As a student in Carolyn Finck’s project-based course on intercultural competencies, I was interested in how it would sensitize me and direct my empathy towards social groups that constantly find themselves in unequal environments. This was not the only objective this course accomplished; it also gave me tools to use that empathy to act in benefit of those groups (of course not in an immediate way) at least making them aware of how they could improve their situation in relation to their particular reality, context and dispositions. The last objective was possible due to the amount of cases and examples we read and discussed as well as the concepts we could apply in our own project.
The steps that the course followed—investigating the community, having a first approach through interviews and/or observation, and maintaining this continuity for four weeks—were an accurate methodology to understand in detail one issue they were struggling with and to get a possible solution. I think the methodology of this course, characterized by the formal application of concepts and conclusions we got from distant or close examples, was the key to comprehend their real meaning and what they represent in a real or tangible/close context.
Most of the examples that were closer to our daily lives opened our eyes to several contexts in which we trespass every day, making us question more by adopting a critical point of view. With these characteristics, this course helped me appropriate those concepts and to understand their necessity in the actual world. This is especially important because the coherence between the actual world and the course was absolute, teaching us that by understanding a particular context we can understand what the words, ideas and unique problems mean so we can think of coherent and integral models in relation to their benefit.
When I appropriate these concepts, all of the above was facilitated, and I could start thinking about many contexts and examples that weren’t even mentioned in the course. By this addition of new examples, I was able to understand the short distance between what we think of as macroscale and microscale in social contexts; they all gather a macro vision that needs to be analyzed in enough detail, so it also includes a micro perspective, which ends up as an integral and complex vision. I think the reason why this resonated with my personal context was the way the course directed its intentions and themes towards a personal comprehension of their importance in our daily lives.
As a Colombian student, I am intrigued by the social, economic and political inequality that flies and settles through our mountains, which gets closer to every context than a bird could possibly get. These skills make us capable of observing an unequal relationship, context, recognition or space. Consequently, this awakens us to find answers and solutions so we can solve it or at least, decrease it. The intercultural competence course and its methodology is for certain a precise tool for the reality we are in, giving us not only tools, but also the chance to appropriate important social/psychological concepts in academic and personal contexts.
Helena Pradilla is a 4th year student at Universidad de los Andes in Bogotá, Colombia. She is majoring in Psychology and Anthropology.
Read the companion piece, “Just looking around campus”: Reflecting on Culture in an Online and Project Based Course, by her instructor, Carolyn Finck.