A study abroad experience can be a wonderful opportunity for students to see first-hand how people in other parts of the world live from day to day and learn about new cultures and perspectives. It can improve their knowledge of the difficulties others face and of the global challenges that transcend borders. And it can provide students with opportunities to collaborate with others in addressing these challenges.
As First Lady Michelle Obama said when encouraging young people to study abroad, “That’s how, student by student, we develop that habit of cooperation, by immersing yourself in someone else’s culture, by sharing your stories and letting them share theirs, by taking the time to get past the stereotypes and misperceptions that too often divide us.”
Conflict management and peacebuilding skills can help prepare your students for the new perspectives they will meet and relationships they will have opportunities to build. The Global Peacebuilding Center’s Peacebuilding Toolkit for Educators provides educators with lessons and activities that teach young people important skills that can enable them to get the most out of their cross-cultural experiences.
Here are a few examples of the conflict management skills your students should “pack”:
Reading the (nonverbal) signs. Research indicates that about 80 percent of our communication is nonverbal. Being able to communicate effectively means understanding both verbal and nonverbal interactions. When you are in a new culture, especially where you may not speak the language, paying attention to nonverbal communication becomes even more important. For example: while a thumbs-up in the U.S. might mean “Ok,” in Japan it means “five,” and in Turkey it signifies a right-wing political party! Explore the various types of nonverbal communication in Lesson 2.5 of the Toolkit – High School Edition.
Listening to understand. Effective communication consists of both speaking and listening. Active listening is a way of listening and responding to another person that improves mutual understanding. While studying abroad, students will find opportunities to learn new perspectives. Active listening techniques will help them uncover and increase their understanding of these new perspectives while building trust and relationships with the new people they meet. Develop and practice these techniques in Lesson 2.6 of the Toolkit – High School Edition.
Knowing your conflict style! In the course of their time abroad, your students will most likely disagree with some of the perspectives they encounter. Knowing in advance how they themselves tend to deal with conflict can be helpful in figuring out how they can manage these disagreements to lead to more positive outcomes. Encourage your students to identify their conflict styles in Lesson 2.4 of the Toolkit – High School Edition; then, explore the value of using different styles in different situations.
Considering when conflict can be a good thing. When your students do come across perspectives with which they disagree, they might feel uncomfortable and shy away from conversation. However, disagreement is natural and should be viewed as a healthy part of conversation. It provides students with an opportunity to clarify their own perspectives and to consider how other people’s views can inform their opinions. Your students can explore interpretations of conflict and identify when conflict might be an opportunity for growth and change in Lesson 1.1 of the Toolkit – High School Edition.
Explore other study abroad resources.