LAURA SPITZ: Fred Dervin is professor of multicultural education at the University of Helsinki in Finland. He also holds several academic appointments in Australia, Canada, Luxembourg, Malaysia, China, and Sweden. I feel like there may be about 11 of him who move around the world, never to be seen at the same place at the same time.
He specializes in intercultural education, the sociology of multiculturalism, and student and academic mobility. I know from dinner last night that he has a lot to say about these issues, and that his knowledge is incredibly deep. We're going to benefit very much from him speaking to us.
He has published widely, including more than 30 books in fields ranging from interculturality to Chinese educational migration. Today, we are very, very fortunate he's with us. Please help me welcome him.
FRED DERVIN: Good morning, everyone. It's a real pleasure to be here today. Thank you so much to the organizers for having me here.
I mean, it's like a dream come true. It's such a beautiful campus. It's always a pleasure to be in the US, one of my favorite countries in the world these days.
Because, of course, we do change interest in places as we get older. Now, so this is what I'm going to talk about. . Intercultural competence and study abroad, the global-minded campus-- a proposal.
I work in a department of teacher education in Finland, and my position is that of a professor of multicultural education. When I was appointed four years ago, I was sort of traumatized by my new title. Because I was appointed more or less at the time when multiculturalism was said to be dead in Germany and England.
And before my appointment at Helsinki, I never used the word "multicultural." And I would always talk about "intercultural." And so I went to see my dean, and I said, how come I'm not intercultural education? Why do you throw that label at me suddenly?
And he said, intercultural what? He'd never heard the word "intercultural." And he said, anyway, they all sound the same.
I was sort of very annoyed at the time. Of course, I pretended that everything was OK. I was happy to be there.
Today, to be honest, it doesn't matter. Because what I've realized from my four years at Helsinki is that regardless of the label that you use-- intercultural, multicultural, transcultural, global, cross-cultural, and so on and so forth. As long as you know what you mean and you give real meaning to these words, it doesn't matter what you use.
People always ask me, what's the difference between intercultural and multicultural? And I often say, well, it depends on your viewpoint. It depends on where you're situated in the world.
It depends on your political beliefs. It depends on the ideologies that cross your mind. There are people who talk about transcultural who actually mean the same as when I say intercultural. But there are other people who say intercultural and actually mean something completely different from what I mean when I say intercultural.
Let me start with two quotes. I'm using these quotes these days, because, well, Confucius is political here. Because there's a lot of talk about Confucius these days, because of our friends from China.
And of course, we are-- when I say we are, I mean maybe Finland and Europe. But I wouldn't be surprised if it was more or less the same here. We are sort of torn apart between admiration for the Chinese but also fear. Because they're taking over, which is good. I mean, power shifts have shifted throughout history.
And we do have so many stereotypes about the Chinese. I mean, it's unbelievable. And when I say we, I mean myself as well. I'm not just superhuman. I'm just a boring, normal human being, I would say.
And we often use Confucius. I mean, what's great about Confucius is that you can use his ideas and make him say whatever. And make him justify your sometimes potentially-- and I'm going to say a bad word-- racist comments about the Chinese. About the fact that Chinese people are not autonomous, that Chinese people are not critical thinkers, that Chinese people are not this, this, or that.
Now, what I did was I reread The Analects. Very few people have actually read The Analects. And I made a list of quotes from Confucius that actually contradicted the way we usually use Confucius in research, for example, or in teaching.
And I found this one. "A scholar who cherishes the love of comfort is not fit to be deemed a scholar." And that's how I see my position as a scholar, as a thinker, as an intellectual, and also as a human being, in a sense.
Another quote from Foucault, and now you're probably bored with Foucault. I'm bored with him, but you know, you have to use Foucault these-- well, probably maybe in the US, he's passe already. I mean, in Finland, we just discovered Foucault, and even worse, [INAUDIBLE].
I like Foucault, actually. I mean, it's hard to not like Foucault. No, I shouldn't say that. Who reminded us that a critique is a matter of pointing out what kinds of assumptions, what kinds of familiar, unchallenged, unconsidered modes of thought, the practices that we accept, rest.
This is definitely how I see my work on the intercultural and study abroad. I look into assumptions. The assumptions of us researchers, the assumptions of decision-makers, the assumptions of administrators, the assumptions of students, the assumptions of the media, the assumptions of parents. Because they are quite many assumptions about the benefits of study abroad in terms of interculturality, and that's what I would like to talk about here.
This is my position. I put myself in a category called renewed intercultural-- or interculturality, actually-- renewed interculturality. That's a global movement that's increasing and that is represented by the scholars whose names are mentioned here, who are based in places like Australia, China, Denmark, Finland, Great Britain, and Malaysia. It's still very much Euro-centric in a sense, but we've managed to sort of cooperate with people based outside Europe who share similar ideologies about the intercultural.
And here are some of the books that maybe you might know-- there's [INAUDIBLE] there. Adrian Holliday, a very important book, intercultural communication and ideologies. Probably the best book on the market at the moment.
Ingrid Piller. They're all called, of course, "intercultural communication." And these are friends.
And every time they publish a new book that has "intercultural communication," I ask them, why this again? I mean, aren't you bored? It's always "intercultural communication."
And they say, you know, the publishers are deciding on the titles for us. We suggest-- for instance, Adrian didn't want to put the word "intercultural" in his book. But his publisher-- I'm not going to name the publisher, but you can check it out-- said no way. If you want to sell it, you have to put "intercultural communication."
There's also this one. And that's one that I've published and finished recently, which is An Introduction to Renewed Interculturality. I'm just about-- well, it should have been published, but it's not published yet, a book on this in English.
Oh. No, sorry. I'm pressing Shift.
OK. Hello! Oh, yes. Albert. These are my views on the intercultural.
This is actually attributed to Camus. He probably never said that. But never mind, everybody quotes him, but you can't find the source. Which is a good example of academic-- how shall I say-- ethics and honesty.
"To name things badly is to add to the misfortunes of the world." All the people that I've mentioned here, this is how they feel about this word "intercultural" at the moment. That it badly names phenomena, and that, in many cases, actually contributes to bad things happening in the world.
So when I think of the idea of intercultural competence, I have a lot of issues with this. I'm not the only one. We're actually publishing just a book now where we are presenting critical perspectives on these concepts.
First of all, it is very polysemic. So it means so many different things to so many different people. But at the same time, it can be very empty.
People sometime use the word "intercultural competence" without really knowing what they are talking about. But they have sort of an idea of what it means. And we could say the same about the words that I have put between brackets there.
"Global-minded." We just had a global-minded survey in Finland. And when I met the people who did the survey, I said, what the hell is global-minded? Or global-mindedness?
They had no idea. They just said, well, that's what they use in Canada these days. So we thought, you know, we're going to use it. Because Canada, they're very good.
Sorry they didn't mention Cornell, but I'll spread the word.
"Transcultural," or "cross-cultural," and "culturally responsive." I mean, this is such a successful term in Finland at the moment. I still have no idea what it means. I've asked people. They've tried to explain, but I'm sort of confused about what they mean.
It's becoming old and tired in some cases. When people ask me, what is it that you work on? Depending on the country or the places where I am, they might say, oh, do you still talk about intercultural competence? Is it still something valuable today?
It is also somewhat very Euro-centric and Americano-centric. Three names that pop up all the time when we talk about intercultural competence and study abroad-- I call them the trio-- Byram, Bennett, and Deardorff. Two Americans, one Brit. And people who actually work for institutions that have a lot of symbolic power-- [INAUDIBLE]-- which was created in the US, NAFSA and the Council of Europe.
Now, the Council of Europe is very much involved at the moment in creating the idea of intercultural citizenship for study abroad. It's a very political decision to do that, especially at times when we are getting an increasing number of refugees in Europe. And they've even decided to add the word "democratic competence" to the intercultural. So they talk about intercultural and democratic competencies.
And I asked Byram-- Michael Byram, who works for them-- why did you have "democratic" there? And he said, well, because democracy is in danger in the West. I said, what do you mean?
Well, yeah, we have all these Islamists coming to our country and bombing us, and that's bad. So we need to make sure that people who come into our countries in Europe-- they know about democracy. Because, of course, we invented democracy, as you know.
There's a great book by Jack Goody, an anthropologist. The book is called The Theft of History, where he actually goes through all these wonderful ideas that we pretend are ours. And shows back in history how actually, they're not ours, but they are the others as well, in a sense. The Theft of History-- I love that.
The other problem about intercultural competence also is that the boundary between education and business is very thin. The work of Bennett's-- Milton Bennett, whom you might know very well-- is very problematic in this sense. Because if you want to use his scales for your studies, for instance, to assess the level of your students in terms of ethnocentrism, et cetera, you actually have to pay.
Now, of course, nothing is free these days. I don't live on the moon. I mean, I do realize that money matters. But I have some issues when a doctoral student in Finland uses Bennett's model to assess the integration of migrant children in our classes when the business was actually more or less designed for the business world. And I have the same issues when this is used for study abroad in a sense.
Intercultural competency is also often presented as a technology like a miracle that's going to help us to face or deal with-- and between inverted commas-- "cultural difference." I'll come back to this later. And, of course, there's a trend, and we talked a lot about this last night during dinner. And I have to say that I spend many hours of writing after that wonderful discussion, because it was really stimulating.
The problem that we have in renewed interculturality is that the idea of intercultural competence is overly dependent on the term "culture," on comparisons of national cultures, and very crude contrasts. So for instance, between what we call individualistic and collectivist societies, which is a bias. It's a bias.
Considering the fact that, of course, individualism in a sense is an important notion that emerged from European modernity. And that by claiming that we, the West, that we Westerners-- whatever that means-- we are individualistic versus the Chinese, for instance, who are collectivisticks-- oh, I hate that word. I'm about to say cholesterol, but that's a different thing, isn't it?
That's my issue. I'm not collectivistic, but I'm a cholera storer, or whatever. Cholera.
OK. So basically, the collectivists-- I believe, and I'm not the only one to have said that, that, of course, all societies are collectivistic. There's no way we can exist without the other.
And of course, we're so blind that we don't notice that Facebook is the best symbol of collectivism. In a sense. A different kinds of collectivism compared to 50 years ago, but it is collectivism. I exist for the other, through the other, and with the other. And there's no way that it's through myself that I will exist and create who I am.
Now, when we come to study abroad, in my institution, the idea of intercultural competency is used in a very, very loose way. And it's very often a victim of what I would call uncritical groupthink, where there's the systematic idea that when you study abroad, you're going to be more open-minded, you're going to be more tolerant, you're not going to have any stereotypes about anything anymore. And so basically, you're not going to be a human being anymore.
About tolerance-- by the way, I forgot to say, but I'm here to irritate you in the morning. Sorry about that. That's on purpose, you know. Because we want to talk, we want blood. We don't want just, you know, to agree on things.
About tolerance-- there's an issue about tolerance. That's a word that we put forward all the time at the EU level. We need to be tolerant, we need to develop tolerance.
And now I've broken the whole thing. Whoops. Where am I?
This animal on my table that keeps falling-- what is this? [LAUGHING] Strange animal. Three legs.
Tolerance is patronizing. Tolerance is not enough. We need to go beyond the idea of tolerance to create encounters.
Tolerance is about saying, OK, you're welcome here. I will tolerate your culture, your language, your whatever. But you need to remember that you're a guest here. And, in a sense, that my ways are still better than yours.
I mean, of course, this is all meta discourses. But that's often what happens behind this word of "tolerance." It's a beautiful idea, but it's a very idealistic and politically manipulated idea, especially at the EU level. But I wouldn't be surprised if that was the case in other parts of the world. As you can see, I'm not a big fan of the EU, and I'm sorry about that.
Now, a few months ago, my international office asked me to give a talk to students who were going to live abroad. And they imposed a title on me. The title was "The benefits of study abroad."
And I'm a thinker, I'm a scholar. I'm not a robot. I'm not a machine.
So I hate it when people give me a title. And so basically, I replied-- they asked for an abstract, so I sent in an abstract. And the title that I suggested was "Interculturality and study abroad-- not an obvious combination," and a question mark.
Here's the answer I got back from the person who invited me. "I would like to ask about the title. Why did you change it? The way it reads now is that you are skeptical about it being worthwhile to go do study abroad. Since internationality"-- whatever that means-- it's not internationality. I think she meant internationalization-- "is high on the agenda at the moment--"
Like here, I mean, the words you were saying at the beginning-- I mean, my rector has said exactly the same as your rector. It's probably a machine somewhere that's reproducing the same speeches. I'm not talking about your speech, but, you know, the words.
Now she's going to kill me. Never mind. "Since internationalization is high on the agenda at the moment, I would hope to see the program promote a positive view towards international mobility."
Of course I'm happy to be positive, which might be difficult to believe. But I don't want to lie. I'm not a promoter. I'm not a businessman. I'm paid to do research and propose alternative views to potentially make a very small contribution to a different world from my own ideologies.
So there are definitely ready-made discourses and assumptions about the links between study abroad and interculturality. And this often leads to romantic visions-- some sort of romantic vision. Let me show you.
We published recently an article about the imaginaries shared by international students in Finland about interculturality and study abroad. And these are divided into three categories-- behaving, learning, and post-sojourn benefits. Let me just take a few of them.
In terms of behaving, when you ask students, so what is interculturality in relation to study abroad? You mustn't meet people from your own country, but only meet foreigners-- whatever that means-- people. With, of course, the typical hierarchy that I've described in my work between-- on top of the hierarchy is the so-called "local" people, whatever that means. Because, of course, not all local people are positioned the same way. You may have a passport, but still not be considered as a local.
So for example, recently, my university recruited tutors. That's probably going to sound pathetic to you. You're so much more international. By the way, I feel weird standing here and telling you about all this, when I see your campus, but never mind.
And so they wanted to recruit tutors for international students. And it said "Finns only." And I contacted the international office and I said, OK, so "Finns only"-- do you mean people who hold a Finnish passport, or what did you mean?
And they replied and said, "native Finns." I said, there are no native Finns. I mean, Finland was created not even a century ago. By the way, we'll be celebrating a century next year.
And this place is not your place. I mean, you came from somewhere else, like everybody else. So, I mean, this is discrimination in a sense. They never replied, because they didn't like what I was saying, of course.
You know you're lucky I don't work here, don't you?
I would have lost my job a long time ago.
Another belief about the intercultural and study abroad is that you mustn't speak your own language. You have to use the target language-- whatever that means, again. Because in many countries, there's not a target language, but there are target languages. How do you choose the target language? Well, that's usually related to the power-- the powerful language that is presented as being the language.
In terms of learning, there's a strong belief that you have to learn about other cultures. And when you ask people what you mean by this, well, they're not too sure. They have to learn about themselves. They have to find their identity.
That's something that came back all the time. You know, we're here to find out who we are, et cetera. Probably some of it is true. Though I'm not quite sure what it means to try to find one's identity. I mean, I'm still not sure what that means.
And in terms of learning, that's something we don't hear very much in Finland. But the work that we did for example in England shows that so many students, international students, believe that they should learn to speak like a native speaker. Wow.
The problem is, what on Earth is a native speaker today? In England. Yeah, I mean, do you mean somebody who speaks with a Scottish accent, somebody who comes from Leicester, somebody who comes from Wales? Somebody who comes from-- an immigrant who happened to become British at some point? I mean, these are very political choices.
But we still brainwash them, in a sense, to make them believe that they have to learn a language the way it is spoken by the native speakers-- usually the elite. We've done quite a lot of work on English as a lingua franca, for instance, in study abroad. And it's fascinating to see the negative attitudes that so many students have towards the English spoken by the other, meaning non-native speakers. In 2016, I think that's quite extraordinary.
And about the post-sojourn benefits and the intercultural. Well, the usual rhetoric of yeah, I've become a cosmopolitan. Not sure what that means. I've become a citizen of the world. I love this idea-- citizen of the world.
I'm a better person. I've become more tolerant. I don't have any stereotypes about the others, et cetera.
And I now respect diversity. I love the idea of respecting diversity. Because first of all, again, I believe that respect is patronizing. We need more than respect.
And second of all-- diversity. Who are we talking about? That's a term that's becoming very popular in Finland at the moment. I think it's thanks to you guys in the US, because that's a term you use a lot, isn't it?
But when I ask people, what do you mean, "diversity"? In Finland, diversity means the immigrant. But not all immigrants.
It means a black, Asian, basically somebody of a different, not-white-- not the majority white-- or Russian, because of the history between Russia and Finland. But if you come from America, if you come from Germany, or whatever, you're not considered an immigrant in a sense. I know you're very lucky-- happy about this.
OK. Now, where do all these ideas come from? Well, researchers-- we are guilty, actually, for a lot of these very strange ideas. We've created, over the years since the 1950s, what I call pseudo-theories.
And I'm going to be mean, but many of them are what I would call pollutants. Toxic, but even doxic pollutants. For instance, the culture shockification of study abroad.
Culture shock. I've experienced culture shock. Really? Tell me about it.
The w and u curves which, these days, so many students know about. When they talk about their experience, they're like, oh yeah, you know, it's like the w. And I had this student once who said, it's like the y curve, you know?
And I'm like, y curve? But, you know, this idea that you start-- it's the honeymoon, and then culture shock, and then adjustment, and then et cetera, et cetera. Which is a model from the 1960s, by the way, that we're still using in 2016. We were talking yesterday for example about the use of digital technologies in study abroad. I think this has a lot of impact on this sort of phenomenon.
The Hofstedean legacy. Hofstede, who is said to be a scholar but is more like a businessman, who's been really-- I mean, and I'm going to be mean, and hopefully not sued for that-- but he's been really polluting research with his idea of classifying cultures in different categories. Without imagining that through the categories, he's actually imposing positive and negative aspects to different parts.
There's also linguism. We've created so many ideas about language through teaching languages, for example, that this language is more logical than other languages. This language is more difficult than other languages, et cetera, et cetera. These, of course, don't mean-- they mean something subjectively. But objectively, that doesn't make sense.
I mean, when we get foreign students in Finland, they don't really have to study Finnish, because we tell them it's the most difficult language in the world. First of all, how can you make this comment? Because, of course, it will depend on your motivations, the languages you know already, et cetera. And second of all, I mean, what a wonderful sign of linguacentrism, I would say.
OK. And of course, these are all guilty. And as I said, researchers, but also decision-makers, institutional discourses, university staff who promote mobility-- the subconscious. Because there's this subconscious idea that mobility is positive.
Word-of-mouth, artistic productions. There are quite a few films about study abroad that sort of embellish and sort of give this beautiful, nonpolitical, non-problematic situation. And advertising. I can show you just a few.
One "study abroad, an educational opportunity of a lifetime." "A whole world of opportunities awaits you." "Why study abroad? One, to travel the world. Two, to broaden your worldview and perspective."
Well, the people who come back-- actually, they've narrowed their worldviews and perspectives. Erasmus, of course, one of the best propaganda machines in Europe. "A world of opportunities." And this wonderful leaflet found in Hong Kong, which says that if you study abroad, you will "develop your cultural sensitivity, learn to be independent and resilient, discover yourself and the world."
There's hardly any criticisms about this in these documents or through the voices of people who promote this. There's, by the way, this wonderful-- this is about advertising. I don't know if you've seen this, but it's wonderful.
Even Whiskas-- I think they produce food for rabbits, or is it dogs? I don't know. Anyway, they produce food. And they have a series of videos. And one of the videos is about the cat studying abroad.
And it's so interesting. I'll send you the link if you want. It's so interesting, because the discourses are precisely the same as the ones that we share. That they're going to open up their minds, and they're going to make friends, and they're all crying, and all that stuff. So it's quite fun. [LAUGHING]
Anyway, I don't have time for this. I probably have, like, five minutes. Or how long do I have?
FRED DERVIN: Lovely. OK. So basically, I have no time.
So intercultural-- let's go back to this now. Here's my proposal. I'm not going to go through the idea of culture. We can talk about this later.
I would just want to mention that there's been a lot of literature in anthropology, critical literature on culture. Contesting Culture by Baumann, Generous Betrayal by Wikan, Seeing Culture Everywhere by Breidenbach and Nyiri. These people basically are saying there's an overemphasis on the idea of culture, especially national culture, and that is very problematic. Because it's not about the inter, really, but it's only about what people represent through their culture.
So, I mean, this idea of culture. And we had really very fascinating discussions about this yesterday. And I wrote about our discussions, actually, because I thought they were so fascinating. I do believe-- and I'm not the only one-- that this use, and the misuse, and abuse of the word "culture," especially in terms of national, and, for example, Eastern, Western culture-- but there are also other ways-- is very problematic. Because we are ignorant, in many cases, of the debates, the critical debates, that have taken place in anthropology around the concept.
And, for instance, many anthropologists have claimed that sometimes culture-- and I love this phrase by Eriksen who says, "the concept of culture is a deceptively cozy blanket." You know, you're cold, et cetera. You don't know what's going on. Well, culture is, in a sense, easy to put forward. It sort of protects you.
But in many cases, of course, it may not have anything to do with culture. It might be parallel relations-- and, of course, what are the boundaries-- parallel relations, gender, and culture, et cetera. I mean, that's an issue that we can-- because again, that's a very polysemic term.
And for example, Baumann-- Gerd, not Sigmund that I mentioned earlier-- in his book, Contesting Culture, he's worked in the suburbs of London where he looked at how people were using this word of "culture" to make sense of their lives, to make sense of their encounters with others. And what he showed very convincingly is that when somebody was talking, for instance, about an Asian informant, they would explain their behaviors and their thoughts by referring to their ethnicity, culture, or their "community." I could spend two hours talking about community. That's a concept I don't understand. It's interesting.
Because we started to use it in Finland-- and again, thank you very much, the US, for that. Because I think that's a term you use a lot. But-- I'm not the only one.
I mean, there's a lot of work on that. I have some issues about, what is a community? Who determines who's part of a community? Who is ours, et cetera, et cetera?
The same about the word "group." But so what he noted was that to explain their Asianness, we would refer to their ethnic identity, their culture, or their community, but very rarely to them as agents. So the fact that, well, a lot of the things that they do, they're also very much responsible, personally, for what they're doing, or interpersonally for what they doing. And so culture, in a sense, becomes a cocoon, or an overly determining force, which can be very problematic.
Piller goes even further than I do. I wouldn't dare to say that, because I know I would be lynched. "Culture is something nothing more than a convenient and lazy explanation." That's an interesting idea. Think about this.
And we've published a book recently called Culture as an Excuse, where we've looked at different situations where people talk about their culture, or use their culture as some sort of alibi for what they are doing. And again, I recommend this book, Seeing Culture Everywhere. It's a fantastic book which hopefully will give you a bit more ideas about this. And I'll skip those.
Interculturality or intercultural competence is very often about comparing cultures. And comparing cultures, we could say, is normal. I'm not sure what normal is, but it's part of us in a sense.
But of course, the problems are the following-- when we compare cultures, we're very much influenced by our own ideologies. For instance, by ethnocentrism-- this idea that our ways are better than their ways. Of course, there are cases when we believe that their ways are better than our ways. But it's usually a minority phenomenon.
Comparing cultures also sometimes creates false boundaries between people. Because-- and that's a point I'll come back to later-- we only look at the difference. And yes, there are differences between people-- thank God. And even between people from within our own family.
But we also have a lot of commonalities. And what I'm interested in, as a scholar working on intercultural competence, is to train people to work within the continuum of similarity and difference. To oscillate between these two, and not just to go towards difference.
I mean, difference is obvious. It's easy to notice difference. I can look at each and every one of you and make an assumption about where you come from, et cetera.
But similarity-- first of all, I need to sit and talk to you, and spend time with you. The problem is these days that we don't have much time. I just had a wonderful discussion there at the poster session with a wonderful student.
It took-- I mean, we spoke for about a quarter of an hour. And it took, let's say, nearly until the end, for us to negotiate understanding. Because we were saying the same things, but in so many different ways.
Most of the time, because we don't have time, we just take the words that we hear for granted or as a first, and then move on. 15 minutes is not enough, of course. But in this case, it's better.
And also, when we compare cultures, we make explicit, implicit, moralistic judgments. And that's OK. Of course, we are free to do what we want.
But as scholars and as people working in internationalizations, we need to be extremely careful. Because sometimes what we say about the other culture, or other cultures, sort of gives the impression that we are better, and they are worse. We are more civilized, they are less civilized.
I could spend hours talking about politeness. It's amazing how we sort of create categories of countries or cultures that are more polite than others. I said I love the US earlier. I do.
But every time I come here, it takes maybe a day to get used to the omnipresent question, how are you doing, sir? I remember the first time I came to the US, I mean, somebody said, oh, how are you doing, sir, in the shop. I just went, hm?
And the guy looks at me-- oh, I'm just asking you how you're doing. And I was like, uh, what am I supposed to say? I don't know. I'm OK, I guess. Oh, good. OK.
And then one day, I was like, OK. I'm going to get someone, and I'm going to be honest about how I'm feeling. Let's see what happens.
What a mistake to make. So basically, went into a shop, this guy, very smiley and nice, oh, hello! How are you doing, sir?
Well, I'm not well. I just heard that my mom has cancer, and I feel really depressed about-- And the guy just went, OK, well, that will be $20. I'm sorry.
I mean, you know, obviously, I had broken-- but, you know, for Finns, for example, Americans are overly polite. They are polite. While Finns, we're not polite, because when you go to a shop in Finland, you go, hey. Hello.
You get the stuff, you get the money, [NON-ENGLISH]. Thank you. And then hey, hey. Goodbye.
But look at the process. It's the same process. You know-- how are you doing, sir? It's basically looking at you and saying, well, I saw you. I know you're here. I accept that you're here, and I'm telling you you're here, and I respect your presence, in a sense.
In Finland, it's just the eye contact. But the result is the same. And we cannot claim that Americans are more polite than Finns in that sense. And there's usually this misunderstanding.
And you can hear from Finnish students-- very often, when they talk about Finnish culture, they say, oh, we're not polite at all. So it scares people off, because, they're like, oh my god! What am I going to do? They're not polite in this country.
And then, of course, students go back and they spread the idea that Finns are not polite. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. That's problematic, of course.
We are not very new to internationalization. But the moment, there's a trend to produce leaflets to help international students to "integrate." Still not sure that means to our universities.
And one of the booklets is called "Oh, behave." And we've published an article about this. I'm sure you're probably going to collapse or die of a heart attack, most of you, because this is awful. This is an excerpt from this.
"Whereas in many cultures, people are supposed to follow instructions of teachers and supervisors, Finns are encouraged to solve problems independently and take initiative when needed. Thus while young people in many cultures live in a very protected and supervised life, students in Finland are very independent and take responsibility for their studies." This is another area where foreign students also get easily confused.
Now, I've highlighted a few words. Look how we move from "in many cultures, people" to "young people in many cultures" to suddenly "foreign students." So it's this sort of, you know, opening up doors, but then including everybody. Of course, there's a lot of ethnocentrism in there. I mean, if you worked at the Finnish university, you would have a different experience.
Recently, a student sent me an email, because I had set a book to read which was 93 pages. And he had counted the number of credits. And there's a calculator for the students where they can put the number of credits. And it tells them, depending on the language, how many pages they're allowed to read.
And he noticed that he was only allowed to read what is like 89 pages. And he was wondering if he had to read the extra pages, because that was not compulsory. Of course, is this autonomy or is it a-- OK, I can't be rude, but a very strange system? I don't know. But this is quite interesting in a sense, because I've never had that sort of question before.
Of course, that doesn't mean that all students would say that. But they had a calculator where they can check the number of pages they are allowed to read. They're "allowed to read." Isn't that funny?
So basically, I'm more interested in-- when I think about culture and intercultural, I'm not really interested in the behaviors and stuff, but a lot more at a meta level. Because, of course, culture-- people, as we talked last night in groups, people negotiate ways. And there are rules, and there are things you can do, you can't do, et cetera. Though, of course, sometimes we change these rules. And we behave in different ways, because we're not robots.
But I'm more interested in the ontological idea behind culture. So for instance, some of the questions that we asked-- some of the questions that we ask in Renewed Interculturality are the following. Who has the power and the authority to define someone's culture? Who is allowed to question these definitions? Are discourses on culture representative of a group of people?
What do people try to do when they talk about their culture and the others? Who do they include and exclude? What do they do to others when they talk about their culture?
For instance, the typical comment, "You can't understand-- you're not from my culture." What's really hiding behind that comment? Or, sorry, it can't be translated in other languages, because there's no equivalent.
Which is, in a sense-- I mean, remember, I'm an annoying, critical, old, negative person-- which can be patronizing. Because I believe that if we take the time, we can explain things. And of course, if we have the linguistic competencies.
There's a word in Finnish, for example, that we put forward always to say, we are different in Finland. It's the word "sisu." There's only one word you need to know in Finnish-- that's "sisu"-- S-I-S-U.
Sisu is something that was created during the Second World War to motivate the troops. Now, we were being invaded by Russia. So we sort of invented this idea that Finnish people are very resistant, very persevering-- you know, that they fight against all odds, et cetera, et cetera. So we use this old term "sisu." And today, it is used by nation branding-- Finnish nation branding-- to determine how Finnish people are.
Now, if you speak to a lot of Finns, they would say, you can't translate it into English. You can't explain it. It's something very typically Finnish. By the way, if you want to know more, there's a Finnish psychologist who needs money who is selling sisu psychology to Americans at the moment. She's very popular, because, of course, it sounds exotic and cool.
And you've probably all heard of "keep calm and carry on." We've seen it everywhere. Keep calm and use toilet paper. Keep calm and drink coffee. Keep calm and whatever, whatever, and go abroad, and so on and so forth. It's the same idea.
And interestingly, this was coined at the very same time as sisu. That was created during the Second World War, because people were being bombed in England. So it was like, OK, you guys, it's tricky, but go on. Just carry on with your life. You know, same as sisu.
But of course, we always want to look at these things from different perspectives. What I'm interested in-- and for me, that's a sign of intercultural competence, in the discussion that we had earlier with the student-- it was interesting. Because she gave an example that really was a sign that she was going in that direction very well, actually. But I won't share it with you, because, yeah.
OK. So I have five minutes. So after all this, you're probably wondering, so where do we go from here? I mean, so what is intercultural competence? I don't know what intercultural competence is, but I have some ideas. Based on my-- again-- my own ideologies, my own beliefs, my research, but also, my life experience.
And that's something that we need to recognize. There are too many scholars who go up there, they throw Hofstede, Bennett, et cetera. But they're not part of what they saying. I'm sorry-- I have experienced a lot of stuff, like all of you here. And I can't just leave it behind and pretend that that's not an impact on my life.
Something we talked about a little bit yesterday-- intersectionality is becoming a cliche these days. I mean, it's got a not so long history. But intercultural education is still unexplored. The idea that when we look at intercultural encounters, of course, we can look at race, the impact of race, ethnicity, or culture.
But we also need to look at other aspects, such as the socioeconomics, the power relations, the political historical categories, the linguistic background of the people. You know that depending on your accent, depending on your origins, you might be treated very differently. And this is not related-- well, of course, it might be related to culture, whatever you mean by that-- but it's very much related to our representations of the author, yeah?
About my background. I've got a very strange background. Maybe not so strange, but in Finland, it's very weird. I'm a new Finn. It means I wasn't born in Finland.
But I'm labeled as a new Finn. I hope I become a real Finn at some point, but I don't know-- I think that'd be impossible. But that is the official label-- new Finn. And by the way, they elect the best new Finn of the year every year, which is quite interesting.
But they won't choose me. They won't choose me, because I'm white, you see? I mean, you know, I don't need to integrate, because I'm part of the elite, in a sense. So they always put forward, you know, Muslim women, and blah, blah, blah. Anyway, let's not go into this.
And so I was born near Paris, actually, of a trilingual family. We had three different languages, several nationalities. And I moved to Finland 22 years ago.
And when I moved to-- I studied in England. And so when I moved to Finland, I had a bit of a British accent. I mean, these days, it's probably just whatever.
And so when people met me, they assumed I was British, OK? My grandmother was British, but I've never had a British passport. And so they would make assumptions about me.
And then the question, whereabouts in England are you from would always come. That's important, because people wanted to know, which is very normal. And then I'd say, well, actually, I was born in Paris.
And it was so fascinating to see the change of attitudes-- how suddenly, systematically, people would say, so you're French? I'd say yeah, amongst other things. But you speak English.
And I'd go like, yeah, and-- But the French are really rubbish at other languages. They're very arrogant, and they don't, blah, blah, blah.
And I would go like, oh, wow. Well, maybe you should have stayed in your imaginary of me being British. Because I don't like what you're saying about me now, you know, because that's definitely not me. And so that happens quite often.
And I went through a crisis for about seven years. Because, of course, the question, where are you from is a very, very normal question. But for many people, it's not an obvious question to answer.
We're also interested in the undertones and nuances, rather than the generalizations. And I think that many of you will see that. But we're also interested in what Maffesoli-- I love this term-- he says the collective ego.
A lot of approaches to intercultural competence are very individualistic in the sense that we only look at one individual. But what the individual does is related very much to what they do in a specific context with specific people and with the different voices-- and I'm not mad, hopefully-- different voices that they have in their heads about what's happening when they meet other people. So intercultural competence is really about I plus others, but also I I's-- the different I's that are in myself and that are intervening in the interaction that I'm having with the other.
And, of course, the aspect of power is essential. There's no way we can work on intercultural competence without problematizing power. Because whatever we do on a daily basis, whatever we-- I mean, whether it's things we say, you know, the impressions that we're giving-- are related to the power relations between us and the other.
So I think it's urgent to move away from very individualistic approaches where, for example, I'm going to assess your intercultural competence, so I'm going to give you an interview. Or I'm going to ask you to talk to her. I'm going to observe how you behave, and I'm going to give you a grade.
No, that doesn't make sense. If I wanted to give a grade-- which I wouldn't, because, of course, as educators, we're not gods-- I mean, I think that most of us don't really have intercultural competence. Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't.
I wouldn't give a grade to the two of you, because you guys are working together. But that would still be unfair, because I'm here, taking part in the interaction by observing you. So of course I have an impact on what you guys are doing.
The commonalities, differences, questioning these-- I think that's important. And moving away from-- don't murder me-- but what I call the pornography of difference. And to look at-- you know, there's this dichotomy sometimes of universalism and diversity. Maffesoli, again, has suggested the idea of unidiversalism, meaning there's the two always, and not just one side or the other.
Make it more political rather than neutral. When I was looking at some of the posters earlier-- very fascinating, by the way. Spend time looking at them.
I found them to be not very political, as always. Very neutral, in a sense. Not discussing certain issues that we don't want to put on the table when we do interculturality, because they wouldn't be politically correct.
The importance of the imaginary, the playful, and the dreaming. When we meet somebody, we are performing. And a lot of the things that we do, a lot of the things that the other does, are related to our own imaginaries. And that means that there are a lot of things that we can't explain about intercultural encounters. And I think we need to accept it.
And we need to accept as well that we fail sometimes. It's not just about success. I mean, this obsession that intercultural competence-- somebody who is competent should be successful. Successful for who?
I might feel successful in this situation, but then somebody is observing and say, well, no. You were very unsuccessful there. Though they wouldn't tell you this in that way. So I believe that through failure, of course, and the recognition of failure, we can learn a lot than just facade success.
OK. I had a few quotes, but I will send you the PowerPoint presentations. Yeah. I mean, these are fascinating, but--
Models. We live in a world of model. But I'm not a model person. And that will be-- I have one slide left.
Holiday et al-- brilliant. 2009. Have a look at this, OK? I like what they're doing.
If you ask me, of course, to define intercultural competence, well, I would be tempted to say, I don't want to do that. But of course, I have to make a proposal. This is my proposal. It's a work in progress. It will never be finished.
And I wish that when we define intercultural competence, we would keep reminding people that we're going to change it. Because there's no end product for these issues. So this is what I would say-- it's about "becoming aware of, recognizing, pushing through, presenting/defending, and questioning brackets assumptions about one's identity or identification, and diverse diversity--" Now, the idea of diverse diversity is to counter the use of the word diversity in this very simple way that diversity is only the other.
"--as well as those of others. And re-negotiating them in a 'satisfactory' "-- and note, I put satisfactory between inverted commas and in red, because I don't believe in this. I don't know what it means, but I can't find something else. "--manner with and for our interlocutors in specific context, and if we have time,"-- which most of the time, we don't-- "ad infinitum."
And this is my advice. I'll just leave them there for you to see. Thank you. Thanks very much. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: Thank you. I'll repeat the question. The word "tolerance"-- reflect on it with regard-- or vis a vis sensitivity. I also would like you to reflect and talk about-- in one of your writings, you mentioned something about competencies instead of one competence. Could you talk about that please?
FRED DERVIN: Sure. Thank you so much. Very good questions.
Can I start with the second one, which is the easiest? Ha ha. Competencies-- yeah, I've used the idea of competencies as well to reflect on the idea that first of all, sometimes, the idea of intercultural competence gives you an impression that there's a goal that you can reach, and there's a direction. There's somewhere where you're going. And that, in a sense, in many models, you can reach it.
Of course, that's impossible. Because I claim that intercultural competence is very much about-- it's very contextual. It's very transactional.
So depending on who are we talking to, depending on my mood, depending on the context, et cetera, sometimes, you might have the impression that you are very competent, whatever that means. Sometimes you might have the impression that you're not. So by putting the word in the plural, in a sense, what I wanted to say, or to claim, was that we need to see it from a more pluralistic perspective in a sense. So that's the one.
The second one about tolerance and sensitivity. Now, that sounds like a Jane Austen novel, actually.
Can I use that for my next book? [LAUGHING] I'll accrue to you.
No. I mean, seriously-- yeah. It's a very tricky question.
The problem about sensitivity is that you're still dealing with interactions. And you can't really know-- I mean, of course, sometimes we have a good impression-- but you can't really know what's happening in the other person's head. So sometimes, you might believe that you were very good at being sensitive to certain issues, et cetera. But maybe the other one was actually not very impressed by what you said or did.
And, of course, there are things that we can be very sensitive about. I mean, in the earlier discussion that I had-- is the lovely student I was talking to in the room now? No, she's not here, so I won't talk about it.
But we had-- I mean, as part of our discussions, there was a very sensitive point that I wanted to raise. And when I met the student first, I knew I was going to ask that question. But I wanted to spend time with her and to negotiate, you know, meaning, and spend-- and see how much I could push before I came to that question.
And when I asked my question, you know, I have to be honest-- I could tell that she was a bit surprised, in a sense, by the question. Because it was not very politically correct, in a sense. But the answer she gave me was extremely convincing. And-- I don't know, maybe I'll talk to her later.
I think that she was quite happy about people actually daring to ask that question. Because, yeah. But it's long-term never-ending no miracle. Yeah.
Of course, these are just words. I mean, tolerance maybe is OK, if we know what we put behind it. And if we don't set it as a fake idea in a sense. You know what I mean?
I'm a human being, also. And I know that I am very unpredictable. That I am an actor, like everyone. And the older I get, the less I want to be an actor. The more power I get through my work, through my position, the more I can afford to do this.
But of course, there are many people who don't have that sort of power. And who wouldn't dare to question, who wouldn't dare to go as far sometimes, because they don't have the authority. I have some issues with my doctoral students, for example. Because they train through me-- so they are killers, as you can imagine.
But I really have to train them to shut up sometimes. You know, the other day, one of my students sent a long, really aggressive email on the list about something-- she was really annoyed, because there was a new position opening in my faculty. And the ad was only in Finnish. And we have a lot of doctoral students who are Finnish who do not speak-- so she wrote and said, again, that's unfair, blah, blah, blah.
And I wrote to her and I said, please, if you want to get a position one day, just shut up, OK? When you're in a situation of power, please, yeah, you can do it. Or you can go and talk to the dean, face-to-face, but not by email. So yeah. I don't know if I answered your question, but I tried.
Thanks for the presentation. Thank you. I was just wondering if-- I took an American Sign Language class-- a couple of them, actually. And the woman who taught it was deaf. And she said, for the deaf community, traveling in other countries doesn't feel very different than being in their own country.
And I wanted to know if this kind of-- just by you shaking your head like that-- I guess it reinforces what you're saying. But can you expand on that a little bit more?
Thank you so much. It's the sort of work I would love to do. I would love to do that.
Please look at the last point I had there. Training for the intercultural should be out there at home as well. Because, of course, the phenomena that I'm referring to here-- they don't just take place when you cross a national border, when you're talking to somebody from the outside, in a sense.
But it also happens within-- oh! Am I going to use the word? Communities.
And I think that the hierarchy between what's happening out there and what's happening here in terms of, you know, not-- is sometimes very problematic. And I'm not surprised by what you say. I know I'm very ignorant, I have to say, about the situation of these people. But I don't even know if there's research, actually, about blind people, or whatever the term is, in study abroad.
Some years ago I started a project about homosexual students who were going abroad. I stopped very quickly, because, first of all, that was not really acceptable in my context. Because we are a very homophobic country, believe it or not. We're one of the only countries, by the way, that hasn't passed a law for same-sex marriage. But we're supposed to be open-minded.
And it was really interesting to see how-- I got to interview some students, so I can't really generalize. But it was interesting to see how they were comparing the experience of interculturality to their experience of negotiating, back at home, this queer, whatever, identity. And I think there are many examples like this.
Think about religion as well. Yeah. I do believe-- I believe that we need to look at different populations of people who are moving. And not just to look at these sort of, whatever, majority powerful people that we have.
There's research that hasn't been done that should be done on-- and I'm not crazy about-- I think that would be fascinating-- sex in study abroad. Sex as interculturality. Because for example, I have done a lot of research on Chinese students in Finland and in England. It's always the same stuff, you know.
But once-- because I always asked the same question-- how did you adapt, blah, blah, blah. How do you find-- you know. And then one day, just because I was feeling comfortable with a student, I said, what about sex?
And the student was like, hm? And then she started talking for two hours about what had happened during her study abroad, and how much it had brought her in terms of dealing with otherness, and dealing with the other, et cetera, et cetera.
You don't usually find this sort of data or the sort of information in research, because, of course, that's extremely taboo. But I think it would be-- well, of course, you need to be-- today, in a sense. But to look into these issues. Because maybe by ignoring these aspects and other aspects of the study abroad experience, we are ignoring a lot of learning, a lot of experiences that we don't have access to, because we are so conservative in a sense.
Or because we have pressure from our institutions not to work on certain topics, because they are taboo. Yeah. But thank you. Thanks. Do you know any research on that?
AUDIENCE: No, and I always bring it up.
FRED DERVIN: It's a great point, yeah. Continue bringing it up all the time. Thank you.
AUDIENCE: One more question.
FRED DERVIN: OK, good. And I'll be quick.
AUDIENCE: Aloha. This is a personal question just for you as a human being. You mentioned a couple times that you really like America. I'm just curious, what are a couple things you like about America?
FRED DERVIN: How long do you have? No, OK. I'm-- OK. As you've probably noticed, I'm always against what I believe the majority-- what I believe the majority believes.
Before Obama, the Obama administration, I got very tired of the fact that in Europe everybody was spitting on America because of certain political issues. And at the time, I had visited New York-- I mean, which is not America. I mean, it's part of America, but it's not America, obviously.
And I had a certain idea that it was a noisy place. And I was there in the winter-- it was as cold as bloody Finland, you know, and blah, blah, blah. So when there were all these discussions in Europe, I came to America several times, to different parts of America to see for myself, different kinds of Americas.
And that's when I fell in love with America. I fell in love with the diversity of the landscapes, realizing that actually, there's no such place as America, but there are Americas, you know?
And also-- I mean, this is based only on my imaginary, but I still have the idea that things can happen in America. You know, especially at the moment in Europe, we're sort of stuck. The economy's not doing well. You're doing a bit better, apparently.
And, you know, there's still so many-- I mean, there are hierarchies here as well, but they seem to be quite different. And when I come here, but this is my experience-- there's not so much pressure from people trying to find out where I really come from. Do you know what I mean?
I feel sometimes that people are very uncomfortable about trying to push the-- but where are you really from? I know it happens to certain people, but it rarely happens to me.
I mean, I was on a taxi in Arizona a few months ago. And, you know, I hate taxis in Finland or wherever, because there's always-- you have to do the small talk, in a sense. And I know that at some point, we're going to get to the question, so where are you really from? Which is a very normal question, but irritating.
And I was so surprised. I was talking to this guy, who didn't even bother to ask the question. He could hear very clearly that I was not from around there. Of course, maybe that's an exception, and there would be other exceptions in Finland.
And I like the dynamism. I like-- I even like what people call, like, trash American films, et cetera. I mean, I think they're great! I mean, they're not making us stupid or anything. I mean, there's a lot of stuff we produce in Europe that is making us stupid as well.
And also, it's a new country. I love new countries. And that's it. So long live America.
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Fred Dervin, professor of multicultural education at the University of Helsinki, spoke at Cornell's third Internationalization Symposium, "The Globally Engaged Campus: Defining and Redefining Where We Are," May 18, 2016. The symposium explored Cornell’s opportunities for meaningful international experiences on the Ithaca campus.