Intercultural encounters seminars
In 2011, a random, self-elected group of professional staff members across Deakin University was interviewed to identify their strengths, weaknesses, aspirations and expectations on professional development in intercultural competence. It resulted in a number of suggestions about how to offer such training.
The most salient aspect of this research was the recognition that there is a gap in the provision of professional development in intercultural competence to staff. The literature and the results of the staff interviews concurred that effective intercultural communication is critical as the world becomes more globalised and universities continue to expand their international populations. The provision of an intercultural program for staff would be important to enhance their ability to work in an international environment by developing:
- a more evolved sense of their own culture, and how it affects their thinking and actions
- a deeper understanding of cultural diversity, social justice, understanding and respect
- competence to interact appropriately and effectively with people from other cultures
- the skills to become self-aware, reflective and have a readiness to accept and adapt to cultural differences
The research identified that while there are resources available, more specific professional development would be very helpful for staff to equip them with these skills, or to assess if and where it is required.
With the support of the Faculty General Manager, and as part of the Faculty's Access and Equity plan for 2013, a series of informal seminars to raise cross cultural awareness among staff in the Faculty has been planned . The objective of the sessions will be to:
- provide exposure to, and understanding, of various cultures relative to the University
- create a space where intercultural encounters can take place.
- acknowledge awareness of diversity across the University.
Five very successful seminars were conducted in 2014, drawing in academic and professional staff as well as students. Through the support of the University's Equity and Diversity division the seminars also attracted external professionals.
Responses to our survey of people's experiences indicated that 58% would attend more seminars as they felt that they were informative, interesting and relevant to their work or research. Interestingly, one respondent found the seminars useful for forming support networks, and another commented that they reinforced Deakin's 'Worldly' branding.
The general feeling was that these are important to improve their cultural awareness and communication skills in a culturally diverse workplace. They are a valuable information resource and a celebration of such diversity.
At the final seminar, a group of Indonesian visitors attended. They were highly impressed not only with the quality of the seminar and the information that they were able to gather that related to their work; but also the importance that was placed on cultural awareness through these seminars.