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Janet Bennett

Dr. Janet Bennett gives the keynote address at the opening reception of Ohio University’s International Education Week.

Photographer: Chris Franz

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Keynote speaker discusses cultural competency at IEW’s opening night

During an evening that emphasized the themes of cultural competency and internationalization, Ohio University kicked off International Education Week (IEW) Tuesday with dinner and speeches about the importance of connecting with people of all cultures.

Dr. Janet Bennett, executive director of the Intercultural Communication Institute (ICI) and chair of the ICI/University of the Pacific Master of Arts in Intercultural Relations program, served as the keynote speaker for OHIO's IEW opening reception, held Tuesday evening in the Baker University Center Ballroom. She delivered a talk titled "On Becoming Global Souls: A Path to Engaged Citizenship."

International Education Week celebrates cross-cultural understanding and exchange across the globe and is sponsored by the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education. Although this year marks Ohio University's first celebration of the event, OHIO is no newcomer to meaningful international ties. The University has enjoyed long relationships with its three international partnerships: Malaysia (50 years), the University of Leipzig in Germany (20 years) and Chubu University in Japan (40 years).

To start the evening, Master of Ceremonies and Ohio University Professor Thom Luce recognized the University's status as a promoter of cultural learning and understanding.

"In my time here I discovered that Athens, Ohio, is a really interesting place because the world runs through it," Luce said. "We have an interesting and dynamic structure for promoting international education and global education at Ohio University."

Vice Provost for Global Affairs Lorna Jean Edmonds addressed the attendees about the importance of embracing cultural competency both at home and abroad.

"When I think about internationalization, I think that one of the most important things is what we do here at home and our values and our commitment to global leaders," Edmonds said. "If we want to go abroad and talk about it and be part of that agenda, we also have to live it here."

After a formal introduction from Jeff Ferrier, curator of the Center for International Collections, Bennett took the stage to address the main topic of her lecture: intercultural competence, which she defined as "cognitive, affective and behavioral skills and characteristics that support effective, appropriate and a variety of cultural contexts."

"I think the real reason this is important is that we are missing something if we don't enjoy meeting people from other places and meeting that difference with some enthusiasm," Bennett said.

Bennett also highlighted the difference between cultural knowledge and cultural competence: One may know all about Mexican music, for example, but falter when interacting with individuals from Mexico. She also said that contact with people of different cultures does not necessarily lead to cultural competence, but it may lead to the reduction of stereotypes.

Finally, Bennett warned that language learning is not sufficient for culture learning.

"Language without cultural proficiency has its limitations," she said. "It allows you to be a fluent fool."

Those who wish to develop and hone their cultural competency skills should focus on the reduction of anxiety and an openness to learning, as well as an increase in empathy and knowledge.

Above all, "global souls" embody a "restless questioning" and "unbridled inquisitiveness": essentially, a simple curiosity.