3 Years of Culture Chat

Three years ago, as for many people, my working life changed dramatically. With the onset of a worldwide pandemic, I found myself working alone online and nobody knew how long this would go on for. When I saw The Interchange Institute inviting people along to a virtual meet-up via LinkedIn called “Culture Chat”, I decided to give it a go. Since then, Culture Chat has remained my go-to community for connecting with other interculturalists. The Culture Chat is led by Tasha Arnold, Terri McGinnis, Anne Copeland and Nick Dunn, and I have met some wonderful people from all around the globe in these chats. The Interchange Institute also helped me launch my “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it” webinar and it has become a regular event both as a public and corporate workshop.

Today I would like to take this opportunity to endorse The Interchange Institute for their contribution to the intercultural space and for bringing individuals together over a cuppa at a time when many of us were lacking in both connection and direction. Working in global mobility when there was no global mobility didn’t seem the best industry to be in at the time!

To mark this three-year anniversary of Culture Chat, I thought I would feature an interview with the Executive Director of The Interchange Institute (TII) Dr Tasha Arnold who I met during the pandemic along with other members of The Interchange Institute at the very first Culture Chat on 19th April 2020.

About Tasha

Tasha is an experienced leader and researcher in the field of education specialising in cross-cultural training and development for schools, universities, and multicultural teams. In her role at TII, Tasha is responsible for overseeing the administration, programs and strategic plan of TII, while also serving as an evaluator for the Intercultural Training Expertise Certification (ITEC) Board and being actively involved in the training of emerging and experienced interculturalists through the Crossing Cultures with Competence Train the Trainer program.

Tasha is a certified teacher and principal/head of school and accredits schools worldwide with the New England Association of Schools and Colleges and Council for International Schools. She has directed several research studies in the UK and internationally on educators’ experiences and perceived needs with regards to transition at their international school in order to improve the transition experience for educators, students and families in these cultural contexts. These findings have helped her to develop and deliver school-wide transition and intercultural development program.

Originally from the USA, Tasha relocated in 2011 to the UK and currently splits her time between London and Mumbai. She serves on the board of The Namibia Project Charity.

The Launch of Culture Chat

My first question to Tasha was about Culture Chat, how it came about and its development since the start of the pandemic.

Tasha: Culture Chat resulted from the pandemic as a way to stay in community, expand networks, and discuss topics that are important to our community. It started with a small group of interculturalists that met every few weeks and has grown to a group of 20 – 55+ (interculturalists, coaches, mentors, and culture enthusiasts) from around the globe who come together twice a month to discuss some aspect of culture. We’ve hosted almost 70 chats and have had over 600 people attend at least one chat. Some people attend every chat and others when they can or a topic speaks to them. Each chat starts with a presentation from an expert on a topic (those within our Culture Chat community), has a focus question, and includes breakout rooms to network and discuss the focus question. It’s developed into a community of practitioners who share ideas and resources. I learn so much from our Culture Chat community and am grateful for those who offer their expertise to our community.

Intercultural Training and Change

I then went on to ask Tasha how her work at the Interchange Institute has changed since the pandemic and if she has seen any change in the field of intercultural training:

Tasha: Since the pandemic, we see more and more organisations focusing on intercultural and cross-cultural training with a focus on working in global and remote teams. While there has been an influx of online trainings since the pandemic, there is also a trend towards pre-sessions taking place online before in person trainings. I believe online trainings present many benefits: an opportunity for pre-and follow-up sessions (as I mentioned above); people from all around the world are able to gather without travelling, which saves time, money and carbon; an opportunity to showcase online learning platforms; using the chat box as a voice for those who may not speak up in an in-person group training; and better. People are then better prepared to maximise the opportunity when in-person meetings and gatherings take place.

Intercultural Training – What’s that?

I also questioned Tasha about intercultural work and if she thought it was taken seriously enough in organisations:

Tasha: I think many organisations are confused or unaware as to what intercultural work is. for some it is a function that is buried within the area of DEI training or simply a ‘tick box exercise’ for HR compliance. Once you get an opportunity to talk, engage, and train leaders within organisations and they understand the benefits and enhancement it can bring to both internal and external focused teams,  I’ve found overwhelmingly that after I deliver a training, the feedback I receive is, “That’s not what expecting, why did we not do this sooner?!”

ITEC – the New Certification for Interculturalists

Finally, we talked about ITEC, the Intercultural Training Expertise Certification which The Interchange Institute introduced last year.  I asked her what made it different to other certifications and why it was so important.

Tasha: ITEC is a way for interculturalists to signal their readiness to offer services efficiently and with transparency, confirmed by an independent non-profit organisation, and those who hire intercultural trainers to have increased confidence in their hiring, supported by our certification.

It is a global certification that was created in conjunction with experienced intercultural trainers and those who hire interculturalists. Its aim is to establish and advance the quality of intercultural training in the international sphere (e.g., global relocation, multi-national teams, international education), by (1) helping interculturalists communicate their level of preparedness to do intercultural training in the international sphere, and (2) helping those who hire interculturalists assess the preparedness of trainers.

ITEC requires applicants to submit an ePortfolio for four domains (cultural concepts and competencies, training expertise, understanding and awareness of bias, professional and ethics issues) and at least one specialty area (personal and/or workplace support for international living, multicultural work team, cultural aspects of language and communication, intercultural coach, and other).

Part of what makes the ITEC certification unique is that it recognises that interculturalists gain their expertise in many different ways, and the application process allows for a range of options to demonstrate expertise. It doesn’t require an applicant to take a specific course in order to be certified and considers interculturalists have gained experience in many ways.

While the certification review process occurs quarterly, some applicants may choose to open an ePortfolio and collect evidence over time, demonstrating competency as they acquire it. The application payment is not due until the point of submission. This can be particularly useful for those emerging into the field and those wanting to purposefully structure their professional learning and development.

Long Live Culture Chat!

Thanks to Tasha for chatting to me about her work at The Interchange Institute. If you would like to come and talk all things cultural or find out about any of the things Tasha has talked about in this interview, contact her via mail or have a look at The Interchange Institute website here.

A huge round of applause to TII for this space that kept me connected at times that could have been potentially lonely as an independent trainer and coach. Culture Chats take place every two weeks on a Wednesday, 15:00 BST if you are looking to connect with other interculturalists from around the world. Each chat has a focus question, and previous topics have included Third Culture Kids and Cross Culture Kids, favourite training activities, culturally specific food traditions, end-of-year traditions and holidays, and more.

Happy Third Birthday Culture Chat!