Why it’s brave to face up to your unconscious biases and support the LGBTQ+ community

Why it’s brave to face up to your unconscious biases and support the LGBTQ+ community

Today marks The International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia. The reason it’s marked on May 17th is because that was the day – only back in 1990 – when the World Health Organisation decided to declassify homosexuality as a mental disorder. In 2022 it’s shocking to imagine that people’s sexual orientation were ever deemed a mental illness and in such relatively modern history.

LGBTQ+ community

Let’s all be brave this International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia day © Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash

That doesn’t mean that we’ve reached a perfect place when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community and their acceptance within society. We still have a long way to go – but we’re at least on the right path. And it’s a path that requires bravery.

I personally feel very fortunate that I come from a family of brave women. My mother went against the norm back in the 1970s and decided not to travel back to the US to give birth to me. She stayed in Spain. It was considered a ‘brave’ choice then and is something that makes me very proud of her. That bravery has been passed down to me in my desire to work towards a better, more equitable world and also down through to my daughter. She has had the bravery to come out as pansexual – having researched online for herself what makes sense to her.  She has educated me about these different facets of sexuality; explaining that pansexuality means that she can be attracted to anyone – regardless of their gender or sexuality. 

 LGBTQ+ rights

Even in Western countries there can still be a residual unconscious bias towards people who step outside the ‘norm’ of heterosexuality © Photo by Thiago Barletta on Unsplash

It also makes me painfully aware that not everyone is as fortunate as my daughter and our family. Not everyone is in a position to be open about who they truly are. Even in Western countries there can still be a residual unconscious bias towards people who step outside the ‘norm’ of heterosexuality – with many in the LGBTQ+ community fearing physical violence against themselves.

And that is why it’s so important to be aware of one’s own biases. I’d recommend that everyone check out Harvard University’s Implicit Bias Project. In their own words, “The mission of Project Implicit is to educate the public about bias and to provide a “virtual laboratory” for collecting data on the internet.” It’s a great way for teachers, students, employers etc to check for their own blind spots in order to interact with others in a more equitable way.

Let’s all be brave this International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia day and face up to our unconscious biases and support those around us may need it. 

System Two Thinking For Mental Health Month

System Two Thinking For Mental Health Month

“The easiest way to increase happiness is to control your use of time. Can you find more time to do the things you enjoy doing?” 

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

Daniel Kahneman, the 2002 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Sciences winner and author of the fantastic ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow‘ asks an interesting question that we could all value from pondering during this Mental Health Month of May. In a fast-paced modern world, it often takes superhuman effort to slow down and smell the roses. 

Mental health matters

Mental Health Matters – We need to be in a good place ourselves to be able to support others. © Photo by Tiago Bandeira on Unsplash

System Two Thinking And Mental Health

And slowing down to appreciate life is a great way to improve your sense of wellbeing but also slowing down your way of thinking can reap rewards in myriad ways too. In Kahneman’s same book, he discusses the benefits of System Two thinking – slowing down, working the brain harder, making conscious and deliberate decisions rather than jumping to conclusions which is the hallmark of System One thinking. 

System Two thinking is put into gear when working on difficult math problems or learning a new language or instrument. It’s also what we use when in a new environment and meeting new people. Conversely, fast-paced System One thinking is automatic and effortless – it loves to jump to conclusion based on shortcuts, based on what it thinks it knows. This is when it becomes easy to fall into the trap of using stereotypes to interpret what is around us.

Adapting To New Cultures

Which is why working on diversity and inclusion when moving between cultures and countries is so crucial. By being aware of the two types of thinking, of checking ourselves for automatic stereotypes, we have a much better chance of adapting into new environments and, at the same time, protecting our mental health. This is especially important for study abroad students who need to be prepared with coping mechanisms for the transition shock they are bound to experience in a new culture. (See The Cultural Transitions Model: Moving beyond Culture Shock to Enhance Student Learning Abroad by Paige E. Butler) 

Paige E. Butler Ed.D. and Janice Abarbanel PhD

The 2018 panel I shared with Paige E. Butler Ed.D. and Janice Abarbanel PhD

I spoke on a panel with Paige E. Butler Ed.D. and Janice Abarbanel PhD in 2018 about this very subject, entitled ‘Challenging the Culture Shock Paradigm: Preparing Students to Effectively Navigate Cultural Transitions’. We went through mental health stigmas and stereotypes and highlighted the importance of building resilience in young people. And a great way to do with is to ignite curiosity in their brains. Learning more about other people and other cultures is a fantastic way of transitioning into a new environment and something we can all foster when in new situations. 

Ask For Help

And not just in new situations. Research has shown that curiosity is often associated with higher levels of positive emotions, with lower levels of anxiety, with more satisfaction in life and with greater psychological well-being. But obviously everyone has different situations and needs and sometimes reaching out to mental health professionals is the only way to overcome a problem. 

On which note, I’d like to thank all those who work in mental health. Their incredible support during dark days is immeasurable. Bearing in mind that stress due to cultural differences as well as issues around diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging can also lead to mental problems that require trained medical help and we can see how far-reaching such help can be. We should all make sure to seek help when needed. And using System Two thinking and sparking curiosity in daily life are also two other tips I want to pass on this Mental Health Month. We need to be in a good place ourselves to be able to support others. Don’t take your mental health for granted!

IU & APUNE partnership – the perfect match to support study abroad students, staff and faculty in cross-cultural situations

IU & APUNE partnership – the perfect match to support study abroad students, staff and faculty in cross-cultural situations

IU & APUNE partnership – the perfect match to support study abroad students, staff and faculty in cross-cultural situations

Almendra Staffa-Healey has spent 17 years heading up the EUSA Academic Internship Program

It’s always important to embrace change and new opportunities. And that is why I couldn’t be more excited about this new APUNE partnership. 

I am delighted to announce that Intercultural Understanding is now a proud sponsor of The Association of American Programs in Spain (APUNE)! I personally have a long connection with the association, having previously been on their board as part of my work with EUSA. I am also a trainer and facilitator for APUNE and I am so excited about the new opportunities that this APUNE partnership will bring me. 

APUNE partnership

Intercultural Understanding is now the proud sponsor of APUNE

APUNE is a non-profit cultural association whose aim is to promote international exchange between Spain and the US. It was founded in 1968 and is the oldest association in Europe dedicated to supporting American university study abroad programs. Interestingly, Spain has the highest population of US study abroad students in the world (source: STATISTA) – so these kind of support initiatives are crucial for the thousands of students who choose Spain (in the 2019/2020 academic year alone, the number who studied in Spain was 19,792).

And just like EUSA, which helps place US students in internships in Europe, APUNE provides a support network which is crucial for young people who are far from their native land and comfort zone. Organisations like these two are fantastic for giving a space and platform for new educational and vocational developments. 

In the 2019/2020 academic year alone, the number who studied in Spain was 19,792

Intercultural Understanding makes the perfect partner to support APUNE since we have vast experience in working with students, faculty and staff and helping them to adapt to each other’s culture. Our many years of working with a diverse student intake and making sure they feel recognized and included means that we are in an optimal position to help students in any way needed and to make sure that the adaption process is as seamless as possible. IU also works with staff and faculty at universities so they are better prepared to receive these students and help with the assimilation into the local culture.

APUNE partnership

Students benefit in myriad ways from experiencing life in a different culture. Photo by javier trueba on Unsplash

This APUNE partnership is a win-win situation for all. For the students who will benefit in myriad ways from experiencing life in a different culture – opening up their minds to new ways of thinking and hopefully creating lifelong friendships and memories. For the universities who will benefit from internationalization through an influx of new students with a different culture, whose diverse way of thinking will help local students think in a new way. And for Intercultural Understanding, who will benefit from closer ties with students and universities. We all grow and thrive when experiencing new situations and challenges – it’s always important to embrace change and new opportunities. And that is why I couldn’t be more excited with this new partnership.

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Spotlight on new courses for parents or educators who want to help cross culture kids navigate the modern world

Spotlight on new courses for parents or educators who want to help cross culture kids navigate the modern world

Spotlight on new courses for parents or educators who want to help cross culture kids navigate the modern world

Almendra Staffa-Healey has spent 17 years heading up the EUSA Academic Internship Program

Two in-depth courses led by Almendra Staffa-Healey will take place at the International Institute in Madrid in the coming months, with hopes of future online courses about Cross Culture Kids too.

Growing up between different cultures can be extremely tricky for young people, especially bearing in mind that they are already navigating the road of adolescence in a complex digital, pandemic-era world. And two new courses in April, May and June at the International Institute (c/Miguel Ángel, Madrid), are set to help parents and educators with the these unique challenges that being a Cross Culture Kid or a Third Culture Kid can pose. It’s not just the kids who struggle with these unique situations but their parents and/or educators too.

Almendra Staffa-Healey was a cross culture kid herselfAlmendra Staffa-Healy has personal experience of being a Cross Culture Kid.
Photo © International Institute

Raising The Citizens Of The Future – Part One: Toddlers to Junior High School and Part Two: High School to University will be led by me –  Almendra Staffa-Healy – and will consist of 5 sessions each. These will be uniquely tailored events and parents and educators are welcome to bring their own personal experiences and queries to the table. I will do my best to adapt each session according to these specific needs. 

Two courses at the International Institute in Madrid will focus on Cross Culture Kids and how parents and educators can help them adapt both at home and at school

The courses will help give a clearer picture of what it’s like for Cross Culture Kids or Third Culture Kids (and believe me – I will be speaking from personal experience as a TCK and as mother of CCKs!). But they will also create a space for adults to think about what it means for them. We will be using current developmental and intercultural theories to deeply explore how we grow and what factors may shape our experiences and meaning making. There will be lots of activities to help understand the different  developmental  stages of kids and adolescents and I’ll give you plenty of guidance to help carry out exercise at home or at school with youngsters – to help them negotiate this confusing world that they find themselves in – and to really help them become citizens of the world.

Courses at the International Institute will focus on Cross Cultural Kids

Growing up between different cultures can be extremely tricky for young people, Photo Photo ©  Unsplash 

The two courses will include the following content and much more:

Bilingualism or multilingualism.  What does it mean in the family home when children speak a different language to one or both of their parents? Or in a school setting – how can educators help facilitate a seamless learning experience with various languages spoken in the class? The age of the child is obviously crucial for context and I will take into account the differences age has when talking about this subject.

Traditions and values. Whether it means celebrating Christmas Day or Los Reyes Magos (or both!), Halloween or Todos Los Santos, there are myriad traditions and customs that vary from culture to culture. During the courses we will explore the differences between a family culture and a local one and highlight why it’s crucial to understand the importance of local traditions and what values they transmit. Specific activities will work on these concepts, to help families figure out their own culture identifying their truest values, and how they fit in with the local one or the one they are learning about.

Different phases. The courses will take a deep dive into each different stage of childhood and adolescence – and all the parallel school changes from Primary through to University. How do these changes affect the young person and the development of their identity?

Emotional Intelligence. We’ll work on strategies to support the mental health of our Third Culture or Cross Culture Kids by focusing on emotional intelligence through all the different ages and stages. We’ll learn how we, as parents, guardians or educators can really help kids find their way through these complicated stages.

Of course if you’re not in Madrid and the subject matter of Cross Culture Kids interest you, I’d be delighted to hear from you. A future online version is very much a possibility and I’d love to find out from readers what they would find particularly useful, especially in terms of dates and duration. Click here to drop me a line.

 

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Achieve an outstanding result on your intercultural training with these three essential factors from Self-Determination Theory

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If competence, relatedness and autonomy are incorporated into trainings and office environments, the potential benefits are myriad

Intercultural communication and diversity trainers strive to make a lasting impact through their programs. However trying to get people to intrinsically take on board diversity trainings can often feel like a struggle. But what if there was a proven way to make courses – or any work for that matter – something that is assimilated with ease? That is where Self-Determination Theory comes into play.

 Self-Determination Theory is based on three basic psychological factors that need to be met for well-being and optimal performance
Self-Determination Theory is based on three basic psychological factors that need to be met forwell-being and optimal performance.Photo by @sincerelymedia on Unsplash

Developed by Edward L. Deci and Richard M. Ryan in the mid-1980s, Self-Determination Theory posits that there are three basic psychological factors that need to be met for general well-being and optimal performance. They initially developed their theory to focus mainly on employees in big companies but their theory can be used in many situations: from students, through sports coaching to parenting. Using it in the field of intercultural training is a particularly useful way of increasing the likelihood of a successful training outcome.

The first is competence. This means that your trainees or employees need to feel a sense of mastery and empowerment in their jobs. They need to feel like they’re capable of carrying out a task well. When people feel they have the skills for the task in hand, they are more likely to take action to achieve their goals. Because gaining intercultural competency is a developmental process , it’s crucial that you include a combination of practice and reflection for success. It’s also important your employees/trainees receive positive feedback when goals are reached to encourage this sense of competence.

The second is relatedness. Those you are working with need to feel a sense of belonging in their training/workplace. Without this perception of connection your employees/trainees may feel as though they are not being recognized, helped or supported enough. If they feel part of an inclusive team, and are respected for who they are, then connection will be a given. It’s specifically this need for relatedness that makes Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging (DEIB) such a crucial part of a healthy workplace. It’s important to avoid criticism, cliques and competition, which can easily undermine this sense of belonging.

Self-Determination Theory is a powerful way of giving your trainees or employees agency over their learning and development. Photo by Nick Morrison on Unsplash

And the third psychological need is that of autonomy. If employees/trainees are able to make their own decisions and feel in control of their situation, then their sense of autonomy increases as does their intrinsic motivation. People in the workplace are more likely to experience autonomy when they feel supported to take the initiative, to explore and develop solutions for their problems.

If these three needs – competence, relatedness and autonomy – are incorporated into trainings and office environments, the potential benefits are myriad. Self-Determination Theory is a powerful way of giving your trainees or employees agency over their learning and development. By making sure they feel part of a team, that they feel that they are capable of reaching goals and that they have the independence to do so will mean that your training will be properly assimilated.  A win-win for all concerned!