Sunday, July 21, 2019

In Celebration of GO

We recently returned from travel through central Europe.

Every time I travel abroad, I am struck by the richness of the hospitality I encounter and by the ways in which I find myself provoked to reconsider assumptions I have about others and myself. It was a wonderful and inspiring experience and a good reminder for me and Lynn of the significant importance of Susquehanna’s GO (Global Opportunities) Program.

Celebrating its tenth anniversary, GO is a defining element of an SU education. We are one of only a few universities where study away is a graduation requirement. Our program is unique within higher education in that a preparatory class, active engagement in a different culture, and a reflective experience are all parts of the requirement.

When I ask students to identify the most meaningful aspects of their Susquehanna education, GO is inevitably part of the conversation. The faculty designed the program with these learning goals:
  1. Demonstrate a complex understanding of culture including the ability to develop a working definition of culture
    1. Articulate awareness of differences and similarities between their culture of origin and the one in which they are immersed.
    2. Define and recognize ethnocentrism and ethnocentric assumptions.
    3. Demonstrate critical awareness of their own cultural values and identity.
  2. Recognize how their attitudes, behaviors, and choices affect the quality of their cross-cultural experiences.
  3. Reflect on their personal growth, social responsibility, and the value of active participation in human society.

We are experiencing a time in which our leaders and many of our neighbors are struggling to navigate difference. With our current public discourse frequently tainted by jingoistic rhetoric and a promulgation of misrepresentations of other peoples and cultures, the goals of the GO have never been more important.

Meaningful study and travel that focuses on cultural engagement helps us to appreciate how diversity makes us stronger as a global community. It reifies the validity of competing world views; it helps us begin to perceive the profound richness of what it truly means to be human; and most importantly, it challenges us to consider new perspectives.

In the Scientific American article, “How Diversity Makes Us Smarter,” Katherine W. Phillips, Reuben Mark Professor of Organizational Character at the Columbia Business School, empirically demonstrated that diverse groups are better able to solve complex problems than homogeneous groups.

The diverse groups were more accurate because they came at the problems from a variety of perspectives and experiences that forced them to challenge each other and work out a solution, whereas the homogeneous started from a consensus position, which when wrong went unchallenged.

The most valuable lesson from Prof. Phillips’s research is that, in spite of being right a significantly higher percentage of the time, the diverse groups had less confidence in their work. The process of challenging conclusions and introducing varied views made those participants less self-assured.

These are the fundamental challenges to legitimate inclusion: in diverse communities, we are challenged by views and traditions that are different from our own; monolithic world views we have deeply held to be true may be exposed as wrong; and the best work we do across differences will not always feel as good as it is.

The answers to many of life’s most important questions lie in the margins, and for most of us that is not a natural place of comfort. Thoughtful intercultural engagement is an invaluable way to appreciate the value and strength of collaborative work across difference. It is also one of the best ways to learn to make intellectually and culturally interstitial domains places of comfort and, if we develop true cosmopolitans, home.


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