My two most recent workshops took place in Hawaii and Alaska back to back. I know, I know, a tough gig and you feel bad for me. However, having such an amazing opportunity did come with its own particular challenges. Besides the obvious challenges of fitting summer and winter clothes in the same suitcase, it came with the challenge of how to teach a course on human interpersonal relationships to a very culturally diverse people in the same workshops. Over the course of two weeks not only did I have people from various different American states, I had instructors present whose cultural backgrounds came from Hong Kong, Philippians, Hawaiian, Samoan, Ireland, and native Alaskans. Having my undergraduate in Sociology I was loving it, but the workshops came with the challenges of teaching through all the cultural differences.
Culture is not merely as simple as listing the various countries and regions people come from but underneath those cultures are layers of other sub-cultures. I am an American who grew up in Iowa. One can divide Iowa into particular regions so I better be specific in saying I grew up in Northwest Iowa. Thus, my culture also includes a lot of Dutch influences and Calvinistic Christian understandings. As my parents are recovering alcoholics I was also influenced by a culture that involved “The Big Book”, a Serenity Prayer and Bill W and Dr. Bob. A person’s culture has layers and layers to it and offences can take place in several areas.
Fortunately for me, The Mandt System’s trainings are set up to help with this type of complexity. The Mandt System is about healthy relationships, healthy communications and healthy conflict resolutions. Very early on in each workshop, we discussed what were the expectations for the class. We looked at expectations in three areas. First, what did they expect to get from the week of training? Second, what did they want to get from the other participants during the week? Third, what expectations did they have of the faculty member facilitating the training? By early on establishing individual and group expectations, we were able to identify and discuss differences that people may have around those expectations.
Early in the trainings, we do what is called the Lundey activity. This is were we examine various human principles like dignity, respect, honesty and others too decide what we would like more of in our lives. This starts individually and then moves to small groups and ultimately to the entire class. When working with a variety of cultural differences this type of activity becomes very important. In both classes, extra time was spent in small groups talking about those differences and as a large group we discussed what words would we focus on in the class. This involved discussing how we would define those words to have common meaning for the week in those particular trainings.
It is important when instructing a class with lots of cultural diversity to establish a oneness amongst the group for whatever period it may involve. Because our groups would be spending 5 days together, early on day one we established a set of common goals, agreed upon common values, and started to form a group identity. It is important for group facilitators to consistently acknowledge the groups’ commonalities throughout the instruction. We early on established that it would be okay to be open and honest about our differences but that our focus would be on the areas in which we were the same. We also celebrated the contribution that our uniqueness’s brought to that particular weeks trainings by doing an activity that thanks one another for each persons particular contribution to the life of another person who was present in the training. By acknowledging out differences, celebrating our uniqueness’s, and focusing on our oneness, we not only made it through the week smoothly but learned from each other and go away with life long friendships established.
Tim Geels – Director of Instruction