I am writing this as I ride on a train between Copenhagen and the small city of Kolding in Denmark. It seems to have been much longer than the 9 days since I arrived in Europe. A quick overnight in Warsaw was followed by a flight to Zurich for a 3-night stay. A countryside train ride from there through Austria to Munich to take in a quick night of Bavarian hospitality. All culminating in a flight to the Mediterranean island nation of Malta for the SIETAR Europa Congress.
This is now possible as the world begins to emerge from a global event that has kept us separated from family and friends, as well as the colleagues in the intercultural field through which an interchange of learning is so vitally important. We pivoted to virtual technologies of course, however this recent gathering in Malta has driven home just how much an in-person connection can enrich the experience of exchanging thoughts and ideas.
I am always personally mindful of the privilege I am afforded in being able to engage in these experiences. That the very nature of the work we do calls us to embrace the growth that comes with being in the honored presence of those that do not think, act, pray, love, look and communicate as we each do.
The very idea of SIETAR is evolving, as it should. The theme in Malta was “Re-Thinking Interculturalism”. There were many in attendance that felt this had been long overdue. The paradigm is shifting, asking us to let go of the traditional ways we approach not just the work itself, but also the way in which SIETAR exists for its members, and invites those who may be considering being a part of it. In the USA, we are in the process of presenting a whole new mission statement to better reflect the needs of today’s intercultural community. It is meant to be one that follows this same call to a new reality, one that centers the value of diversity and inclusion of new ideas and the people who bring them, as well as new ways of thinking. I have personally heard the phrase “we need to find people that know SIETAR” far too many times when considering people for roles of stewardship, and feel that this has resulted in a lack of new thought.
No vision or mission statement can be perfect, nor can any organization. For me, it's not about that. But the safe harbor of perpetuating practices and programs that exclude the very voices we need to hear from is counterproductive. It diminishes and undervalues the many great works that SIETAR has done since its inception.
We may all agree that the world is a much more connected and integrated place. Many of us have the privilege to live in a time that is relatively much more peaceful than any other in human history. However, this is not the case for everyone. Inequity, both explicit and implicit, infects many areas of the world, and brings with them deep conflicts, resulting in dislocation of many innocent souls across the world.
As we in the SIETAR USA community look forward to our own conference coming up in November, I invite us to keep all of this in mind that new ways of doing things are not a threat. Our response should be one of eager curiosity to discover the abundance of opportunities that comes with broadening our spaces, both physically and conceptually.
Brett Parry, President