We’re all different and that’s what makes us the same.

I have had numerous amazing professional growth experiences during my time in Finland. In today’s blog I’m sharing about one very special one that I consider the most significant opportunity so far. I led a reflective seminar on multiculturalism in education over two days earlier this week. The title of the training was “Creating Culturally Responsive Learning Spaces” and I had specified the following four goals:

  • Learn strategies for working effectively with students from multicultural backgrounds.
  • Build a learning community that supports multiculturalism.
  • Gain an understanding of the role of the teacher as a cultural worker and a social justice advocate.
  • Be able to generate questions for intercultural dialogue that address the complexities of cultures.

What made this workshop very special and that has never happened to me in a seminar to this extent was an organic transition, where our community resembled in very real ways what a multicultural learning community optimally is. It is very hard to capture in words but we all left the two-day session changed.

For starters, our small community truly was a mini-cosmos of the world. The participants came from such countries as Romania, Cyprus, Nigeria, Iraq, Finland and the U.S. All of us had immigrated to another country and lived there for at least six years. Our dialogue gained significant depth when we started sharing our immigration/acculturation stories. We used Berry’s model of integration as a point of reference: 

  1. Assimilation - adopts the receiving culture and discards the heritage culture
  2. Separation - rejects the receiving culture and retains the heritage culture
  3. Integration - adopts the receiving culture and retains the heritage culture
  4. Marginalization – rejects both the heritage and receiving cultures

(in Schwartz et al, 2013, available online https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3700543/)

It was amazing. Our reflections on personal experiences clearly demonstrated a complex process of using all four above strategies, to varied extents depending on situations and how long one had lived in the other country. One of our participants even shared that she goes through all of the above process during a period of one day every day while living in her new country. There was such overwhelming sense of mutual understanding of what the others were saying and experiences, which I have never felt this fully before. We decided to write an article exploring these processes in more depth.

While we all come from different parts of the world and our lives are very different, given our experiences we shared some deep emotional connections. One construct that was shared was pain. Pain was at the center of many of our experiences and interestingly provided a strong foundation from which to live our lives through struggles. When sharing of experiences, there was no pity, no feeling sorry for another. There was awe, inspiration and admiration. There was sisterhood and magical true understanding. One of the participants nicely expressed what a multicultural community is all about by saying it’s expecting differences and wanting to hear about other ways of life. That openness and invitation for everyone to be themselves freely expressing their unique backgrounds and experiences. It’s a community where there is understanding beyond words.

Thank you ladies!