Intercultural Studies

Hey, it’s Paul.

Today I’m going to write about our studies in 365m.

What is intercultural studies? We’re here in Palo Alto studying through the 365m program at Nazarene Theological Seminary, taking courses in intercultural studies (ICS for short). It’s an interesting field. We each majored in it at Mount Vernon Nazarene University, with our favorite professor teaching many of the courses. We took classes like Gospel and Culture, Foundations of Missions, Cultural Anthropology, Intercultural Communication, and Intercultural Practicum. Students are required to study abroad as part of the curriculum, and we both studied in Costa Rica, taking courses in ICS.

Overall, ICS is pretty tricky to define.

The short answer in the context in which we studied it is that it’s a degree in missions. Many people use it to become missionaries. Indeed, a number of the people we know who studied it use it for just that.

During college, I sometimes heard it depicted as “applied anthropology”, using the study of people to communicate a message to another person of another culture.

IRelated image‘ve heard studying it described as “having a degree in people”.

I know people who studied it at the Master’s Degree level who use it in working with churches as pastors or leaders.

I know people who use it in their professions as educators, teaching cultural communication and tolerance, as well as contextualization, to students who plan to go into cross-cultural situations.

In job interviews, I’ve argued that it can help me in customer service or in sales, helping adapt to the customer’s needs/wants and contextualize the message to the customer.

I’ve used it in lots of church situations, working with both Spanish/English churches and their leaders. Combined with studying another language, the field’s insights help in effective communication.

I even used it during my time working as an interpreter, working to negotiate the cultural and language differences between people on both sides of the language gap in situations at hospitals, dentist offices, etc.  Sarah Lanier’s book, “Foreign to Familiar” outlines a simplified dichotomy of “hot cultures” and “cold cultures”. Image resultThese distinctions, which I won’t get into in detail her, describe the difference between people oriented, friendly, open cultures and more reserved, private, information oriented cultures. Distinctions like this are the realm of ICS.

One of the most memorable definitions for it came from a professor of ours in undergrad. That professor has a Master’s in ICS, and teaches nearly all of the courses in that field at our school. I asked one day how he dealt with not having a quantifiable “field”, like so many others  in nursing, mathematics, physics, etc. since ICS is much more nebulous. His answer has stuck with me:

“In ICS, our field is being able to engage other people in their fields”

is what he told me that day. After taking some time to ponder this, I realized that it was a great definition of ICS. We try not only to communicate across cultures and relate to people in order to communicate better to them, we also often try to understand the frame of reference from which another (the anthropological Other) is operating. We try to have a general knowledge of lots of things that other people find meaningful so we can try to craft and contextualize a message in ways that person can better understand.

In college, I think I  often unconsciously found myself doing this. I loved discussing coffee with some friends who were passionate about coffee. I loved watching apartment mates playing video games and memorizing some details of the games to be able to converse Image result for destinywith them about said game. I’d sit with them while they played and read or talk, taking in details about the game and its world. I loved engaging my roommate in discussions about movie and media, since those were some of his passions.

Much of my senior year of college was all about being conversant in a number of classes that were tangentially related to my “field”: I took a Speech Pathology course (with only majors in that field in it besides me) and related to them in their terms and still engaged the material from my passion for languages. I took Biblical Greek for 2 semesters, not for preaching from like the others in the class, but for the linguistic and cultural elements I could take away from it, which meant that I had to learn to function in the context of all those ministry majors. I spent many hours crafting my honors thesis (designing a major in linguistics) and crafting it into a presentable form to convey my creation to the university.

This engaging others on their terms is even one of the things that I love about the Church of the Nazarene. I didn’t grow up Nazarene, but have become immersed in it and learned about it experientially. If I know that someone is a part of it, I can converse with them about some of the common terms and figures within the church (especially all those acronyms I had to start understanding in college like NMI, NYI, NYC, PLNU, GMC, NTS, BGS, DAB, etc.)

During our time here in Palo Alto, this process of “engaging others in their fields” has continued. A coworker is from a different country, so I engage them with a general knowledge of that reality’s effect in mind. I speak with church people and adapt the language I can use, throwing in terms that I cannot use in general conversation outside the church. A friend in our context is an athletic trainer, so I asked her about an old Achilles injury I had and kinesiotape and its uses in training.

Related image

Another friend is passionate about business, so when I relate to him I consider the ways that business shapes his outlook and actions.

Going forward, having this type of mindfulness is helpful in all aspects of interpersonal relationships, and it will be invaluable to us wherever we go from here.


If I end up pursuing the field of linguistic anthropology as I hope, the anthropological elements found in ICS will give me a better base for pursuing my goals. In the distant future, if I enter into a professorship role as I hope, then engaging students in the fields that they have chosen will be an invaluable skill to add more meaning to our interactions.

Thanks for your continued support of us during this year in intercultural studies and mission.


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