Uit de interculturele hoek…

Vincent Merk

“In the five years that I’ve studied here I’ve seen many changes at TU/e with respect to internationalization”. And also: “Yes, many positive changes, but the study associations are not very open to us internationals” And further:  “Cosmos (the international student association at TU/e) is really an example of this integration stage”. Here are a few of the comments I get when I ask Master’s students of Electrical Engineering to reflect on the DMIS at the end of my course “Intercultural Communication, Cooperation & Integration” (I2CI). DMIS stands for Developmental Model for Intercultural Sensitivity and was created by the cross-cultural psychologist Milton Bennett as a framework to explain how people experience and engage in cultural difference. There are six stages in a continuum; three are ethnocentric: Denial, Defense and Minimization and three are ethnorelative: Acceptance, Adaptation and Integration (for more details read this description:  http://www.idrinstitute.org/page.asp?menu1=15 or watch this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OjWegDZCKzU). This tool is very appropriate to ask students to reflect on and give examples of their own intercultural development, and also that of the university they study at. At TU/e we get into interesting conversations and debates, and I’m sure it’ll be the same at many NUT-institutions, so what about in Groningen where they also use it?

One will presumably find plenty of examples where our Dutch or Flemish academic institutions are lagging behind in dark ethnocentric areas (typically too many to list here…); but in contrast, there will also be striking examples of solid ethnorelative position on the infrastructural level, with curriculum development and educational processes that ultimately change mindsets and influence people’s attitudes. Indeed our efforts show people shifting from typical Denial attitudes to at least intercultural awareness, and many to grasping, exploring and ultimately appreciating cultural differences, hence moving towards more Integration in the international classroom and beyond. This Internalisation at Home is killing two birds with one stone: local students are prepared for a stay abroad where they will be the internationals, and the internationals integrate better into the local communities. There is still a long way to go to reach complete integration of the many subcultures and move from a multicultural to an intercultural campus. But hey, our diversity is also a lot of fun. We have Carnival, international Valentine’s Day, Chinese lunar year, Indian Diwali, etc!  So dear reader, now I’ve put you to thinking and reflecting, any suggestions and local best practices we can discuss in Groningen (no coincidence!) during our annual event? See you there!

Vincent Merk – v.merk (at) tue (dot) nl,
trainer intercultural communication at University of Technology, Eindhoven