“I am not afraid, I am not afraid, I am not afraid” – This is what I kept saying to myself in the hour after hearing about the terrorist attacks in Brussels. Being more than 1600 kms away, from my family, my first thoughts were on how to get home as soon as possible. Whereas till then my concerns on this first journey away from my daughter was on “has she eaten?“, “has she slept?” and “I hope she’s not too naughty“, they now turned to “when will I see her?“.
And what irony, that I was travelling to attend a project meeting on developing and acknowledging intercultural competence – the knowledge, skills, attitudes and self-awareness that enable someone to truly understand and acknowledge, tolerate and accept (sometimes fundamentally) different points of view.
With the wonderful panel discussion at the Media and Learning Conference (with Renee Hobs, Rudi Vrankx, Moad El Boudaati, Divina Frau-Meigs and Karin Heremans) earlier this month, my head was just ringing with thoughts to make sense of reality throughout the journey home. Luckily, I was accompanied by four experienced teachers and expert educators. Here are some of my thoughts after my discussions with them:
- The feeling of being accepted as part of a community and society is crucial to well-being of individuals and society as a whole. Many young people today do not feel part and this is a problem.
- Young people also do not have a voice in the current popular media in Europe (as Divina Frau-Meigs explains so well in the panel discussion). With no voice, there is no recognition of their role in society; no debate on their perspectives on our world. Giving them a voice and acknowledging their issues has to part of any solution.
- There is a tendency to react in panic with “us” and “them“-logic. This may be a natural initial reaction, but it should not inform policies or long-term strategies (on a state-level) nor attitudes, acceptance and tolerance (on an individual level).
- More and guided intercultural interactions where young people are encouraged to talk about their inhibitions, prejudices and uncertainties in an open manner should take place. In fact, every learner should at some point have the opportunity to reflect on their intercultural skills together with a mentor/ more experienced person. Too often, this happens now through individual initiatives (of teachers, or personal interest) but some learners will not do this naturally, and they should.
- Understanding that you are shaped by multiple cultures, and have multiple identities is an essential part of becoming intercultural competence (check out the manual created by the IEREST project on this). My note here is that multiple identities are often seen as problematic, whereas they could be (and should be) seen as an opportunity. In current Belgian (and European) society, many young people are shaped by different cultures and so, manage multiple identities. These young people are the ones who will shape our societies in the future. As parents, teachers, educators, government and corporate leaders, we have to support them in having the confidence to take up their roles in society as strong adults – and acknowledge that they are an essential part of our society.
At this moment, I only have the following wish for all our countries:
Where The Mind Is Without Fear (Rabindranath Tagore, 1912 – Bengali original, 1910)