Training in intercultural effectiveness helps those working directly with Syrian refugees

By Corporate Strategic Communications, Global Affairs Canada

Global Affairs Canada's Centre for Intercultural Learning (CFSC)—part of our premier training centre, the Canadian Foreign Service Institute (CFSI)—offers intercultural effectiveness training to public servants. We spoke with Brigitte Lapierre, Deputy Director of CFSC, to understand how they are preparing government employees to work successfully with Syrian refugees.

What kind of training do you offer for public servants working on the Syrian refugee operation?

We offer intercultural effectiveness training specific to Syrian culture within the context of the refugee situation.

How do you define intercultural effectiveness?

Simply stated, an interculturally effective person is someone who is able to live contentedly and work successfully in another culture.

The goal of intercultural effectiveness is to minimize the risk of failure and enhance both the individual's and the organization's chances of success in an international environment.

Competencies of an interculturally effective person include: an understanding of the concept of culture; self-knowledge; knowledge of interacting cultures; adaptation skills; organizational skills; intercultural communication abilities; an attitude of modesty and respect; relationship-building skills; and personal and professional commitment.

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DND employees work in groups during an intercultural effectiveness training session at Valcartier.

Which departments are involved in the training? How many people from each department have completed the training?

To date, we have trained 3,970 Department of National Defense (DND) staff and 45 employees from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), mostly quarantine officers, and another 20 from the Health Centre at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto, who are all directly involved in the Syrian refugee operation.

What are the most important issues—or key messages of your training—that public servants need to understand when dealing with Syrian refugees?

Like any large population, the individuals come from different backgrounds so they will have different levels of education and diverse religious beliefs. Some are from the rural areas, and some are from the big cities. We discuss these differences and what general cultural manifestations might look like. We also help staff to understand cultural cues so that they are more aware when interacting with people how best to conduct themselves. It is important to provide historical background and discuss current events during the training; we explore cultural elements such as perceptions of hospitality, the importance of relationships in Syrian culture and specific cultural practices such as greeting protocols.

What has the reaction been to your courses?

The reaction has been extremely positive! So positive in fact that recently the Peace Support Training Centre (PSTC) of DND, with whom we work closely, expressed their appreciation by presenting three of our team members, Amal Zayouti, Fodé Beaudet and myself with PSTC's commemorative coin.

What are the rewards and challenges of your work?

It is very rewarding to know that people who have completed the intercultural effectiveness training program are better prepared to be more effective in their jobs. When they are living and working on the ground with Syrian refugees, we often hear back how the training has helped them be more aware and to understand the different dynamics at play.

On the challenging side, people have busy, with full schedules, and not everyone recognizes the importance of this kind of soft-skill training at first. At the onset, there can be some resistance to the training program itself, but when it is put into practice and the benefits are clear, then there is a great deal of positive feedback and support for more training!

What motivates you?

I am fascinated by the interaction of cultures of the world and the way we strive to find a middle ground to achieve our mandates and goals. I am motivated by the interplay between culture and human nature, which happens every day across the world, and the fact that our training helps remove barriers to clear communication and understanding.

What has impressed you most?

I am truly impressed by the motivation of others to help and the fact that this desire to help others comes from a genuine concern. There are so many people involved in bringing Syrian refugees to Canada; the sheer logistics of it all is mind boggling! The enthusiasm and energy of public servants who are trying to make a difference in the lives of others is very heartwarming.

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Canada's Humanitarian Tradition: Youssef

Youssef is a Syrian refugee who landed in Toronto on December 10, 2015.

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