Article: Sitting By The Well: The Case For Intercultural Competency Training In International Experiential Learning

By Jeffrey Blumberg¹

“Sit by the well.” This was the guiding principle by which a friend and fellow returned Peace Corps volunteer, who served in Africa in the 1960s, conducted her volunteer service. She explained that volunteers were instructed to listen, learn, adapt and integrate culturally, and understand their cultural settings. Volunteers were given permission to not immediately “accomplish” but first understand the context of their volunteer assignments and the nuances of local players’ inter-relationships, cultural norms, and community needs. It was only after having this period of reflection that volunteers would be considered ready to roll up their sleeves and go about undertaking their assignments. This concept of sitting by the well is tantamount to obtaining intercultural competency before setting out to conduct community development work.

This paper will address a pressing issue: how do we re-create this time of sitting by the well before sending law students out on their international experiential learning journey? How do we teach them to continue to “sit by the well” once they begin their work assignments? And, in the end, how do we ensure that they will be prepared to be effective international advocates who contribute to the cause of social justice during their international experiential learning?

The globalization of the practice of law is growing exponentially and law students are clamoring for international work experience. Law schools have responded by increasing the opportunities for international experiential learning. These expanded opportunities include a number of options that range from single country placements for multiple students, often with in-country faculty, to multi-country models that send many students to different countries with primary supervision by a local attorney or counterpart, along with a remote faculty.

The purpose of this article is to describe some of the lessons I have learned while teaching a multi-country international externship class at Washington College of Law. I will propose my model for intercultural competency training based on Peace Corps/development-based training ideas that I utilized during my seminar. In Part II, this article will briefly discuss the growing world of international experiential learning and the reason for this growth. Part III will discuss the differing models of international experiential learning with a focus on the distinction between the single country and multi-country models. Part IV will define intercultural competency training and analyze the use of intercultural competency training to prepare students for the Stanford Law School’s human rights fieldwork clinic in South Africa. In Part V, building on the work of the Stanford program and others, I will present my proposed framework for utilizing development-based intercultural competency training in a multiple country or local supervision model. Part VI will conclude with a discussion of how these culture general principles can be applied to other experiential learning models.

To read the full article by Jeffrey Blumberg, click here to download the PDF. The citation for the article is as follows:

Jeffrey Blumberg, Sitting By The Well: The Case For Intercultural Competency Training In International Experiential Learning, 43 U. Balt. L. Rev. 395 (2014).

¹Jeffrey Blumberg is an Adjunct Professor at Washington College of Law and a practitioner with over 20 years of legal experience. The author also served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Belize (2004-2006).

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