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Story Circles gaining ground as intercultural tool

Enabling a story-telling environment to allow international educators to develop and build intercultural confidence is gaining ground with a UNESCO-backed initiative and global rotation of a Chair in Intercultural Competences.

Jewell Green-Winn presenting on Story Circles at NAFSA. Photo: The PIE

The UNESCO Chair will “re-think the lens of intercultural competence”

Story Circles is a methodology being discussed and adopted by champions of intercultural learning and was a topic being discussed at the recent NAFSA conference.

Darla Deardorff, a research fellow at Duke University, is one such global education leader who has been instrumental in the initiative, authoring The Manual for Developing Intercultural Competencies: Story Circles.

She explained, “UNESCO Story Circles allow participants to experience deep connection and empower them “to explore our shared humanity in bridging divides”.

Speaking at a panel during NAFSA, Jewell Green-Winn, senior international officer and chief diversity officer at Tennessee State University recalled her own experience as a story circle participant for the first time.

“While listening to the stories, what I found was that nobody’s story was better than the other. Nobody’s story was more painful than the other. I wasn’t there to judge that.

“But what I realised was we all have a story. To sit there and listen to people openly and honestly share their story was profound for me.”

Kim McGrath of the University of Nevada, Las Vegas who took part in a Story Circles session described it as “a dynamic methodology” for allowing students to understand the experience of others who have undergone challenges similar to their own.

“Since we are connected, we must learn to get along and listen to each other without judgement”

“In addition to facilitating understanding of shared experiences, story circles can give space for students to fully describe and understand their own cultural adjustment and transformation during study abroad, McGrath asserted.

Likewise, Green-Winn referenced the work of Stephen Covey and belongingness. “We are all a human interconnected family. Regardless of colour, where we’re from, or what we believe in, we are all connected. And since we are connected, we must learn to get along and listen to each other without judgement and Story Circles help foster that.”

The UNESCO Chair in Intercultural Competences has been awarded to Stellenbosch University in South Africa, with Deardorff and South Africa-based Sarah Howie acting as co-chairholders.

It is designed to promote an “integrated system” of research, teaching and training, community engagement and communication, and facilitate international collaboration between researchers and teaching staff.

Deardorff also shared that the UNESCO Chair will “re-think the lens of intercultural competence”, noting, “This could shift our way of thinking about intercultural competence as some abstract concept and make it more real.”

Deardorff is also the executive director of AIEA and the founder of the World Council on Intercultural and Global Competence.

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