Team Intercultural Dialogue
In this article Dine Brinkman of the Wageningen University, describes the evolution, tasks and scope of the Team Intercultural Dialogue and explores its relevance and main results.
The Team Intercultural Dialogue has been created by the Executive Board of Wageningen UR to advise on intercultural issues and to strengthen the dialogue between the richness of cultures within the Wageningen UR community. Both staff and students participate in the team. Intercultural dialogue is defined as a process that promotes an open and respectful interaction between individuals and groups with different cultural backgrounds. The Team has developed plans to create the conditions for intercultural dialogue and suggest solutions for problems in the event they occur.
The Wageningen University and Research Center (Wageningen UR) has a long and successful tradition as an international institute, having foreign staff and students in it’s community in numbers which are clearly increasing. At present more than 2000 students and 300 staff come from abroad. Moreover, since the recent introduction of the Bachelor-Master system, Wageningen UR offers one programme as opposed to separate programmes for foreign and Dutch students in the past. Consequently, students from all over the world study and live together and cultural diversity is explicitly described as an important ‘extra’ for Wageningen students and other members of the Wageningen UR community.
However, that ‘extra’ will not be achieved automatically. A multicultural environment with an array of nationalities and backgrounds bring clear issues, opportunities and challenges which need to be addressed. To this end, the Executive Board set up the Team Intercultural Dialogue.
The Team Intercultural Dialogue consists of 8 members, coming from various sections of the University:
Student, member of Student Council
Lecturer Chair Group Education and Competence studies in intercultural communication
Professor, Chair Group Plant Production Systems
Student dean/ confidential advisor for students
Lecturer Chair Group Animal Breeding and Genetics/ student advisor Animal Sciences
Staff Department for Education & Research, Strategy section (internationalisation of the social and study setting)
PhD Programme coordinator PE&RC Graduate School
Confidential advisor (personnel)
The team had meetings once every 2 months and in between members collected information via their (university) networks and formulated proposals for improvement of facilities and for activities that would stimulate interaction between students of various cultural backgrounds. One of the most visible activities was the organising of the Week of Cultural Diversity.
The Team Intercultural Dialogue has the task to formulate advices for the Executive Board and other policy boards, on request and by own initiative, about intercultural issues with regard to the study environment, social environment and working environment of Wageningen University.
The Team started working on practical issues and expected ideas to arise step by step during this process of ‘learning by doing’. Each team member consulted his/her network to inform on experiences with multicultural and intercultural matters in the international context.
Some of the main activities are:
The organisation of Wageningen UR Week of Cultural Diversity in September 2008 including launching of website, art project, culture café, intercultural communication workshop, information market, intercultural dinner, party, lecture etc.
To collect experiences and suggestions collected in explorative meeting with foreign staff of a Sciences Group.
To collect experiences and suggestions collected in contacts with Wageningen UR supportive staff (Human Resource Management (HRM), Company Social Workers, Educational Staff Development Group.
Some of the main achievements are:
Improved reception of foreign students and buddy system, also for January arrivals.
Wageningen UR Week of Cultural Diversity including launching of website, art project, culture café, intercultural communication workshop, information market, intercultural dinner, party, lecture etc.
Experiences and suggestions collected in explorative meeting with foreign staff of a Sciences Group.
Experiences and suggestions collected in contacts with Wageningen UR supportive staff (Human Resource Management (HRM), Company Social Workers (BMW), Educational Staff Development Group (DO).
All this resulting in a concrete Plan of Initiatives for the Executive Board. Furthermore, an important qualitative result is that the Board of Directors officially formulated the mission and vision of Wageningen UR with regard to the multicultural environment for education and research.
Thus, the Wageningen UR focuses on global issues concerning “the potential of nature to improve the quality of life”. It is an international front runner on its domains. The international experience of its staff, reflected in the ability to illustrate global issues with examples from the field is world famous. To maintain and strengthen it’s position in these fields, amongst others by attracting international top quality staff and excellent students in the increasing competition with other (international) organisations, Wageningen UR must further enhance its international environment, status and appeal. The Wageningen UR international setting, in which all staff and students operate in an intercultural competent way, offers Wageningen UR a unique selling point to keep its front position.
Wageningen UR, as a highly qualified international organisation, aims to be characterized by the following:
Wageningen UR is internationally recognized for its top research and education in an international environment. The international context and environment of research and education are naturally woven into decision-making, resource allocation and social interaction.
An open culture, a culture of inclusion is the norm. Cultural diversity and intercultural competency are part of ‘the way WUR operates’ and are seen as the responsibility of all. Wageningen UR students and staff think and work actively towards an open culture and towards integration of students/ staff of diverse backgrounds. The diversity of cultures within the Wageningen UR community and its enrichment is being exposed explicitly.
The ambitions of Wageningen UR as an intercultural competent organisation are being communicated explicitly to prospective students and staff. The developments are being facilitated and monitored on a structural basis and the necessary improvements are initiated.
The Wageningen UR ambitions mentioned above, concern the international context/ content of education and research on the one hand, and the Wageningen UR international environment on the other. ‘International Education & Research’ is not only obtained by attracting international scientists and excellent students, but also by increasing the international experience and mobility of staff and students (more on site activities abroad, an international sabbatical policy and strengthening of international collaboration and investment in international meetings). The ‘international environment’ initiatives will cover a broad scope of different types of activities at different levels in the organization covering the (i) hosting of staff and students; (ii) an international institutional setting and (iii) communication and include the arrangements that are already in place.
Working in the Wageningen UR range of expertise on livelihoods, food, and environment means working with people with different cultural backgrounds and identities. That is why Wageningen UR is a community with an international staff and student population. But what about the idea of developing towards an International Community with people from different cultures being inspired to really meet each other? So that those who depart from Wageningen may enter the world as top professionals and global citizens.
The richly varied group of people from diverse cultures in Wageningen makes studying, working and living exciting but not always easy. It requires trust and respect to meet ‘the other’ and everyone’s recognition that he or she is ‘the other’ too.
Dialogue is needed for a constructive process of studying, working and living in an intercultural environment. To collectively benefit from the challenges and chances diversity offers.
The Team Intercultural Dialogue was meant to provide innovative ideas to stimulate the dialogue between all members of the multicultural community of Wageningen UR. Innovative is that a cross-section of the university community was involved in the Team, different disciplines and functions.
About the author
Dine Brinkman is teacher and trainer, next to her regular teaching tasks in Didactic Skills and Presentation Skills she specialises in intercultural communication training and pre-departure courses. In 1990 she developed the course “Learning and working in a foreign culture”, based on her experiences as co-ordinator and trainer for the Foundation for Professional Training in Development Work. Each year she participates in the Workshop on Intercultural Communication offered to newcoming MSc-students of , as a lecturer and facilitator.
She studied Sociology at the and after her studies worked for four years in in a rural setting as well as in the capital, . In the latest city as project officer for a small Non Governmental Organisation, the Tanzania National Freedom From Hunger Campaign.
Since the founding in 2001 she is actively involved in the Larenstein and Wageningen Alumni Professional Network for AIDS and Rural Development (LAPNARD). She has facilitated workshops and other activities of this network for alumni from Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya, and Ethiopia. She carried out a research on competencies of rural development professionals in the era of HIV/AIDS, financed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
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