This blog post was contributed by our fellow AFSer, Omer Ongun. Omer went on an exchange to USA in 2003 with AFS and since then has been a volunteer, volunteer trainer and project coordinator in AFS Turkey. After finishing college in business administration, with a great inspiration from AFS, he chose the intercultural learning field and intercultural competence as his area of profession. He has completed his graduate studies at Galatasaray University, doing a research in understanding mobility programs in developing a better mutual understanding of diverse groups in Turkey. Omer is also a folk/contemporary dancer of various cultures in Anatolia. He practices body music and dance too, trying to experience body music in different folk cultures throughout the world.
* * *
When was the last time you have truly discovered something about yourself, your characteristics or your cultural identity? How do we discover our cultural identities? Are we always aware of the processes which we are going through while becoming ourselves? Let’s think about this from a facilitator perspective. How can we facilitate intercultural discoveries of our participants? What is intercultural discovery?
Facilitating intercultural discovery is an analytical process that not only eases the learning but also helps participants to be aware of it and relate what they learn to the practices in intercultural competence development and facilitation.
A powerful exercise to demonstrate this is using an “upside down” map. This exercise itself shows us how our orientations toward geography and power relations could be shifted quicker than we think. What divides east and west? Where does the day start? At first, many people are disoriented and surprised not being able to find “north” or “south” easily but later it becomes a pleasure to challenge ourselves. Does our perception of up and down influence how we see certain parts of the world? Does this have something to do with our perception of certain cultures and countries today in the global arena?
Another interesting discussion in intercultural discovery is regarding the relationship of space, culture and perception. Can you draw the house you grew up in? How does the “space education” you received culturally or from your family influence certain behaviors and perceptions you have today? Here are some more questions to reflect on:
- What parts of the house were hidden from you or harder for you to go?
- What parts of the house would you have guests in?
- Did you behave differently in different parts of the house?
- Did you behave differently when your family members were present in certain parts of the house?
- How is your house/apartment or room different now?
- Did your experience in the house you grew influence your perception of space now?
Our relationship with the world today and people around us, as well as the perception of time and space are influenced by many elements. Culture is one of the strongest. The spaces, our families and communities we grew up in have strong influences on defining how we perceive certain things today. This is not only a physical perception but it is the “gaze” that is created. Our perception also influences and determines our acceptance of certain things such as identities, habits, ways of being and doing.
Facilitating intercultural discovery requires care, respect and attention to participants. It is highly important to create a safe, trustworthy and comfortable environment. It also usually takes time for many participants to think and reflect on certain topics and questions facilitators provide. It is interesting to think of how “cultural elements” influence our daily lives, how we sense certain things or who we are today.
This post has been inspired by my participation in this year’s Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC) and the track titled “Facilitating Intercultural Discovery”. The workshop was facilitated by Dr. Jack Condon who is a founding faculty member of the Summer Institute and is regarded as one of the founders of the intercultural field. The workshop mainly focused on variety of questions in the process of facilitating intercultural discovery. Participants from around the world were encouraged to think, share, discuss and reflect deeper on the elements of culture and interrelations of space, time, identity, collectivities, family, gender, language and nature in the intercultural discovery journeys.
Let me finish this post with a great quote from a SIIC faculty: “The world is in jail and we, interculturalists, are proposing an incredible jail break!”