Concordia Professor Angela Owusu-Ansah on ‘Intercultural Competence’

‘Intercultural competence’ is the ability to appropriately engage with people from other cultures—to successfully interact with people from other ethnic, religious, and geographical backgrounds. As you can imagine, it’s a critical skill for teachers, students, working professionals, anyone to have in today’s interconnected world. It breeds compassion, understanding, and opportunities to learn new ideas and be successful in diverse environments.

Want to know what your school could be doing to heighten awareness for intercultural competence? Ready to be inspired by someone who devotes their time to the subject?

Meet Angela Owusu-Ansah, an Associate Professor of Doctoral Studies, a Faculty Chair of dissertation research, and a Concordia University Innovation Fellow (2016/2017). Angela has a wealth of teaching experience, including work in the U.S. and abroad that involves intercultural competence—which she discussed with us in the Q&A below.

Your areas of expertise include program assessment, quantitative research methods, and intercultural competence. So what are you currently working on right now?

I’m currently working on an intercultural understanding endeavor on campus, and it doubles as research because we are using innovative ways to grow intercultural understanding. We plan to assess in innovative ways, in addition to typical assessment approaches. One of the reasons I’m able to do this is because I was awarded an innovation fellowship—which means I’m supported by the Office of Innovation (the equivalent of a $5,000 grant) to design a unique way to support recruitment, retention, and rigor.

My goal in this endeavor is to meet with Concordia University on-campus students, staff, and faculty interested in intercultural understanding or competence, at their current point of knowledge, skill, and disposition on intercultural competence, and to intentionally and systematically move them towards cultural competence and a higher level of understanding than their current status.

I also want to:

  • heighten awareness of intercultural experiences and understanding on Concordia’s campus;
  • support and complement current efforts on campus toward developing intercultural understanding;
  • and introduce innovative and sustainable approaches to intercultural experiences on campus.

The project will be based on the Diffusion of Innovations theory (innovation process) and Perry’s Cognitive theory (cultural thinking change), and the Concerns-Based Adoption Model (change process) and will be assessed on these theories for effectiveness. The plan aims to build rigor by growing scholarly experiences, contribute to retention by validating all cultures enrolled, and recruit by involving students outside of Concordia who are from diverse cultures.

The plan will start small and recognize that it is a process and not a product; that repetition of interactions is necessary to move towards cultural responsiveness; that it is not a group concept, but an individual concept; that the progress is not linear, but contextual; and that we have to be careful not to affirm stereotypes.

What do you think K-12 teachers can do to address issues around cultural divides and misunderstandings with their students so that we can create stronger intercultural relations at all levels?

I feel K-12 teachers who have the desire to grow in this habit of mind ought to find or be given the training they need in this endeavor. I would also encourage K-12 schools to hold general trainings on cultural responsiveness regularly and consistently—but teacher attendance ought not be mandatory. When a person does not want to be a part of such conversations and is forced to attend they may downplay the sessions’ content. Nothing negates or undermines the potentially emerging benefits of such trainings more than one person debating or openly disregarding the training. It puts doubt about the essence of the training in the minds of teachers who are unsure, and may affirm stereotyping.

Growing interculturally is a process, not an event, and more importantly a way of life that needs to begin with the individual. No one can impose this type of growth on anyone else. And in universities, research has shown that the steady process of first introducing intercultural competence outside of the curriculum before including it in curriculum, and as part of the degree, introduces the concept differently and may bring growth in intercultural understanding directly, indirectly, and fortuitously.

What drove you to work in education?

My passion was the French language and wanted a career like an international conference translator. Then I had mandatory service in Ghana called “National Service” which is for anyone who wants to be enrolled in a Ghanaian university after they pass the Ghanaian version of the SATs. About 4,000 people a year are enrolled in National Service. It is almost like a gap year.

During my service, I was posted to teach in a remote and poor district. There was very little to teach with, so I had to make instructional materials. I found myself using the backs of old calendar glossy sheets and felt markers to make instructional posters, bottle tops as counters, etc. Soon I was asked to train hundreds of National Service students assigned to teach. It was after that experience that I was drawn to find ways to support learning.

I realized also that what separated me from the less fortunate was nothing but luck. I strongly believe the adage: “To whom much is given, much is expected.” My passion now is to find innovative ways to teach so as to reach different learners and approach my passion with the intent to serve.

What’s one moment when you felt your current job was really rewarding?

Each week when we meet as a department or office of doctoral studies, we have a session we call “Meeting of the Minds.” We share our thoughts on a particular reading, and how it can help us consistently improve the program. I am always impressed with the diversity of good thinking around a concept. I grow intellectually each time we meet.

You taught at the American Embassy K-12 School in Ghana and you’ve done a residency at Oxford in the UK. Why do you feel so strongly about working abroad?

Up until 2013, I returned to Ghana each summer to teach in an MBA program. My classes had anywhere from 64 to 70 enthusiastic and fully engrossed-in-learning students enrolled. I was given this opportunity by the MBA school because I could complement their instructional modes, content, and currency with what I have gained here, abroad. I feel strongly that an educated citizenry leads to a better world.

You have served as a professor of leadership, statistics, assessment, and research at public and private universities, as well as Associate Dean of the School of Education, Director of the MEd Program, and Coordinator of Accreditation and Assessment. What motivates you to do so much and to make change in so many different areas of education?

I try to insert myself in areas I feel I can serve the most. I wait to understand the culture and then I determine where I fit. And, I do all I can to fill that gap, with permission of course. I find I usually have to make a case for it to many decision makers first and get their buy-in. I feel I would be remiss if I noticed something I could help with but didn’t. Maya Angelou said that “when you don’t know better, you do the best you can, but when you know better you [should] do better.”

What do you still hope to achieve?

To somehow find a way to package the different experiences I have been blessed to have, into something I can use to impact as many people as I can. I believe you experience certain occurrences for a reason or as part of the painting of your life. It is important to stop once in awhile on life’s journey to look at how the painting of your life is shaping out to be. It’s about painting something cohesive that you are proud of and which is valued by others.

Learn from inspiring leaders like Angela. Explore Concordia’s MEd and EdD programs now.

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