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Achieving Cultural Competency: an interview with Dr Annie Daniel

In this blog post Dr. Annie J. Daniel, Director of Veterinary Instructional Design and Outcomes Assessment and Associate Professor of Veterinary Medical Education at Louisiana State University, describes her experience as a visiting professor in Shenzhen, China. She connects her experience to her education of her American students in cultural competency. The post concludes with commentary from the two Chinese teaching assistants who taught with her.

 

HMI: Tell us about your work in cultural competency in veterinary education.

Dr. Daniel: At the beginning of each academic year, I give a lecture titled “Cultural Competence Starts with Cultural Awareness” to the entering first year students in the doctor of veterinary medicine program at Louisiana State University. My goal of the 50 minutes lecture is to raise the awareness of veterinary students of how culture impacts our everyday lives and how as students being educated in a program and eventually working in a profession that is documented as the least diverse profession in the United States. It is important to step out of their world and develop relationships and have experiences with people from other racial and ethnic backgrounds.

I always began this lecture with “My Story.”  I give them a glimpse into my world by sharing who I am, where I come from, my family, my education, and my experiences.  This year I added my experience as a visiting professor in the city of Shenzhen in Guangdong Province, China. I shared pictures and told stories of the students I taught, the food I ate, the beautiful sites I saw and the beautiful people I met (both inside and out).  

My Story

HMI: What is the Cultural Competency Continuum and how can we work to achieve cultural proficiency?

Dr. Daniel: One does not progress along the cultural competency continuum by sitting in a class and listening to a lecture or reading a book or watching a video; this only happens by immersing oneself into the culture and learning first hand how the people truly live in their world and see and experience it with them.  According to the Office of Minority Health (2002), cultural competence is defined as “the integration and transformation of knowledge about patterns of human behavior that includes thoughts, communications, languages, practices, beliefs, values, customs, courtesies, rituals, manners of interacting, roles, relationships, and expected behaviors of a racial, ethnic, religious, or social group and the ability to transmit the above to succeeding generations.”  

The Cultural Competency Continuum

HMI: How did you find yourself teaching in China in the summer of 2016? What were your classes like?

Dr. Daniel: A friend and colleague recommended me to the university in China and I am so honored that someone would have so much faith in me.  The visiting professorship was from July 11 to August 5, 2016. I taught two courses: Introduction to Religion and Contemporary Arts History 1960 to Present.  The students and I evaluated both art and religion from a sociocultural perspective and spent time discussing in both courses how these are greatly influence by events happening in society. My students were all English speaking and attended universities in the US.  This program allows the students to return to China for the summer and earn a few course credits. It was very rewarding to see the students evolve and begin to share more about themselves and their culture in the classes. 

I was somewhat concerned about the language barrier because as much as I had hoped to learn a little Chinese, I did not have the time to devote to it.  I managed to learn two words in Chinese (hello and thank you).  The response from the Chinese people was so positive.  This was another lesson I shared with the veterinary medicine students: it may not be possible to be fluent in every language of every client, but at least take the time to learn a few words to let them know that you care about their language and culture. 

 

HMI: What were some of your more memorable travel experiences?

Dr. Daniel: On our first weekend, we traveled to the Green Valley for the best rafting in China, with breathtaking view of mountains and protected forests. After rafting, we headed to the Yeyuan Hot Springs Resort where we ended the day with a fabulous dinner and an evening lounging in pools and hot springs pools with beautiful views of the mountains as our backdrop. Another highlight was our visit to the Folk Culture Village and the Shenzhen Museum and various cultural parks. We also visited the Window of the World theme park with reproductions of the world’s most famous sights in each country.  On our final excursion, we visited Hong Kong.  

 

HMI: Tell us about an experience that shaped your teaching of cultural competency back home.

Dr. Daniel: Faculty and staff meals were always a special time because we learned so much about each other during mealtime.  I have visited China in the past and love dining at Chinese restaurants in the US. My teaching assistant (TA) compared the way he held the chopsticks with me and said my technique was better than his! He also observed that I held my chopsticks toward the top and he held his toward the middle.  He said that his grandmother would say to him that where you held your chopsticks conveyed where your husband or wife would come from. If held in the middle, your spouse would live near you and if you held the chopsticks near the top, the person you were to marry lived far away.  This was another suggestion for my students: it may not be a great thing you do to share in your clients’ culture, but just showing an interest by learning how to eat with chopsticks and not asking for American flatware shows a genuine interest in their culture.  

 

HMI: What was it like working with your teaching assistants?

Dr. Daniel: Well, I could not have survived without the assistance of my awesome TAs. June (Xiuyan Huang), my TA for the Contemporary Arts course is senior student at Jinan University and her major is in French Language and Literature and she has experience with art because she is a volunteer and a guide at a local museum at Guangzhou. She was very valuable in helping me to understand the culture of education in China and activities that could do with students.  My second TA was Leon Ho (Zonglin He), who is a student studying to be a physician.  Leon was my right and sometimes my left hand when came to technology and trying to access course content I stored in “the cloud” while planning for my courses in the US. We spent many hours planning and identifying alternative methods of teaching content and discussing how he would spend his time with the students independently of me.  

 Zonglin He (Leon Ho) and Xiuyan Huang (June) my wonderful TAs

 

HMI: What did you learn through the experience, Xiuyan Huang?

Xiuyan: As a TA, I learned a lot and what I acquired during Annie’s course certainly helps me a lot with my volunteer work at the Modern Museum. What actually impressed me is the acceptance and diversity of the art, which enables every one, no matter where he or she comes from, to express his original ideas about the world. The art can be both influenced, by happening events and so influential that it gradually and unconsciously changed the world. I feel so fortunate to have such an opportunity to learn more about the art and it does stir my curiosity about the what’s happening around the world. Besides, during the course, I have also learned a lot about how to communicate with students and build a bridge between teachers and students as a TA. Since in many Chinese universities, there isn’t the conception of TA, and I haven’t been abroad, so being a TA allows me to know more cultural differences between China and USA.

 

HMI: Tell us about a particularly memorable teaching success, Zonglin He.

Zonglin: One Friday, I was given a lot of work to organize and to do for review for students, but with limited time. To deliver all the knowledge to students seemed impossible and unnecessary, yet I still needed to do it. I suddenly came up with an idea that I can let the students do the revision by finding the necessary information they need under my instruction. So I drew a table of the features of the 5 major religions, and asked my students to fill in the space in the table to answer the questions. And all I needed to do was to instruct them and led the revision. In a nutshell, the revision ended up perfectly and my students seemed to understand the knowledge better with their own efforts.

 

HMI: How will this experience shape your future teaching at LSU?

Dr. Daniel: As my time in China came to a close, I realized how in such a time that I had gotten very close to the staff, students and TAs.  In the car on the way to airport with June, my TA, she shared her story of her journey to get an education and be an independent woman and the expectation that she would do as other women in her town and get married and have a family without going to college, but her aspirations were different.  She wanted a college education and to become an interpreter and travel the world.  I shared with her the challenges of being African American in America.  I told her the story of Alton Sterling’s killing by a policeman in my town of Baton Rouge, LA and how I did not know what to expect because I was not a part of any of it because I was in China, but managed to see a video sent to me by my son of the shooting and him dying as I watched the video.  This was a bittersweet moment for both of us because we were both about to re-enter our worlds, not always perfect but home.

 

During my visit to China, I was reminded that we as humans have so much to learn from each other, if we are open and nonjudgmental, we will evolve into more caring, respectful and empathic human beings.

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Tuesday, 24 May 2022