November 2016
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Interview by Natalia Balyasnikova, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada; r. Darla Deardorff,, University, Durham, North Carolina, USA

Darla K. Deardorff is the executive director of the Association of International Education Administrators, a national professional organization based at Duke University, where she is an adjunct faculty member in the Program in Education. In addition, she is an adjunct professor at North Carolina State University and at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (formerly Monterey Institute of International Studies) and a visiting professor at Meiji University Research Institute of International Education in Japan as well as at Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in South Africa. Dr. Deardorff is a visiting faculty member at Shanghai International Studies University in China and at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in China, and she is on the faculty of Harvard University’s Future of Learning Institute and the prestigious Summer Institute of Intercultural Communication in Portland, Oregon.

Please, tell us about your background and how you got involved in the study of intercultural communication.

Intercultural communication aligns very closely to my own faith beliefs and values actually, which emphasize peacemaking. So, my work and research on intercultural competence can be summed up by a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., who said that “We must learn to live together as brothers (and sisters) or perish together as fools.” I am researching what is necessary for us to get along together as humans.

What's your personal philosophy on teaching English to speakers of other languages?

My personal philosophy in teaching English to speakers of other languages (and in teaching in general) is one of learner-centeredness. I think it’s really important to find out more about learners’ needs and then meet those needs through the content and delivery. In doing so, I’ve actually learned so much from my students and greatly value what they’ve taught me.

The interest in intercultural communication never seems to decrease. Why do you think that is?

Language and culture are so closely intertwined that I think intercultural communication, and intercultural competence, will continue to generate interest around the world. For example, I’ve just returned from working with language teachers in Japan and China, where there is a lot of interest in understanding how to concretely integrate intercultural competence into language teaching.

The theme of our newsletter is "Cultural Synergy." How do you understand this theme? What does it mean for you as a researcher and practitioner?

Cultural synergy in my view is the dynamic process of harnessing the strengths and capacities that result within the diversity that exists within our classrooms, institutions, and even within our local communities and society as a whole. While diversity in all its richness—including differences across gender, age, religion, ethnicities, and so on—can certainly have its challenges, in the end, we can be more creative and have more rewarding relationships when we celebrate the intersections of our differences. So, for me as a researcher and practitioner, I like to look for the interconnectedness of the ideas, content, and context, and it’s in that interconnectedness that the synergies are born.

Tell us about your most recent projects. Why did you decide to undertake them?

My most recent projects involve a book (Intercultural Competence in International Higher Education, to be published by Routledge in 2017) which features 29 concrete case studies from around the world, an intercultural competence development project with the United Nations, and an intercultural competence assessment project with the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. These three projects seemed particularly vital because of the potential to impact many others.

Tell us about someone who has influenced your work the most.

It’s difficult to choose just one person—my work has been influenced by so many, including quite a few intercultural scholars in different parts of the world. For example, I feel privileged to have been able to work with Michael Byram in my initial research study on intercultural competence, as well as others such as Janet Bennett, Peggy Pusch, Alvino Fantini, and Michael Paige. I also continue to be influenced by my students and through discussions with colleagues around the world.

What seminal works would you recommend to those who are interested in exploring this topic further?

Well, certainly for those wanting to learn more about intercultural competence, I would recommend the The Sage Handbook of Intercultural Competence! And for practical ICC activities for the classroom, there’s Building Cultural Competence, which I edited with a colleague and features over 50 different intercultural communication activities. For foundational books on intercultural communication, some that may be considered (this is not an exhaustive list, by the way!) are certainly Byram’s books, Hall’s Beyond Culture, Hofstede’s books, Kramsch’s books, Lustig and Koester’s Intercultural Competence: Interpersonal Communication across Cultures, Martin and Nakayama’s Experiencing Intercultural Communication: An Introduction, and Storti’s books, especiallyFiguring Foreigners Out. For a list of quite a few more resources, check out the Resource pages [Please link to this page.] at the Intercultural Communication Institute’s website... I also really like Clayton’s One Classroom, One World for the practical way of integrating intercultural concepts into the language classroom.

What advice would you give to colleagues just starting in our field?

Make the most of every opportunity—“carpe diem” (seize the day!) has always been a mantra I’ve lived by. Learn from your students. Reach out to those you want to learn from. And be involved in our professional organization (TESOL)—the network, relationships, and professional development obtained through such involvement is invaluable.

    For Further Reading

      Landis, D., Bennett, J., & Bennett, M. (2003). Handbook of intercultural training. Sage Publications.

      Berardo, K., Deardorff, D. K. (2012). Building cultural competence.Stylus Publishing.

      Hall, E. T. (1989). Beyond culture. Anchor.

      Lustig M., Koester J . (1993). Intercultural competence: interpersonal communication across cultures. HarperCollins College Publishers

      Martin J., Nakayama T. (2010). Experiencing intercultural communication: an introduction. McGraw-Hill Humanities Social.

      Natalia Balyasnikova is a PhD Candidate at the department of Language and Literacy Education, University of British Columbia. Her research interests include intercultural communication in adult ESL classrooms.

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