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Author: Yvonne

The downside of good intentions

Idealism and good intentions

In my intercultural work, I encounter a great diversity of people. Most have been working internationally for some time and want to sharpen their intercultural craftsmanship. Others are being sent out for the first time, for example for a one-time international consulting job, volunteer work or an internship. Those who travel to the Global South, in particular, are often idealistic and full of good intentions. The interesting – and positive – thing is that more and more people are questioning these best intentions for themselves.

  • What are my blind spots when I want to help people but don’t know the context?
  • Who am I really to share knowledge?
  • How relevant is my knowledge in that totally different context?
  • And … can’t I contribute better by staying home?

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Silence in the breakout room

Last week, I had an intriguing conversation in the breakout room of the Japan Intercultural Institute’s Learning Circle. Together with international colleagues, we were discussing how to better enable our participants in online intercultural trainings to learn and to connect with each other. My colleague from Japan mentioned that her biggest challenge was the silences in breakout rooms. I was surprised. That was a phenomenon I do not know from my Western nor my international mixed groups.

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How to maximize empathy when needed most?

Recently I have noticed renewed interest in the role of empathy in Intercultural and Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) work. And that makes sense because in these uncertain and turbulent times, looking at a situation from the point of view of another person is an essential requisite to understand each other. Yet empathy in itself seems quite a complex phenomenon when we dive into it. Empathy can arise automatically and can be supportive for understanding the other person’s perspective, but unfortunately not always so.


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Deep Culture Podcast

The Deep Culture Podcast is a Podcast that explores the psychological impact of intercultural experiences, informed by the sciences of brain, mind and culture. We look at the personal growth that can come from living and working abroad, learning a foreign language, growing up in a multicultural context —and the challenges of bridging different cultural worlds. The Podcast was developed by Joseph Shaules, in collaboration with Yvonne van der Pol.

Book: Reflections on Intercultural Craftmanship

BoekpresentatieThis collection of Reflections on Intercultural Craftsmanship offers an insightful and sometimes entertainingly fresh perspective on intercultural effectiveness. The starting point is our own cultural logic, the set of assumptions that we unwittingly take with us throughout our lives, and the manner in which they influence our interaction with people from a different cultural background. It is about our brain, about our intuitive mind that quickly reacts from our own deeply-rooted norms and values, about the impact of bias and stereotyping, and of course, about the development of intercultural competences in order to become more interculturally effective.

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What about bias?

When we’re trying to make diverse teams become truly innovative, to include all perspectives and to enhance intercultural communication, then we need to talk about bias—unconscious bias.

The Architecture of Bias

The word “bias” refers not to one single bias, like stereotyping or ethnocentrism, but a whole array of biases. It’s probably more accurate to speak of the Architecture of Bias found in our own minds. It’s the way our cognitive processes work. Put simply, bias is built-in; it’s the default setting of our cognitive systems. Although we as autonomous, rational individuals usually feel that we’re in the drivers’ seat, we’re actually being cheated and challenged by our own perceptions and interpretations all the time. Why?

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Online intercultural learning: create a 70:20:10 blend

In recent months, the Covid-19 measures have forced us to become effective in the digital world. For many organizations and individuals this was a steep learning curve: working from home, homeschooling, online training, etc. The transition was sometimes achieved in just a few days. As the first wave of online working and learning is behind us, we all have become aware that we will continue to work this way for a long time to come. That is why I invite you in this inspiration mail to take a deeper look at the effectiveness of online learning interventions, especially intercultural learning.

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How to manage uncertainty and keep your intercultural zest.

We are in the middle of a mind-blowing crisis.

Many of you will be working from home, which may at times feel like the eye of the storm.

Many of you will be working from home, in frequent online exchange with international partners to manage the implications of the pandemic in your work area. We hope that you, your family and friends are all well.

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Why do mind and brain matter in intercultural learning?

The mind as crucial factor
Years ago I got intrigued by the relations between culture, mind and brain. At the ‘Sietar Deutschland 2012 Forum’ new research on cultural neuroscience was presented and that evoked huge discussions amongst the audience. As interculturalists we understood something about the impact of culture on the brain by watching photos of fMRI scans comparing Chinese and North-American persons in various experimental settings. We also got a glimpse of the interrelationship between brain and culture, but many of us couldn’t really grasp the core and stayed behind with a lot of questions.

A year later at the Sietar Europe Congress in Tallinn I attended Joseph Shaules’ seminar on ‘Applying Cultural Neuroscience to Intercultural Training and Education’. That session was eye-opening in the sense that he introduced the ‘mind’ as crucial additional factor in the interrelationship between brain and culture. A factor that until today is often overseen or underestimated.

May I invite you to join my journey into brain, mind and culture in this blog?

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Portal Intercultural Competences

Symbaloo portal ‘Intercultural Competences’ with inspiring blogs and video’s about culture, cultural differences and intercultural effectiveness.

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Masterclass Brain, Mind & Culture

On October 18, 2024 the next Masterclass Brain, Mind and Culture of Japan Intercultural Institute starts. This Masterclass is a blended learning course (webinars-podcasts-online learning) that introduces the latest insights of culture, brain and mind sciences to those living and working interculturally. You will gain a deeper understanding of the psychology of intercultural experiences, including: culture and cognition, biases, and deep culture learning and transformation. You will learn to be a more insightful interculturalist and learn how to encourage intercultural learning in others. Joseph Shaules and Yvonne van der Pol are your facilitators.

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