Engaging in intercultural mentoring interactions: The Monash Intercultural Lab partners with Access Monash to deliver intercultural competence session to mentors

As part of the Monash Intercultural Lab’s (MIL) initiatives to develop in Monash students the intercultural capabilities to navigate an increasingly diverse world, our academic team partnered with Access Monash to design and deliver an intercultural competence workshop on mentoring and diversity.

Under the Access Monash Mentoring program, led by Alana Harries, Monash students mentor Year 11 and 12 students from under-represented backgrounds. During February and March, the MIL and Access Monash teams collaborated for the first time in delivering intercultural competence training sessions around mentoring to over 400 new mentors.

Mentoring provides incredible opportunities for students to access knowledge they would not otherwise be able to tap into, while establishing positive and nurturing relationships that allow for safe, respectful and open conversations. A guiding question for the intercultural competence sessions was how individuals best engage with people from diverse backgrounds in interculturally sensitive and productive ways.

The sessions explored the various cultural identities that people enact when engaging with different contexts and the communities to which they belong. Mentors were prompted to reflect on their own cultural identities, and the importance of suspending assumptions and unconscious biases when interacting with people from diverse cultural backgrounds.

In collaboration with the Access Monash team, the MIL developed mentoring scenarios which prompted discussions on the skills and awareness required to navigate intercultural interactions, such as actively listening for understanding cultural differences, empathy, fostering connectedness based on difference and diversity, appreciating complexity and mitigating the impacts of generalisation from experiences.

Mentors were asked the keywords they would use to describe what they have learnt in the sessions.

Feedback collected from the mentors after the session demonstrates that ninety-one per cent of students strongly agreed or agreed that the sessions increased their awareness about the importance of intercultural competence. Eighty-nine per cent strongly agreed or agreed that the sessions were useful and gave insights into the intercultural competencies needed for mentoring. Some of the qualitative feedback the mentors shared after attending the session included:

“The intercultural training enabled me to be more aware of how I should approach diversity.”

“I really enjoyed the intercultural competence session. The scenarios were super helpful.”

“It was helpful to go through potential real life scenarios and discuss solutions/strategies.”

“What we learnt will be very useful when mentoring begins. It’s given me the confidence to help the mentees to the best of my abilities.”

Kate Kennedy-Ripon, from Access Monash, assessed the collaboration as a positive outcome for the mentors. “It was wonderful to see our mentors reflecting on their own experiences when brainstorming strategies to interact in an interculturally sensitive and supportive way. The workshop supported mentors to build their intercultural communication skills and find ways to develop meaningful connections across different cultures and social groups. Thanks to MIL, we are confident our mentors are heading into the program equipped with the skills to foster an inclusive environment that celebrates diversity,” she said.

The sessions were also a rewarding learning experience for the MIL team led by Dr Lucas Santos. He highlighted that “the mentors were extremely engaged and were really open to exploring what we can learn about ourselves when we engage in intercultural interactions with no preconceptions, and a willingness to embrace active listening to build rapport with mentees”. The team included Dr Tom Heenan, Dr Nadine Normand-Marconnet, and Dr Marcela Gallardo-Lazo. They consider this a great illustration of the collaborative nature of the MIL’s activities and how it contributes to the development of Monash students who are interculturally competent and open to diversity.

Team from the Monash Intercultural Lab: Dr Lucas Santos, Dr Tom Heenan, Dr Nadine Normand-Marconnet, Dr Marcela Gallardo Lazo

Team from Access Monash: Gitana Tye, Kate Kennedy-Ripon, Sofie Saleh, Cameron Mills, Elliot Coombe