Insight is essential to vision. The first insight underlying the original vision for the intercultural field came more than 40 years ago.
The first insight was this: Thousands of men and women in many parts of the world are working every day with individuals and groups whose backgrounds are very different from their own. Their work is important to them, to their communities, to social justice and peace. Intercultural competence is essential to their effectiveness. Among these women and men are diplomats, teachers, international students, corporate managers, inner city social workers, medical doctors and nurses, journalists, military personnel, interpreters and translators.
A second insight underlying the original vision was this: these men and women all face similar intercultural challenges and require similar intercultural knowledge and skills. Therefore, they are a part of a significant professional community but are not aware of it. They have many colleagues -- interesting, capable colleagues, but don't realize this.
A third insight: Many of these men and women do their intercultural work alone. And most were not prepared during their education for the intercultural aspects of their responsibilities.
The vision then was this: To enable every one of these women and men to do their important intercultural work more effectively. This was to be accomplished through establishing a communications network and providing relevant materials. The network (newsletters, conferences, and directories) would enable them to contact and learn from one another. The materials (books, articles, research reports, course and program designs, and the many "fugitive materials" being developed) would enable them to build their intercultural knowledge.
Access to colleagues and their best work was the key. Contributing one's own best work to colleagues was even more important.
The larger, longer term vision was to create a whole new, fully legitimate field in the Social Sciences. This field would have its own distinctive standards, methods, body of literature, concepts and theories. A critical part of the conceptual foundation had been provided by Edward T. Hall when he recognized and demonstrated brilliantly the connection between culture and communication.
This new field would draw on the relevant parts of the established academic disciplines in the social sciences, natural sciences and humanities. It might, therefore, actually become the first real Interdiscipline. And it would be the first field to consistently integrate theory with practice and to achieve consistent collaboration between researchers, teachers and trainers.
With a substantial, creative field supporting them, the thousands of men and women engaged in intercultural relations around the world would gain credibility and capability.
In fact, they would gain a significant new professional identity.
David Hoopes was the first to articulate and passionately pursue this vision. He and Toby Frank built the original SIETAR, both its organization and its spirit.
The results, the first members of SIETAR hoped, would be intercultural courses from kindergarten through graduate school, Intercultural Communication Workshops on university campuses across the U.S., illuminating research into all kinds of intercultural relations, intercultural training in all major multinational corporations, intercultural competence in government agencies (both local and national), intercultural specialists in the United Nations, and intercultural specialists involved at the center of every major urban and international conflict.
The first members genuinely believed that widespread intercultural competence could have major social consequences, even political consequences.
The inaugural SIETAR Conference was held in 1975. The Society then grew to 2,000 members.
A State of the Art Study was conducted. This was funded by a grant to SIETAR from the Kettering Foundation. Some of the findings:
- 541 organizations were involved in intercultural education, training and research.
- 31, 000 intercultural courses, training programs and research projects had been conducted in 45 states in the U.S. and in 89 other countries. These had involved 990,000 students and trainees.
SIETAR International was established. It included a Regional Affiliate (SIETAR Europa) and several Country Affiliates (SIETAR USA, UK, Deutschland, France, Netherlands, Japan and Indonesia). It also included some Local Affiliates (Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Chicago, Houston and Metro Washington). Then, for several years, Young SIETAR was very active.
Over the following years, SIETAR International was dissolved and many of the country and local affiliates were dissolved.
Given the original compelling vision described above, then the creation and dissolution of SIETAR International and many of the national and local SIETARs, what are the implications for us today? And tomorrow?
George W. Renwick, M.Div., Ph.D.
George has attended and conducted sessions at every annual SIETAR conference since 1976. He is a founding faculty member, along with John Condon, of the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication and has conducted workshops there for 41 years.
With David Hoopes and Peggy Pusch he founded the Intercultural Press and served with them on its Board of Directors.
As president of his consulting firm, he has completed assignments in 26 countries for 45 multinational corporations.