Together with a number of content partners, AFS convened the AFS Global Conference under the topic “Global Competence: Our Future, Our Responsibility” in Budapest this September. Ms Katherine Yngve, Associate Director of Learning Outcomes at the Center for Intercultural Learning, Mentoring Assessment & Research (CILMAR) of Purdue University, was one of the distinguished speakers who addressed hundreds of leaders from different sectors who gathered at the conference. We thank Katherine for sharing her insights on global competence in this interview.

What innovative practices have been developed to foster global competence among students?

We have founded a research center at Purdue that focuses on intercultural learning. We are using research-driven practices to help professors become better cultural mentors and facilitators of intercultural learning. We are training professors, mostly from the STEM field, to think about how to be a good cultural mentor when they take their students abroad. This is important because so many students now go abroad for short-term programs with their professors and most professors are not taught how to mentor but how to do research. Most of them, even if they are very interculturally competent themselves are not taught how to help students become more interculturally competent.

That’s why we are also using the Sentio Global Competence Certificate (GCC). This is not the only way we help professors, but it uses the same  four frames of becoming interculturally competent that we had used before. It was nice to have an outside expert reinforce what we have been telling our professors.

I have been mentoring students online since 2006 and I think the GCC is very innovative because of its interactivity, its animation, and the ways it appeals to the millennial and post-millennial generations. We need these innovative approaches to work with today’s students. Compared to students 20 years ago, now students are used to getting answers faster, with more visuals.

It also has to do with what research is telling us about acquiring global competence. For about two thirds of the participants just being immersed in a different culture isn’t enough. They have to have concepts that help them make sense of what is going on around them, why these people are behaving differently, and why they are different from what they expected. Students need a framework for understanding other cultures, whether that’s a person that can help them or something like the GCC where they can work through it on their own.


What are the latest advances in intercultural learning research?

One of the interesting things that I have read lately about short-term study abroad is that professors from different disciplines teach differently about culture. And depending on how they teach, their students learn differently. That’s why it’s important to work with professors to help them understand how to teach students intercultural competence. It is equally important for organizations like AFS to work with host families who start out with great objectives, but need help in showing and interpreting their own culture. Research tells us that whoever the instructor is – whether a professor in formal education, or a host family in non-formal education – they need help understanding how students learn and how to make complex concepts understandable and relevant to them. Becoming interculturally competent is complex and difficult. People will give up on it or will stop when they have a minimal level of it if they don’t have that extra help.

Research is just beginning to tell us, in articles published in the last two years, really how we can make that happen. We thought we can make that happen by sending students abroad for longer, teaching them a foreign language, by giving them host families – all the things that many organizations are doing very well. For one part of the participants that works, and those are the success stories we’ve heard. We’ve not heard the non-success stories of the two thirds of people for whom it didn’t work. They need more structured learning, making intercultural competence more relevant and more obvious.

In a university setting, short-term study abroad is where the most potential for cultural mentoring exists for the institution. The professor who is leading the program is the one who is best equipped, if they are trained, to help the student understand why intercultural competence important in physics, journalism, performing arts or whatever it might be. They are the ones who can make those connections towards lifelong learning for the student.


Can you make some recommendations for research resources?

A great and very recent article on the necessity of facilitating intercultural competence learning is the following: Niehaus, E., Reading, J., Nelson, M. J., Wegener, A., & Arthur, A. (2018). Faculty Engagement in Cultural Mentoring as Instructors of Short-Term Study Abroad Courses.

Another great resource is the book: Michael Vande Berg, R. Michael Paige, and Kris Hemming Lou. Student Learning Abroad: What Our Students Are Learning, What They’re Not, and What We Can Do About It. Stylus Publishing, LLC., 2012.  Available from the publisher or from Amazon. The research which was inspirational to the above book was first published in an article in 2009: Berg, Vande. “The Georgetown consortium project: Interventions for student learning abroad.” Frontiers: The interdisciplinary journal of study abroad 18 (2009): 1-75.

Finally, CILMAR will launch a new resource to the world on 15 October, the Intercultural Learning Hub or HubICL, a “virtual world of resources” for intercultural trainers, instructors, learners, assessors, mentors and researchers.  You can get a preview here.


Why would you recommend to people to attend the AFS Global Conference?

I would recommend this conference because it is convened by AFS. AFS reaches a part of the non-formal education that we haven’t heard from a lot. We have heard from governments and higher education. But usually the education world talks to education, governments talks to governments etc. It’s very unusual to have an organization from the non-formal education sector as well-known as AFS to convene such an event, and that’s why it’s important. For me, it’s important to have the chance to learn from the AFS community and a number of different stakeholders that this conference will bring together.