilitation training for Soliya last year. I hadn’t had that strong or intense of an intercultural learning experience before. I mean I did do part of my undergrad studies at Concordia in Montreal, which is a very culturally diverse city and the students I met there were practically from everywhere in the world. I took an International Law course there, which was quite eye opening because the professor used many different case examples from different parts of the world so it was interesting to see the class’ reaction to these. It was a big lecture hall, with about 100+ students who were very culturally diverse. I didn’t have assumptions about how that experience would be but I learned that some people could potentially get defensive and just support their own worldview rather than truly try to listen to others. So when I started the Soliya training they sent us lots of reading material about how to deal with cultural differences in the group and moderate the conversations in ways that would not offend anyone. There was also A LOT of content in there about conflict resolution should things get heated up between members of the group with opposing world views and different cultures. So as I was reading this I was thinking, or rather worrying, about how I would handle these situations when they happened. I’m generally not afraid of confrontational situations, but seeing as I would be the moderator, and the group would be mainly undergraduate students I felt a load of responsibility. So I was going into the training with that fear about the assumptions I made about how some conversations about sensitive topics (which most of intercultural dialogue revolves around really) could get tense and offensive. When I started the training it turned out to be completely different than what I had expected. Granted, it was a group of people who were taking the facilitation training like me so they were already in the mindset of wanting to promote safe intercultural dialogue and just had very accepting and diversity-tolerant world views. So it turned out to be a very beneficial experience for me, full of sharing sensitive stories about discrimination, bias, prejudice…etc. you know, all those wonderful things! NOT!
So that changed how I had previously seen and experienced intercultural learning, it helped me grow, made me understand people’s differences even more and I even made friends with 5 of the 6 in my group! I still talk to some of them on Facebook and LinkedIn from time to time and we became very close in such a short period of time. you see, when you share these kinds of stories and experiences, and open yourself up like that to someone or a group of people, you feel closer to them almost instantly, and pretty much all barriers come down! Unlike people who you’d take months to get to know well because you spend a lot of time doing small talk before you get to the real and deep conversations! I stood corrected and realized my fears were too magnified (because they aren’t completely irrational). I realized that people could be much more accepting and tolerant than I thought they would be, when their aim is to truly listen and learn about how individuals from different cultures than their own see or make sense of this world we live in, which is pretty chaotic to be honest, and it’s interesting to see how each person, depending on their background and experiences, attempts to find order and peace in this world of chaos.