With many students thinking ahead about study abroad programs and opportunities, the idea of intercultural immersion is one that is rarely brought up in casual conversation, yet should be a crucial element of all experiences abroad.
Often the focus shifts away from the importance of a deeper cultural understanding, and more towards the excitement of simply touring around a new country with American friends.
In an effort to encourage more conversations about seeking cultural immersion, on Friday Boston College’s Office of International Programs hosted the Boston Intercultural Skills Conference, the first of its kind in the New England region.
Geared towards training faculty to facilitate meaningful conversations with students on cultural immersion, the conference featured speakers from Yale, Brandeis, Smith, and the University of Nebraska. It was held in Gasson 100 and attracted over one hundred attendees from the greater Boston area, and even as far as upstate New York and Washington, D.C.
“We’ve never done anything like this before,” said Nick Gozik, Director of BC’s Office of International Programs and primary organizer of the BISC. “Since there are so many colleges in Boston, there’s such a need to have these conversations on how to help students become more inter-culturally proficient.”
The conference kicked off with keynote addresses given by Steve Duke, Assistant Vice President for Global Strategy and International Initiatives at the University of Nebraska, and Matthew Goode, Programs Manager at the Center for Teaching Excellence at BC.
Between speeches, OIP hosted small breakout sessions for furthered discussion, such as “Integrating Short-Term Programs into Undergraduate Curricula,” “Navigating the Faculty-Student Relationship Abroad,” and “Enabling and Encouraging Cultural Immersion.” Faculty from BC and beyond were able to more effectively share their thoughts and ideas in a synergetic environment.
“Our aim is ultimately helping students set very clear goals when they’re abroad, and being reflective about that,” said Gozik. “We want to get them to ask questions like, ‘How do I learn to be more adaptable? How do I interact with people who aren’t like me?’”
And that’s exactly what the BISC aimed to achieve; by having faculty teach faculty through keynote addresses and breakout sessions, the hope is that these new perspectives and skills will trickle down to the student level.
“The goal is for participants to learn from faculty and other international education professionals about recent research in intercultural learning, its role in education abroad programs, and suggestions for ways in which faculty and staff can support and encourage deeper cultural immersion and understanding,” said Erin Shevlin, BC’s Summer and Internships Program Manager.
Though it may seem like a roundabout and indirect way of impacting students, Gozik said that the faculty “just get it," and already they are having conversations with their students on studying abroad; funneling new meaning into these discussions will only help create stronger student-teacher relations.
“The real takeaway from this conference is the role of faculty members as mentors to their students,” said Gozik. “We want to give these faculty the tools they need to probe beneath the surface of their conversations.”
In giving these tools directly to professors and faculty, the aim of the BISC is to ensure that the knowledge garnered from the conference will be long-lasting and impactful to as many students as possible.
The conference successfully facilitated these conversations on campus; now, the skills obtained from them can be distributed to students all across New England through the power of faculty mentorship.
This reflection on study abroad experiences can only be beneficial. As students learn to focus on becoming more culturally immersed in the countries they study in, they will inevitably be able to derive more meaning from their experiences and see the world from a refreshed perspective.
With this, students at BC and beyond will have the knowledge they need to truly set the world aflame.