“Empathy is the imaginary participation in another person’s experience, including emotional and intellectual dimensions, by imagining his or her perspective (not by assuming the person’s position)”[i]
Empathy is also one of the most important aspects of Intercultural Education, as recognized by the AAC&U [ii], used in most of the Intercultural Competence measurement tolos and agreed by the big majority of Intercultural educators as an essential skill that all students going abroad should be able to develop.
But how can we foster empathy in our students? Is it something you have since your birth, or can you work on it? I firmly believe we can work on it and incorporate it to our set of values and personal developmental skills.
All intercultural experiences, wether they take place at home or abroad, should look for ways to make participants take the other perspective by:
- Getting out of our comfort zone
- Being the non-dominant “other”
- Temporarily incorporating other’s assumptions and beliefs
- Facilitating experiences where we hear from someone else about ourselves
- Helping educators enhance their own empathy
- Revising stereotypes (own and alien)
- Providing guided discussions
- Acting as cultural bridges
Not only students going abroad should try to bring empathy in their luggage… Educators ourselves have a strong responsibility too. We need to be able to take the position of the student no matter if we know they’re right or wrong. We need to be able to go beyond and try to understand what their needs are. Only this way can we work as effective educators.
[i] Bennett, J. 1998. Transition shock: Putting culture shock in perspective. In Basic concepts of intercultural communication, ed. M. Bennett, 215-224. Yarmouth, ME: Intercultural Press