Focus Area 5: Intercultural Engagement
We live in a multicultural society. Intercultural engagement is the commitment to create deep, genuine, understanding and respect for all cultures.
Positive youth development depends on fostering a solid sense of belonging and connection. As a youth worker, you provide that opportunity through the caring, trusting relationships you build with young people. To do that effectively, no matter the cultural differences between you and the young people you serve, you will need to commit yourself to the pursuit of intercultural competence.
You will be expanding your world view all the time. You will be challenging bias, stereotypes, prejudice, and discrimination wherever and whenever you encounter it. And in doing so, you will be playing a key role in bringing about social justice.
Your ability to understand and embrace all the many dimensions of cultural diversity will literally enrich your life in more ways than you can imagine, facilitating your own personal and professional growth while ensuring culturally-responsive positive development for young people.
You learned that the journey starts with exploring your own culture to understand what drives your attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors. You explored the impact of negative attitudes about diversity. You were challenged to uncover your own unconscious bias.
You know that intercultural competency is the aim of your exploration and that it requires a particular set of knowledge, skills, and attitudes for you to develop over time.
And it really does take time, as well as intentional action and effort, a willingness to question your own assumptions and attitudes, and genuine, authentic, sincere empathy to create deeply respectful relationships with young people, whether they are similar to you or have a different cultural make up.
The same is true for your relationships with colleagues. Being aware of, understanding, and respecting diversity (differences) is critical to building the trust and rapport necessary to bring about lasting, positive change in the lives of young people.
Focusing on principles, practices, and processes moves you from the less interesting question of “Am I multi-culturally competent?” to the more interesting discovery process of “What can I learn in this situation?” or “What can I learn with or from this person or group?” – every day!
When viewed as an ongoing discovery process, your pursuit of intercultural competence will seem less like a tension-filled task. Instead you can embrace it as a lifelong adventure. Go change the world, youth worker!
See intercultural engagement as a life-long process of intentional discovery and conscious practice:
- Competency is more than knowledge or awareness – it requires real skill development and that doesn’t happen overnight or just by reading
- Unconscious bias runs in the background all the time so you’ll never be done confronting and addressing it if you really want to develop intercultural competence
- Prejudice, stereotypes, and discrimination are deeply rooted and often operate from the unconscious level
Learn to recognize and address bias and prejudice, whether implicit or explicit:
- Everybody has biases, it’s a natural survival function of the human brain. It’s problematic for us when it leads to unchecked discrimination against anyone
- Practice, practice, practice! Listen carefully to yourself and others whenever people of different social identities are being discussed – if you pay attention, you’ll hear clues to implicit bias in their words and in your own thoughts.
- Train yourself to notice microaggressions; once you begin to tune in and notice them, it becomes much easier to catch your own bias bubbling up to the surface
Recognize how your cultural makeup influences your attitudes and beliefs about race, diversity, equity, and inclusion:
- Cultural self-awareness is the bridge to learning about other cultures which will lead to understanding, acceptance, and inclusion
- Your cultural makeup influences your values which have likely been informed by stereotyping and prejudice in some ways
- Understanding the cultural connections can help address blind spots
Gain confidence in talking about cultural differences:
- Diversity just means “different”
- The importance of talking about our differences is that it helps break down barriers by building bridges and fostering understanding, empathy, and inclusion
- Accept that you’re going to make mistakes and be willing to learn from them, even if they are uncomfortable in the moment.
Diversity is a reference for how we are all different. Learning to appreciate those differences will help you develop a deep understanding and respect for all cultures. Then it becomes easier to create culturally-sensitive programs and safe, inclusive environments for the youth you serve and that is the key learning.
But this is just the beginning of your learning. To become truly interculturally competent demands an ongoing commitment to stretching the boundaries of your knowledge and testing new practices all the time. And not just your own, but those of the people around you as well.
Now you will demonstrate your learning by passing an 8-question quiz. If you’ve paid attention to the videos and carefully studied the written material, you are well-prepared for the quiz. You need a score of at least 80% to pass. Good luck!
“Keep exploring. Keep dreaming. Keep asking why. Don’t settle for what you already know. Never stop believing in the power of your ideas, your imagination, your hard work to change the world.” — Barack Obama, former U.S. President
You are really making great progress! You're learning how youth work is social justice work and preparing yourself to be a fierce ally and a relentless advocate for change. The world needs your energy and ideas. Stay the course! Want to expand your knowledge in this focus area? Click the link above and explore.
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