Demystifying the Other: Tools for International Educators


I had the pleasure of presenting at NCAIE this past week with Carrie Wagner, Author of Village Wisdom and Bonnie Parker, Study Abroad Director from UNCA.

We crafted a session that was meant to be more interactive and less power point driven, as we all have had near death experiences caused by “too much powerpoint”!

Our session was described as follows:  “Muslim”, “Israeli”, “African”, and “American” – the labels that we use to describe others come with heavy baggage and a tremendous burden. This session will provide resources that can be used in community programming and/or as part of the curriculum to create dialogue that will aid in demystifying and humanizing “the other.”

Note: The “other” in our training meant a person or culture that one did not have first hand experience with, or one that generated stereotypes due to limited first hand experience. It was meant to acknowledge that we each have limited understanding of certain people, places and cultures in this world, and as a result, we often relate to them through stereotypes. These stereotypes create a disconnect between us and “them.

That’s a lot to tackle in 75 minutes, right?  Here was our approach:

Icebreaker: This was designed to create dialogue about “the other” and to help identify our own “others” or that of our students/community. We talked about the importance of setting up a trusting environment before doing this exercise. We had four different photos and asked people to go to the one that intrigued them.  Participants were then asked to write down words that came to mind as a result of viewing the image and to discuss the image and the words. For example, a photo of two young people sitting on the side of a street with a musical instrument garnered words such as “poor” and “talented.”  Then we briefly heard from each group – why did they choose those words?

1st Exercise: We worked in small groups and each read a specific section from Carrie Wagner’s book “Village Wisdom.” The groups each identified which phase of the cultural adjustment the section of the book related to and then discussed how that particular phase contributed to how the sojourner perceived “the other.”

2nd Exercise: We watched a 12 minute clip from the film “Crossing Borders.” In this scene, the students (American and Moroccan) visit the Sidi Moumen slum and met with local Moroccan youth who live there. The film clip illustrated the several layers of “the other” – the Americans experiencing a Muslim country for the first time and a slum for the first time, the Moroccan students meeting their fellow countrymen who live in a slum, which was a new experience for them as locals.  We discussed how “the other” can be people in our own society or people half way around the world, and that often changes over time.

We also spoke about how these two educational tools can be used in schools – for example:

– Instead of a common read, have a common film experience and weave it into the curriculum.  Assess the change in world view as a result of this experience, using a tool like the BEVI.

– Use these tools in orientation, pre-departure and re-entry meetings.

– Weave these tools into an interdisciplinary course.  Push the boundaries of what the items on the list were originally intended for!

– Use these tools for STAFF training and retreats.  We need to be inspired too!

– Create a book/film club and invite students and larger community to participate.

Bonnie, Carrie and I prepared a “toolkit” that is meant to be a living document that we can always update.  What resources would you want to share for those interested in exploring “the other” further?  How can the resource be used?

Free Download: Demystifying the Other Toolkit (PDF, 53.5kb)

Training at NCAIE was very rewarding.  I love to interact with my colleagues and I always learn from each group. I hope that this little training module will inspire you to demystify “the other” on your campus and in your community.