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New Suite of Free Seminars to Teach How to Better 'Cross Cultures'

March 3, 2011 — This year, more than 2,000 University of Virginia students participated in education abroad activities. To help better prepare them for these experiences, the University is offering a new trio of free seminars designed to help students not just sight-see around the world, but better understand people and learn to thrive in other parts of the global community.

The first seminar is "An Introduction to Cross-Cultural Miscommunication" and begins April 4.  Organizers call it a "crash course in semiotic theories of language and how they change the way we understand what happens when communication and, above all, miscommunication between people occurs."

The second seminar, "Cultural Stereotypes, Generalizations, and Particulars," begins April 18. It tackles the thorny issue of stereotypes and generalizations and introduces the analytic skill of suspension of judgment.

The final seminar,"Self, Person, and Identity in Cross-Cultural Relation," starting May 16, introduces theories of how the experience of cultural difference can transform a person and their sense of self, identity and their role in the world.

The seminars are being led by graduate and post-doctoral anthropology students.

Registration opened in late February. "Students can register for as many of the seminars as they would like," project coordinator Catarina Krizancic said. The maximum enrollment for each session is 100 people. Both graduate and undergraduates are welcome to register here. Participants are asked to commit to one 90-minute lecture and an hour-long discussion session for each topic.

In addition to the students who have already registered, Krizancic said several faculty and staff members have also expressed interest in attending. "They read the descriptions and clearly thought, 'This sounds really interesting,'" she said. "There is a big audience for this and we also think this is really part of a vision of how something could wrap around a study-abroad experience and support it."

The International Studies Office partnered with the Department of Anthropology in the College of Arts & Sciences and the interdisciplinary Global Development Studies program to design the seminars. Marina Markot, associate director of study abroad, came up with the idea of the seminars late last spring.

The spring series is a pilot and organizers hope to make the offering permanent as a one-credit course.

The University offers several different education abroad experiences, through such programs as the Jefferson Public Citizens Program, the Center for Undergraduate Excellence and the Center for Global Health.

Rebecca Dillingham, associate director of the Center for Global Health, said these seminars will not only enrich the experiences of any University student who studies abroad. "The spring cross-cultural seminars are a wonderful addition to the independent global project experience for U.Va. students," she said.

But Krizancic said the seminars will also be of value to students who do research in their own communities, "because even when you cross into rural Virginia, you are crossing boundaries."

— By Jane Kelly

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