Ways to Use Fiction for Personal and Professional Development

  1. Working with ESL or International Students
    Use excerpts of current U.S. fiction representing one or more U.S. co-cultures as a reading assignment. Another option is to utilize auditory experience through Selected Shorts on National Public Radio. This will make literature accessible in yet another learning style. Selected Shorts is a weekly hour-long program in which short stories from the U.S. and other countries are read by an actor. Students may process the reading through homework, a classroom activity, or an exercise in a U.S. culture workshop.
  2. Working with Education Abroad Students
    Select two works, one by a native of the destination country and the other by a non-native who sojourned there. Provide a forum (in person, online) to discuss each work in its own accord, then examine both books together to discern intersections and contrasts. Ideally, the books should be set in the same time period.
  3. Working with a Diverse Group of Students
    Use literature to bring together students from different backgrounds. Have the students work on a central online forum to compile a response to the difficult request, “If you were to read one book about my home culture, here is what I recommend and why.” If the students are all from the same country, have them select works that reflect the co-cultures within the country they represent. As a follow up, ask if the book choice would be different if recommending it to someone from within their home/co-culture.
  4. Working with any Student Group
    Encourage a student group to make their own creative writing publication, online or on paper. As part of the process, the students can share how their fiction or poetry is reflective of their home culture or their intercultural experiences using the Thinking Outside the Book Reading Guidelines or the cultural iceberg.
  5. Creating a Social Event
    Create an evening of “speed sharing” where a group of colleagues or students get together to meet with other book lovers. Instructions are to bring your favorite book, decide on some aspect of the book you especially enjoyed, and “speed share” your recommendations one on one. This idea is from the Brooklyn Public Library. Add refreshments to further enhance the event.

Finding New Venues for Professional Development
Providing professional development for staff often focuses on process, procedures, rules, and crisis management. Yet, as international educators, it is in our best interest – and often simply interesting – to get to know cultures with which we are not familiar. Tapping into this vested interest, use the ideas below to motivate staff in your office or organization to work together to learn about specific cultures (or learn more about specific cultures).

If you work in a one-person or small office, consider expanding these approaches to include colleagues on campus with whom you work cooperatively. Also, you may want to invite international education professionals from your area to join you through an online network or by finding times and places to get together in person.

  1. Organizing a Staff Book Club
    Choose one of the books from the Thinking Outside the Book Suggested Readings or one suggested by a staff member. Ask everyone in the office who is interested in participating to read the book keeping in the mind the Thinking Outside the Book Reading Guidelines. Take 15 minutes (or more) at the end of the next staff meeting to discuss specifically what colleagues learned about the culture(s) in the story. One way to make this more manageable time-wise may be to have several staff divide up reporting on a book in chapters, thus one book may take four meetings to be reviewed in full.

    Variation – Excerpts from a New Perspective: Instead of reading an entire book (or as an additional exercise after reading and discussing the entire book), take an excerpt from the story to examine from two or more perspectives. The excerpt can be anything from a sentence to a few paragraphs or even an entire chapter. After reading the excerpt, try to imagine how the dialogue or description would be perceived if spoken or heard by people other than those who spoke or wrote them. For example, if a story concluded with “…and then the police arrived.” How might that phrase be read if set in South Africa during apartheid, after apartheid, or in the U.S. post -9/11 versus pre-9/11? How might the reaction vary for a member from either national culture based on race, economic class, or other important dimensions? And drawing from that, is it possible to extrapolate how authority is viewed in general within a given national culture?

  2. Using Resources – The Invited Guest
    Invite an international student or scholar who is from the one of the cultures featured in the story to join the staff book club conversation. Ask them to offer their perspective on the conclusions you have drawn from the book. Before the conversation begins, make sure that everyone understands that no single representative from a particular culture is necessarily an “expert” on that culture. You do not want to put your guest on the spot; but to simply add an “insider’s” perspective. This approach would be most useful – and interesting – if the guest has also read the book.
  3. Taking Advantage of Lectures
    Take advantage of lecturers who come to your campus or to the area who are from cultures about which you are curious. Before you attend the lecture, read a book the individual has written, or read a book set in their home culture, then see if their lecture reinforces or challenges your notion of the culture. Use the Thinking Outside the Book Reading Guidelines to formulate questions to ask the lecturer that will shed more light on what you have read with regard your understanding of the culture in question.
  4. Writing to the Author – A Solitary or Shared Exercise
    Write a letter to the author asking about the culture featured in the story. Identify at least three different specific characters, situations, quotes, descriptions, etc, then explain what you learned about the story’s culture from each of these. Ask the author if your interpretation of the culture is the way s/he would see it. You can choose to send the letter or just keep it for your own review.
  5. Combining Personal Development with Pleasure
    Wherever you are, find a comfortable chair, select a book from the reading list, use the guidelines in a way that best suits you, and start reading!

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