Workshop Preview: Experiential Learning to Facilitate Intercultural Understanding

April 14, 2016

By Kara Johnson

Each year, the NAFSA Annual Conference & Expo offers an incredible array of professional learning opportunities for international educators. As the 2016 Annual Conference Committee Workshop Coordinator, I thought it might be helpful to highlight a few of these amazing learning opportunities in order to help you fine-tune your schedule for this year’s event. Join me over the next few weeks as I give a sneak peek of some of the can’t-miss workshops that await you in Denver.

To start, I reached out to Jin Abe, an associate professor at Hitotsubashi University and lead trainer for the Current Topics Workshop (CTW), Experiential Learning to Facilitate Intercultural Understanding, to learn more about what this preconference workshop is offering to its participants and its value at the 2016 NAFSA Annual Conference & Expo.

Why is this Current Topics Workshop (CTW) critical to international educators at this time?

Abe: Experiential method is an incredibly effective pedagogy. Participants experience a high degree of learning and it works for a broad range of learning styles. Experiential learning is not just throwing a bunch of activities at participants. It has very concrete aims. Activities may be conducted to learn abstract concepts and theories, to facilitate sharing of individual perspectives and experiences, to focus on internal reflections, or to provide hands-on experiences. Recognizing these aims and framing activities accordingly makes us more effective trainers and teachers. We’ll cover this more in our workshop, so stay tuned.

What will a participant in your CTW walk away with that will enhance the work they do in their jobs? 

Abe: I’d say greater understanding of the purpose, objectives, strengths, and limitations of simulations and experiential activities. Through our activities and debriefing, participants will also gain new insights and understandings on the dynamics of facilitating simulations and experiential activities. In the end, we hope that our participants will return home with increased repertoire of intercultural learning activities that have been experienced during the workshop and that can then be applied in a variety of international education settings.

Who is on your training team and how does the experience of each trainer support the learning objectives of your workshop?

Abe: Our team brings together strengths in different ways and complement each other. Marian Beane is a wonderful facilitator of a cross-cultural simulation, as you will experience in our workshop. Alice Wu has a very energetic approach and is skillful in getting participants engaged in active learning, while Viviane Ephraimson-Abt has an introspective, reflective style that is essential in debriefing activities. I as the lead trainer make sure that we balance our strength to address diverse learning needs and styles of our workshop participants. Most importantly, we all very experienced international educators and trainers with years of experience working with both beginners to the field as well those with experience who want to gain additional tools.

What are you most excited about in delivering this workshop at the 2016 NAFSA Annual Conference?

Abe: I am excited to have a chance to work with another great group of workshop participants as well as our amazing training team. Folks make great connections at our workshop and have fun and have substantive tools to take home with them. I really enjoy the diversity of experiences, backgrounds, countries, and cultures that everyone brings to our workshop, and the synergy that comes with our lively exchange of ideas, stories, and perspectives throughout the day. Our training team has collaborated many times when facilitating intercultural workshops and sessions, which has always been an enjoyable and enriching experience.

If you had to give a one-sentence pitch for your CTW, what would it be?

Abe: Experiential learning is powerful because intercultural learning is not only immediately accessible but because it also truly unforgettable! Participants will always remember how an experience with a simulation changed their world view in an immediate and powerful way.

Learn more about the 2016 NAFSA Annual Conference Preconference Workshops at www.nafsa.org/ac16workshops.


Kara Johnson is assistant director of the International Center at the Illinois Institute of Technology and the 2016 Annual Conference Committee Workshop Coordinator.


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