In a world that becomes more globally connected every day, cross-cultural competence is not just something that makes the hallways and classrooms of Harrisburg Academy a more inviting place for our international students.  With 12 Upper School international students and a culturally diverse population gracing every division of our school, cultural differences are celebrated and intentionally used as a springboard for learning each day at Harrisburg Academy.  Whether it is a parent coming to the Kindergarten classroom to teach about her family’s celebration of Eid al-Fitr or the second grade class Skyping with a group of students in India, we offer many opportunities for our students to develop one of the most sought after skills in our ever-changing world:  cultural agility.

Cultural agility is defined by Study.com as the ability to understand, incorporate, and successfully work within and between multiple different cultural contexts and locations.  While being surrounded by people from different cultures does not automatically afford a person cultural competence and/or agility, such exposure does provide a forum for exploration, learning, and tolerance.

If you stop into John Butler Davis Gallery for lunch on a Friday at Harrisburg Academy, you’ll witness Upper School students discussing how there are no gender pronouns in Finnish and why there is no English translation for certain words in Hebrew.  Lingo Lunch provides a space for native and non-native speakers of Spanish, French, Mandarin, Finnish, Russian, German, and Hebrew to discuss some of these topics.  It is an intentional time and space to explore and celebrate differences.  The International Supper Club offers any family in our Harrisburg Academy community the opportunity to open their home and share a meal with a few of our international students.  Casual and relaxed conversation centered around any meal is a powerful tool in opening peoples’ minds and sharing differences.

When our 2nd grade class gets the chance to hear about the Moon Festival from a student from Beijing or the students in Mr. Whitehead’s U.S. history have lively debates about free market versus command economies, our students have access to many perspectives and personal stories.  As a result, we are able to produce ambassadors—young people with a varied world view who are comfortable engaging with and promoting the importance of learning from one another’s differences.  Our international students will return home eventually with a new view of the United States and our domestic students come away with a greater appreciation of the world outside of these walls.

In addition to benefiting local and world communities, the nurturing of cultural agility will also benefit our students in their future careers.  According to Paula Caliguiri, author of “Cultural Agility: Building a Pipeline of Successful Global Professionals,” more than one-third of multinational firms cite a lack of culturally agile employees as a limit to their global competitiveness.  The ability to quickly, comfortably, and successfully work in cross-cultural and international environments will become more and more valuable as our world becomes smaller, thanks to technology and an ever-growing global market.  Harrisburg Academy is proud to be part of producing students who are well-prepared for diverse college and work environments one day.  There is no “end point” to achieving cultural agility; it is, instead, a dynamic process that we can and will continue to nurture in our community.  Just ask the Russian table at Lingo lunch.

If you are interested in hosting a small group (2-3) of international students for our International Supper Club, please email Jennifer Graf.

Learn more about Harrisburg Academy on our school website.