By Marie-Eve Monette (NC Academic Program Coordinator)
On September 24th, I was invited by Nexos Comunitarios to give the first talk of its Strong Ideas for a Fair World series. The title of my talk was “Global Solidarity and Intercultural Engagement Narratives,” and since I define engagement as starting with an encounter, I want to start this post by referring to a comment made by one of the people in attendance. This person summed up my talk in the following manner: global solidarity and engagement have to be built on a foundation of human connections and the development of relationships. That is exactly what my talk was about. We can theorize all we want, share examples and information about people from other cultures, but if they are not linked to human connections, any solidarity is difficult to develop and sustain.
Intercultural has become a buzz word in the past few decades, and its appearance has become common, if not expected, in any discussion about interactions between people from different backgrounds, or in the design of curriculum that involves service-learning, community engagement, global studies. Many refer to intercultural learning, but I prefer to talk about intercultural engagement. Let me tell you briefly why, before I link it back to the theme of global solidarity and narratives.
In my opinion, intercultural learning is more detached. It implies acquisition, but exchange is not inherent to it. We as learners are often introduced to new cultures as the subjects of knowledge learning, and are often kept separate from the “object” of study, that is, the new cultures. The people who contribute and are involved in those cultures rarely participate in the process, at least not initially. What this teaches is a disconnect between the learner and the people from those cultures. How can we build solidarity on such a disconnect?
Engagement, on the other hand, is much more encompassing. When I think about engagement, I think about relationships, involvement, of making a commitment. Intercultural engagement therefore requires immediate interaction of some kind between people of different backgrounds. Learning becomes relational, and the process has the potential of evolving around interconnectedness and exchange. This process fosters a much more fertile ground from which to grow solidarity.
Intercultural engagement narratives can be central in rethinking this solidarity, and in promoting intercultural development in our students. Whether these narratives are developed through podcasts, journals, vlogs, or other formats, they can help students establish connections between themselves and people from different cultures, practice self-reflexivity, and work through any challenges that inevitably arise during intercultural interactions. Before we even invite our students to engage in such narratives though, the journey needs to begin with us, as educators. We need to look at the ways in which we connect our identities, every day experience, and academic work. We need to understand what relationships inspired our continued engagement, and how we initiated and fostered these relationships. We can use this knowledge and these experiences to shape the ways in which we teach our students. This will help them develop their own practice of engagement based on joining relationships, experiential learning and academic knowledge, which will hopefully and naturally lead to a more sustainable global solidarity.