Saturday, November 6, 2010

Achieving Transcultural Competence through Community Service Learning

by Ann Abbott

This semester I have been thinking, presenting and writing about the connections between transcultural competency and community service learning (CSL).  

I contributed a chapter to a forthcoming edited volume entitled Building Infrastructures for Latino Mental Health (Springer), edited by Lissette Piedra and Lydia Buki. That chapter's goal is to help human service providers build a partnership with a Spanish community service learning program, and I discuss the role of transcultural competency in that partnership.  

On Friday, I presented in a webinar organized by Pearson (Speaking About World Languages), and I was able to present my thoughts to a different audience--language instructors.  Here is the description of the talk (which I'll also be presenting at ACTFL): 

  • ACHIEVING TRANSCULTURAL COMPETENCE THROUGH COMMUNITY SERVICE LEARNING  Foreign language community service learning (CSL) addresses ACTFL's "Communities" goal area when students use the target language in the community to both learn and serve. This allows instructors to move from teaching about culture to helping students achieve transcultural competency. This presentation outlines the steps we can take to give students the language skills, cultural know-how and self-reflection habits that they need to successfully transition from classroom to community. Examples of classroom activities, reflection prompts and video interviews will be included.
I enjoyed presenting in this format for the first time, and I was really happy with the questions from the listeners.  Their questions made me think about things that I hadn't considered before, and they showed how much thought they have put into both CSL and transcultural competency.  But there were two questions I felt that I could have answered better.  Since I can't go back to the webinar, I thought I'd expand upon my answers here.

Q: What other areas of transcultural competency do you see as problematic for students in CSL? (I'm writing the question as I remember it, not as it was exactly stated.)
A: In my presentation I talked about phone messages, primary/secondary education and filing.  When asked what other issues emerge in CSL, the only thing that immediately popped into my mind was parenting: students' cultural perspectives on ("good") parenting are usually unexamined (seen as simply "the way it is") and can sometimes lead to rather severe judgements on parents who do things differently than they expect. (I often wonder if I would pass muster under the students' set of parenting criteria!)  These attitudes can be the source of misunderstandings when our CSL students work with youth in schools, clubs (like Boy Scouts) or when they provide babysitting while parents receive training or consultation of some sort.  Of course, later, other examples occurred to me.  Students cultural perspectives on transportation, technology and daily schedules also impact their perceptions about their interactions with Latinos in the community.  At another point I will develop those examples for another presentation or piece of writing.

Q: How do you assess students's transcultural competency?
A: Now I can't even remember the answer that I gave, but I'm sure I said something about how this is an area that needs more research and materials development.  However, I do think that our starting point should be explicit instruction and reflection--something that we're already doing.  In other words, we need to help students understand what transcultural competence is and why it is important that they work towards that goal.  Once we have established that, then throughout the semester we can ask them reflect on how their understanding of transcultural competency has grown/changed/etc. as well as specific examples of their triumphs and challenges with transcultural competency in their CSL work.

Don't you hate it when a good answer occurs to you too late?  Well, by posting this to my blog, I hope it's not too late.  I really appreciate these questions because they point towards directions we need to take in the research.

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