Better than Chocolate?

This blog post is courtesy of Jason D. Patent, Director of the Center for Intercultural Leadership at International House.

As a parent I often find myself saying something like this to my daughters: “Life is about choices and tradeoffs. When you get something, you have to give something up.” Generally true? Yes. Always true? Maybe not.

Many of you may have seen the headline from a few years ago that dark chocolate, eaten in moderation, is actually healthy. Good news like that doesn’t come along every day. I’m happy to say, though, that we have just this sort of good news to report at I-House.

The Center for Intercultural Leadership (CIL) at I-House was formally launched this past summer. CIL was created in order to take I-House’s mission — fostering intercultural respect and understanding, lifelong friendships and leadership skills for a more tolerant and peaceful world — to the next level. How? By applying what we know about learning in new ways.

Research has taught us that people learn best not by simply being “immersed” in new experiences, but by also being given the opportunity to think and talk about these experiences. The study abroad community has validated this research by showing that students living abroad learn much faster when given the chance to reflect on their otherwise overwhelming intercultural experiences.

dark chocolateBy now you may be wondering what this has to do with chocolate. Here’s what: intercultural competence isn’t just about feeling good. It’s also good for business, good for interpersonal relationships…good for anything involving human beings. Which is a lot.

For business: What people sometimes forget is that at the end of the day, business is about people working with people. What gets in the way? Our problems getting along with others. This often takes the form of stereotyping and prejudice based on where somebody comes from: “Those [people from X-land], I can’t stand working with them! They’re always [late / too quiet / violating the terms of the contract].” CIL workshops help identify where this type of thinking is getting in the way of working together effectively.

For interpersonal relationships: Self-awareness is the cornerstone of CIL’s work. When we’re more aware of our own biases, we learn to question them, which helps us in every relationship we’re a part of.

For everything else human: What could possibly be harmful about knowing more about how to live and work together more peacefully and effectively?

Which has me thinking: maybe this is better than chocolate. In order to be beneficial, chocolate has to be eaten in small doses. Not true of intercultural awareness: take as much as you’d like, and you’ll only get “healthier.”

Stay tuned for more — much more — about CIL over the coming months.

About Jason D. Patent

Jason is the inaugural director of the Center for Intercultural Leadership at International House Berkeley. His career spans the education, business, and non-profit sectors. He has spent over ten years living and working in China and is passionate about helping China and the U.S. to understand each other better. Jason holds a Ph.D. in linguistics from UC Berkeley.
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