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Intercultural studies’ role in the quest for a place to belong

By IOE Blog Editor, on 6 July 2023

A photo of Aziz in front of Tower Bridge. Image permission: Aziz bin Arsyad.

A photo of Aziz. Image permission: Aziz Bin Arsyad.

by Abdul Aziz Bin Arsyad (MPhil/PhD candidate)

When Professor Jeff Bezemer (Head of IOE’s Department of Culture, Communication and Media) delivered his welcome speech at an event marking the revival of the International Centre of Intercultural Studies (ICIS), he posed a straightforward yet significant question: “why do we still need a research centre that looks into intercultural studies?”

To respond to the question with a single answer would be reductive. But during the event on 8 March 2023, distinguished and experienced speakers from various fields of intercultural studies shared their insights. From a translation and dubbing project with Netflix to redefining intercultural competence for neurodiverse individuals, and poetry writing with refugees, a common thread ran through each presentation: a quest for a place to belong.

Intercultural studies and belonging

In his presentation, Professor Adam Komisarof asked the audience to think about the place of belonging in an intercultural world. For him, belonging is ‘personal involvement in a system or environment so that persons feel themselves to be an integral part of that system or environment’. Yet the question remains: how do intercultural studies help people find a place to belong?

One way to achieve it, as was evident in the inspiring work presented by intercultural studies scholars during the event, was the unyielding pursuit to redefine our places of belonging and the ongoing process of reimagining the role of culture in society, education and communication. This includes reconceptualising the notion of culture, language and learning, rethinking communication beyond human-human interaction and understanding the place of languages in fostering one’s sense of identity and belonging.

Understanding the role of culture in education and society

The event was a warm, welcoming gathering of researchers, scholars and students of multidisciplinary fields, sharing a common interest in not just understanding but also promoting intercultural research, learning and practice. The increasing interdisciplinary nature of intercultural studies underscores the intrinsic interconnectedness of our world, despite our proclivity to categorise and differentiate in our daily lives.

The revival of the Centre serves as a resounding testament to IOE’s commitment to the ongoing process of reimagining the role of culture in the face of complex intercultural challenges. It is empowering to know that in its simplicity, perhaps what human beings look for is that sense of belonging beyond geographical borders and citizenship. It is reflected in the common call across all to create equal, diverse and inclusive societies, to celebrate similarities and embrace differences and to push for diverse representations. It gives us hope that as we move forward, we may find that sense of belonging in many different places, in addition to discovering the ability and liberty to imagine a place that is yet to exist.

To borrow the words of Dr Jane Woodin in the concluding remarks of her presentation, “do we know the best way that intercultural communication should be understood and should be discussed? Probably, we don’t, and probably, we need to look in places where it’s not even a term at the moment.”

One of the highlights of the event was the performance of Bella Ciao led by female Centre members since the event fell on the same day as the celebration of International Women’s Day 2023. There was a sense of great pride in the air. The lyrics were a timely reminder of the bravery it takes to reimagine our places of belonging. It was also quite fitting that Professor Zhu Hua was handed a bouquet of flowers in honour of her appointment as the new director of the revived ICIS on a day celebrating women’s rights and achievements. It certainly was not a coincidence. It was a glimpse of wonders and possibilities that can arise when we commit ourselves to the pursuit of reimagination, and IOE is undoubtedly dedicated to this endeavour.

So why do we still need a centre that looks into intercultural studies?

As a young researcher with a growing interest in the field, the question stays with me. It is a question that will continue to beg for answers and for those answers to be challenged time and again as we move forward in society. But at the heart of our existence and survival, human beings are social creatures of habit and comfort. One way comfort is attained is when we feel a sense of belonging. So, if a quest for a place to belong is what defines our existence and survival – wherever and however that place may be now and in the future – perhaps that is the only answer we truly need.

2 Responses to “Intercultural studies’ role in the quest for a place to belong”

  • 1
    Shafie Hassan wrote on 8 July 2023:

    Excellent!!!

  • 2
    Dr Fotini Diamantidaki wrote on 12 July 2023:

    Well done Aziz, you have truly captured the essence of the day and the Centre! Beautifully written!

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