Do you want to create an exchange opportunity for youth that goes beyond a "tourist" experience? Or maybe you want to bring together diverse groups within your community for a meaningful encounter? The 4-H Cultural Exchange model provides an avenue to fulfill these goals.
Having facilitated multiple cross-cultural experiences with young people, I've seen the transformative potential, as well as the big challenges that they can bring. I've learned that it's critical to provide intentional preparation for these experiences so that the young people can dive beyond the surface level - where stereotypes can sometimes be reinforced - and get to the deeper conversations and help them dismantle stereotypes. How do we do that?
Paige’s research on intercultural education shows that when we prepare people for intense cross-cultural experiences, it's important to consider:
- How great are the cultural differences between the groups?
- How completely will the individuals be immersed and/or isolated in the culture?
- How much cross-cultural experience have they had?
- What is their attitude entering into the experience?
To equip people for productive learning experiences, we must take these factors into account. It helps to focus on the thinking and communication skills they will use to navigate differences and build positive relationships with people from different backgrounds. We can help them frame any challenges as richly meaningful learning opportunities.
I've worked with colleagues on multiple exchanges to develop a model that meets these goals. We chose lessons from the WeConnect curriculum as the curricular basis for pre-trip gatherings. This way, they arrived at their exchanges with a common set of intercultural skills and concepts. Then, to prepare to host the other delegation, each group selected experiences to represent the culture of their community—from a visit to a maple sugar farm to a tour of a Somali mall.
We integrated curricular activities and reflection throughout the exchange experiences and afterwards. One participant reflected, “As…I look to my future, I think it is very important to work against these stereotypes in similar ways that I did on the cultural exchange. I am excited to be a part of implementing what I have learned in my own community.”
Does this sound like something you would be interested in creating in your community? Joyce Strand and I have developed a Cultural Exchange Planning Guide, which provides guidance, tools, and suggested lesson plans. I’m also happy to serve as a resource to support you in this process.
What bridges are you interested in building in your community? How might a cultural exchange help?
-- Kathryn Sharpe, Extension educator
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