Over the past few weeks an Aston graduate has been working directly with me (as part of the Aston University Internship Scheme) on quite a complex challenge: to produce a University-wide Intercultural Awareness Strategy.
The Strategy identifies that all staff and students should have some kind of intercultural awareness. This can be achieved through both formal and informal ways. Informal channels are currently being developed such as the formation of an Aston University Cinema Club, which will screen films from throughout the world and introduce us to different languages and cultures. More formal methods incorporate activities such as the formation of Intercultural Awareness Champions in all Schools and departments whose role it will be to raise awareness amongst their colleagues and be there to offer advice, guidance and answer any questions you may have.
Another method, and one which the University has been piloting for some time now, is staff and student training with the MAP Consortium. The MAP is a consortium of artists who produce cutting edge work in the fields of performance, creative development, education and training. Its experienced artist-facilitators draw on the visual, performing and structural arts to reach diverse audiences and to enhance and develop intercultural awareness. The pilot has shown that the optimum time to engage students in this work is in their first year when they are fresh and eager to embrace new experiences. Student sessions are preceded with a explanatory lecture in week three, the actual intercultural awareness training in week six and then follow up tutorials to explore how the training can be used to enhance learning and teaching. What has been noticeable is the impact that this training has had on strengthening and supporting group work by breaking down barriers.
Earlier in the month, all MBA students received intercultural awareness training from the MAP Consortium and I was keen for staff to have this work showcased to them. So on a wintery Wednesday afternoon approximately 30 staff from throughout the University signed up to take part in an intercultural awareness workshop. The objective was to start thinking about others in a different way and consisted of partner and group work and got us all working outside of our usual comfort zones. As you can see from the photos, some great fun was had by all! We worked with bamboo canes, looked at postcards and interpreted performances exploring how and why individuals view situations the way they do and how, depending on our culture and background, our perceptions and reactions are different. What we all took from the session was an understanding that we needed to be more open minded, to not judge others on first appearances, and to recognise that each and every one of us is different.
The Intercultural Awareness Strategy will shortly be available and details will be announced soon through Aspects.