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How to Pursue an Intercultural Career

Advice from our Executive Director, Anne P. Copeland, PhD


    I recommend the following, in roughly ascending order of commitment:
    1. Start reading. Begin building your library. I recommend bookmarking and frequently checking Intercultural Press. This is an excellent single source for intercultural books in the US--pick a few books that grab your attention, perhaps because they address a person or work experience you have had. Here is a very brief overview of some core cultural concepts to get you started. And here is a good, free collection of background readings compiled by a group at Western Washington University. And here is a concise one-page summary of some core concepts. There are hundreds of wonderful books and articles out there and it's hard to pick just a few to recommend; here are a few that were important to me in my learning and/or are classics in the field:

    American Cultural Patterns (Stewart & Bennett)

    Becoming Interculturally Competent (Bennett)

    The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently...and Why (Nisbett)

    Lost in Translation (Hoffman)

    The Art of Crossing Cultures (Storti)

    Riding the Waves of Culture (Trompenaars & Hampden-Turner)

    Cultures and Organizations: Software of the Mind (Hofstede & Hofstede)

    Any of Edward Hall's books

    2. Start learning from your new colleagues. I recommend:
    a. The InterculturalInsights listserv on Yahoo (go to: www.yahoo.com and apply to be in the Intercultural insights group; explain your background and interests in your application). The group includes intercultural trainers around the world who discuss books, articles, news events, and anecdotes within an intercultural framework.

    b. Check our list of Resources for some web sites by colleagues whom I respect.
    3. Get personal experience. There are many ways to learn about intercultural issues, and I recommend doing as many of them as your lifestyle allows. Put yourself in situations where there are people from other cultures and listen and watch. Work or volunteer with international people in your community. Travel. Better yet, live in another culture for a while, if possible.

    4. Attend professional meetings of like-minded people. I recommend:
    a. Families in Global Transition (FIGT) -- holds an annual conference for people involved in helping families in intercultural transition; corporate, foreign service, education, military and missions sectors share their ideas and solutions

    b. Society for Intercultural Education, Training, and Research (SIETAR) -- groups and conferences around the world for intercultural trainers, educators and researchers.

    5. Take some courses. I recommend:

    a. Crossing Cultures with Competence, our training of trainers program for those who already have professional, academic, personal, intercultural and/or training expertise. Program fee covers a two-day training workshop, a full kit of materials to deliver cross-cultural orientations, and the site license to photocopy and use materials in unlimited numbers. Participants should have a basic familiarity with core cultural concepts before enrolling--here's a summary.

    b. Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication offers excellent week-long programs on a variety of training, intercultural, and diversity issues.

    6. Get graduate training. This is obviously a big step and you'll want to ensure that the course focus matches your interest, and that the academic training and credential you'll get will be worthwhile. A growing number of masters and doctoral programs in the social sciences and education have an intercultural focus. Here are some masters degree programs (in alphabetical order) whose graduates have gone on to wonderful intercultural careers:

    a. Intercultural Communication Institute in Portland, OR and the University of the Pacific in Stockton, CA: Master of Arts in Intercultural Relations (a distance-learning program)

    b. Lesley University (Cambridge, MA): Master of Arts in Intercultural Relations

    c. School for International Training (Brattleboro, VT): variety of Masters degree programs in the intercultural field

    d. Thunderbird School of Management (Scottsdale, AZ): MBA in International Management (www.thunderbird.edu)
    If you pursue the field of psychology, check the International Association for Cross-Cultural Psychology’s list of programs, and the International Psychology Information Clearinghouse: (see especially p73-Resources for American Psychology Students and p86-Resources for non-USA Psychology Students)
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