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Saturday, November 6, 2010

More Questions about Transcultural Competency

by Ann Abbott


I had a few more follow-up questions from Friday's webinar that I answered on the e-mail.  I thought I would share the questions and answers here.  You know how it is: if one person asks the questions that means that at least ten others had the same questions but just didn't ask it.


Question: My first concern is what does trans-cultural competence mean? 
Answer: Definitions and terms vary.  Cultural competency really comes from the health professions, especially nursing and social work, where they emphasize that in order to provide effective care, a person needs to know about other cultures' beliefs in order to provide care that works.  For example, if you provide nutritional counseling to a person from another culture that has been diagnosed with diabetes and give them a diet plan that only includes typical US dishes, that does not show cultural competency and it will probably not be effective.  The business world has their own definitions of intercultural competency as well.  However, I think, at its essence, transcultural competency means that you are aware of your own cultural perspectives and those of other cultures and that you can use that knowledge to have effective communication and interactions with people of other cultures.



Question: Since having trans-cultural competence is part of the goals of language, literature and culture classes, is it possible to teach trans-cultural competence as a course? 
Answer: You certainly could choose to teach a course on transcultural competency.  That would be very interesting and valuable!  However, I don't think it is absolutely necessary.  You could choose to do activities with your students in any foreign language course to make them explicitly aware of it as a concept and to practice it.  This is where I believe CSL is so valuable--in a traditional classroom you would probably talk about transcultural competency, but when students work in the community they can connect the theory to what they are actually doing when they work with native speakers of the target culture(s).

Question: If  your answer is Yes, What are  the  competences the students have to pursue?  How do you assess those competences?
Answer: This depends.  In my university, I would want my students to learn a mindset (awareness, observation, asking questions, etc.) that they would bring to bear on any transcultural interactions they might have.  If, however, I were teaching a Spanish for veterinarians course, I would choose competencies that professionals in that field would need.  For example, if they will be working with Latino immigrants who take care of cattle, I would talk to them about potential literacy/illiteracy among workers, attitudes towards authority, how they might ensure that their instructions have been understood even if people don't want to admit that they haven't understood, etc.


To assess these competencies is a challenge!  I would use reflection as a starting point.  I would ask students who have worked in the community to identify an instance when they felt that their cultural expectations were not shared by another person and to reflect on how they handled it and how they might handle it in the future.  Or I might give them a written case that describes a situation that requires transcultural competency and ask them to analyze it.


Question: I was thinking about doing CSL abroad. What type of critical thinking issues would you implement in an Internship abroad?

Answer: I think that doing CSL abroad is really great--it really immerses the students in the culture and language and has many other learning benefits as well.  I don't know where you're planning on going or what kind of CSL work the students would do, but I would guess that some issues that would come up would be:
  • schedules and concepts of time, especially if students are working in an office that they expect should "keep hours" the way they are used to or if they need to make appointments with people.
  • another issue related to time is, how do they define successful CSL work?  If they are in the country for a short time, will they be able to see the value of the work they have done on a small piece of aa potential longer-term project?
  • complexity, as in, when you try to solve a "big" problem (poverty, access to quality education, community organizing, etc.) or a piece of it, problems will arise.  We can help students to grapple with "messy problems" and the lack of closure they may desire but not gain.
  • along with all these big-picture, critical thinking issues, don't be surprised if you find yourself really addressing what you consider to be small things.  I never imagined I would need to spend time on numbers and the alphabet with my students!  Yet I do.  And such small things actually contain a world of complexity.
I hope these answers are helpful in some way.  Let me know if you'd like to discuss this further and if you have insights to share with me!
 

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