Course Strengthens the Understanding Between Cultures

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What do you get when 20 students representing 13 countries and 15 languages gather three times weekly in a classroom? Lively and engaging discussions, according to Dr. Mary Mendoza, who has welcomed the shift from instructor to more of a facilitator in Com 520: Intercultural Communication this semester.

There’s a lot to pack into the 50-minute sessions with a class roster encompassing all six schools and BJU Seminary.

“Normally, when I ask for an example, I have one or two hands up. This year I’ve had to limit how many people could speak because everybody has a story to tell,” said Mendoza, chair of the Division of Communication.

The course prospectus highlights the organizational and business applications of communication between cultures. As the world is becoming more interconnected, Christians need to be equipped with a skill set for cross-cultural business settings and multicultural ministry opportunities.

“The focus is on understanding that people are different, their background could impact how they think, what they say, how they react,” Mendoza said. “Gaining that perspective — not just from a textbook or a professor — gaining it from your peers I think adds a lot of value to the class.”

Students in nursing, accounting and educational studies programs — all of which can be global in scope — are among the career tracks represented in the course.

“They add value to the class because we’ve talked about what it’s like to be in health care and dealing with all types of people, backgrounds and cultures and maybe even languages,” said Mendoza, who grew up on the mission field in Israel.

“My goal is that students will grow in their intercultural competence. It’s not about knowing all types of languages and where countries are, but gaining skills to learn how to communicate with somebody from another culture. I focus on things such as having the right attitude, that we are all image-bearers of God and having the skills of observation, listening, understanding language and non-verbals.”

Putting knowledge and new skills into practice in the Greenville community are course requisites. Projects include writing observations and reflections after interaction with individual(s) from another culture and students immersing themselves in an event or location that is far from their comfort zone, such as a church that conducts services in a different language.

“Intercultural Communication is a must-take subject for all students at the beginning of their academic journey here at BJU,” said Jessa Mae Jerez, a communication studies graduate student from the Philippines. “For international students, it could be an amazing transition and explanation why they are experiencing cultural and language identity crises. And for American students, it will increase their understanding and compassion of people from other cultures. 

“BJU is now becoming more and more culturally diverse and this subject is just so timely for everyone to consider.”