The Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives’ Intercultural Communication Program Suite kicked off the year Thursday night with its first event in a series of cultural awareness and academic enrichment workshops.
This month's events will concentrate on the theme of self-awareness.
The two-hour workshop Thursday provided a space for about 15 students to tell stories, share different cultures, build community and network, all while pondering the question, “What is your cultural tapestry?”
Program coordinator Mary Taylor, a part time Education graduate student, established ground rules for the open dialogue between students at the start of the night, saying she aimed to foster an environment characterized by mutual respect, curiosity and openness.
“This event will be a lot about telling your story and about self-awareness, and made with the premise that before you get to know and truly learn about other people, you have to know who you are and how you identify as well,” Taylor said in an interview.
Attendees participated in several activities designed to allow students the opportunity to actively interact with one another. “Identity Tag” — an activity in which participants wrote their cultural tags down and shared them aloud — served as a way for participants to introduce and familiarize themselves with the other identities in the room.
LSA junior Hunter Zhao said he spent his time at the event reflecting on how much he has learned about his identity in connection to present and past experiences since coming to the University of Michigan.
“I think the most impactful event tonight was when we were sharing the different identities that make us up,” Zhao said. “I think I’ve learned how to talk about my identity.”
In another activity designed for participants to grow their intercultural awareness, “Five Minutes of Cultural Inspiration,” Taylor encouraged students to think critically about the role of diversity in their daily lives.
She began a discussion with a quote from Yo-Yo Ma, who said, “Our cultural strength has always been derived from our diversity of understanding and experience.” One participant discussed the cultural diversity of the United States in response to the ideas of the quote.
The workshop also encouraged students to break off in smaller groups conducive to practicing effective communication. These groups served as a space for participants to better understand one another’s backgrounds in a supportive environment.
“The workshop’s mission is to increase your cultural awareness and intercultural understanding by developing your own cultural self-awareness,” Taylor said.
These communication skills, Taylor noted, are relevant to the attendees’ future professional and personal lives. She said she wanted participants to step out of their comfort zones and ask hard questions in order to learn how to have an effective conversation and gain empathy, especially when faced with challenges involving other people, such as their roommates or a boss.
“They (students) should walk away with a sense of curiosity, of wanting to learn more about other people, even if that means making a mistake or making yourself uncomfortable,” Taylor said.
Echoing Taylor’s sentiment, program coordinator Carole Lapidos said participants came to learn more about one another and themselves, which is important in a society where she said many often lack understanding of other cultures.
“I feel like so much of what we need is understanding cross-culturally,” Lapidos said.
The event concluded in a self-reflection about why it is important for individuals to learn about themselves and others and to face challenges with a sense of self-awareness. Students shared their “cultural stories” and the experiences at different stages in life that culminated into the shaping of their present selves.
Taylor said she hopes students continue to attend the workshops held throughout the year to optimize their cultural and communicative development.
“The hope is that, if students go to all of them, they might see similar themes getting pulled out,” Taylor said. “But because cultural awareness is all about our development it’s kind of a learning process. The more you go to the more development you might see.”