Serve Well Blog

3.18.15

Crossing Cultures in Theory and Practice

The Krista Foundation | Colleague Press, Integrating Service As A Way Of Life, Intercultural Development, Transitions Home & Beyond

As part of the Jesuit Volunteer Corps, Claire Smith '12 served domestic violence survivors in Oregon and was an academic assistant at a school on the Crow reservation in Montana. During service, she had many opportunities to build her intercultural competence. The Intercultural Development Inventory helped frame her growth.

Claire SmithIs cheese a staple kitchen ingredient, or a bonus item?

What about nori?

Questions like these peppered the early days of 2012 KF Colleague Claire Smith's life in the Jesuit Volunteer Corps in Gresham, Oregon.

While all seven housemates seemed to share similar backgrounds at first glance, "many tensions surfaced based around our assumptions and worldviews," she says. "It would have ended up being a tense community with lots of fights if we hadn't all wanted to lean in and figure out the reasons behind our differences."

More opportunities to practice relationship amongst differences arose on the job with Proyecto UNICA/Catholic Charities, where Claire worked with Latina women affected by domestic and sexual violence. And still more practice was called for during in her second Jesuit Volunteer year, while serving as an academic assistant at the Pretty Eagle School on the Crow Indian reservation near Hardin, Montana.

"Throughout all of these experiences, I was lucky to be surrounded by people who were willing to dig in to relationship and speak openly about cultural norms and values, but there were a lot of growing edges, and since the end of service, the Intercultural Development Inventory has helped me frame it."

During her pre-service orientation with the Krista Foundation, Claire took the 50-item inventory for the first time. As the inventory assessed her intercultural competence, it showed a gap between her ideals and her experience.

"I had the right answers in my head," Claire says, "but not a lot of experience living them out. Having to make a home in groups of people from different backgrounds gave me lots of practice, which was reflected when I took the IDI for a second time during the Winter Debriefing and Discernment retreat." The growth in her IDI helped Claire recognize the growth in her cross-cultural fluency and gave her a way of framing her service experiences. "It really helps me look with a clearer lens at where I've been and how I've grown."

Claire hopes to use the IDI tools more consciously in the future. She appreicates the way that it breaks down a person's relationship with cultures, and she sees it as a potential for larger scale development as well. "I think that using it in any group setting or as a facilitation tool would provide some useful shared language around issues that are critical for community, but often difficult to talk about."

Follow Claire's journey across cultures in her "Where I am from" poem, written during the Debriefing and Discernment retreat.