What does World in Conversation do?
We train facilitators to connect people across borders in ways that allow relationships to develop and collaborative critical thinking to occur. Last year alone World in Conversation trained over 100 student facilitators. We also host facilitated dialogues. On average, we host about 3,000 per year. This makes us the largest university-based cross-cultural dialogue program in the world.
Fun fact: Not only have our participants come from all of the colleges at University Park and most of the Commonwealth campuses, they also come to us virtually from universities and local organizations around the world--in China, Iran, Afghanistan, Colombia, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Israel, the Palestinian Territories, Germany, and Poland.
How can conversations make a difference?
We’ve learned that people from all parts of the world tend to approach controversial issues with the same limitations—most notably, the intention to win the argument and defeat the opponent. A dialogue facilitator learns how to encourage another approach—the intention to understand (not necessarily accept) the opposing view, to learn from perspectives we’re more comfortable rejecting, and to uncover the core decency in the opposition. Facilitators are uniquely educated to stand in the intersection between groups and between divergent ideas, and in the ambiguous space where there is potential for outcomes people at odds have yet to discover.
What will we talk about in the dialogues?
Part of our mission is to explore controversial topics that people tend to avoid. Our view is that, if something is controversial, it’s probably because it is important. And if it is important, it actually needs to be talked about. So our conversations invite us to explore issues that will provoke thoughtful and meaningful engagement.
Why is my participation in a dialogue important?
Collaborative critical thinking is not possible if it happens without a diverse group of participants. “Diversity” includes race, ethnicity, sexual orientation and gender. However, it also includes age, class, ability, religious affiliation, education, position at the university, and many other factors that shape who we are. If YOU are not present, we are missing a key perspective.
What is my role as a participant?
All we ask of participants is that they speak candidly--even if that means saying “I don’t really know yet.” or “I need more time to think about this.” or “This bothers me.” Whatever you think or feel creates the conversation.
What will I get out of it?
You will gain insight into the perspectives and experiences of people who you usually don’t get to speak with. So whoever you are, you will be with people who you (probably) don’t spend much time with and whose perspectives you often don’t have an opportunity to hear or consider.
How is this kind of dialogue different again?
Most conversations that we are part of happen without facilitators and so are subject to many conversational “traps” that hinder people’s ability to listen and to be heard. However, in these dialogues there will be two people (facilitators) who are dedicated to managing the dynamics of the experience. Their job is to ensure that everyone has a chance to talk, that dominant voices are moderated, that less popular views are encouraged, and that themes are summarized so that the participants know where they are in the dialogue. Facilitators act like “air traffic controllers” for conversation. They don’t determine the destination of the conversation, but they keep us from “crashing.” :-)