If you have always dreamed of going abroad to teach or conduct faculty development seminars, I want you to know you are greatly needed! As a specialist in international faculty development, I have found that nursing schools around the globe have a great desire to receive up-to-date information on clinical trends, evidence-based practice, conducting online searches more efficiently, and implementing active learning strategies.
As a nurse leader, you have so much to offer, and sharing your knowledge globally with others aligns well with goals of the Honor Society of Nursing, Sigma Theta Tau International (STTI). Technology makes it possible to communicate with nurses on the other side of the world even when you don’t speak their language, so don’t let lack of fluency in another language prevent you from serving them. The benefits you receive will far outweigh the uncertainty and discomfort you may feel in a new environment.
Finding an institution to serve
Making use of church organizations and their global network of faith-based colleges and universities is a good way to build capacity in nursing schools. For the bold-hearted, identify an institution where you would like to serve, make a cold contact, and see what happens. Finally—and don’t ignore this one—talk with a colleague from another country to see if he or she can help line up an international teaching experience for you. The options are many and, with a little perseverance and vision, you can create the experience you want. Keep trying until you find the place that meets your objectives and agrees to host you.
Your service could be a one-time, long-term, visiting scholar assignment; a short-term arrangement; or one where, functioning as a development specialist, you return repeatedly to the same institution over many years. Typically, the host covers room and board, and either the host or the presenter pays for airfare. If you initiate the workshop, etiquette dictates that you cover travel expenses. Realize, however, that the money you spend on an overseas flight is more than compensated for by the career fulfillment and experiences that await you in the host country. Besides, depending on tax laws in your own country, expenses could be tax deductible, making the net cost even lower.
Benefits of not knowing the language
When considering countries in which to serve, don’t limit yourself to those where your language is spoken. In fact, lack of fluency in the language of your host country may actually be a benefit as it can increase your capacity to connect at a more fundamental level. Experts say that almost half of communication is nonverbal, enabling one to understand parts of a message without knowing the words.
I have found this to be true. Catching a single word here and there while watching body language helps convey the message and, over time, your capacity to “read” people will increase. In our own countries, where we are used to listening, we tend to get lazy and not pay attention to nonverbal cues. But visiting another country forces you to become more alert to nonverbal communication patterns, and an unexpected benefit is that you find yourself paying more attention to those cues in your own country.
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Another benefit of not speaking the language fluently is that you are not expected to deal with the problems, details, committee disagreements, and other activities that typically drain the energy of nurse leaders. Excused from those distractions, you have more time to participate in visioning, collaborating in research projects, creating new direction for the department, and publishing—all the exciting and energizing aspects of leadership.
Working with interpreters and translators
If you are not fluent in the language, you must work with an interpreter. Before making a presentation or other critical communication, let the interpreter know that conveying key ideas—not exact words—is best. Pause after just two or three sentences to allow the interpreter to convey the message before you begin again.
When communicating in writing, you must use a translator. While the translation won’t always be perfect, technology can do an amazingly competent job of translating short phrases. The technological tool of choice for me is Google Translate. This tool is very useful when translating bulleted words (no more than one or two words per bullet) for presentation slides. Before making the presentation, I double-check the accuracy of the translation by stating the phrase in the original language, and then I still ask someone to peruse the words for correctness.
For more complex sentences, you will need an interpreter to translate presentations. I have learned it is best to put both the English and the translated text for each bullet on the same slide. I also use this tool when sending simple messages to others (sent in both English and the other language). Again, I recommend back-translating the message before sending to make sure it conveys what you intend.
This process doesn’t result in a perfect translation, but it works satisfactorily. On occasion, I have also had to use Google Translate to have face-to-face communication with both students and faculty members. When they come to visit and need to communicate, I open the program, they type the message, I type in my response, and it translates. This goes back and forth until the requisite communication is completed. You might think communicating this way is fatiguing, but it works, and I have always felt energized afterward, knowing we have communicated!
Another tool I use to communicate is a smartphone language app. I choose my language and a second language, and the app interprets what was said and speaks the translated phrase to the other person. Once I invited Russian visitors to my home for dinner. I didn’t speak Russian, and they spoke very little English, so we used my smartphone app to communicate and get to know each other. There was a lot of laughter as we tried to speak into the smartphone as clearly as possible for optimal translation. It turned out to be just the thing we needed! Note: This type of app typically requires Wi-Fi to work, so check if Wi-Fi is available before trying to use the app.
Different place, same challenges
There’s no denying it; there are challenges when working at a foreign institution. One of them is sitting through long meetings and not being able to understand what is being said. It is hard to stay interested and look attentive. But isn’t it a challenge in your own country to sit through long meetings and try to appear attentive and engaged when you are tired or bored?
It is also frustrating not to be able to implement all the visions you have for the school you are serving during your international experience. Language barriers make it necessary to pick your challenges, prioritize projects, and stay focused on your vision. But that’s true for any nurse leader, even at his or her home school!
After 15 years of working in international faculty development, the most valuable lesson I have learned is that it doesn’t matter if I am fluent or not. What matters most is my “way of being” while in the host country. Willingness to do extra presentations and be flexible, while showing humility, respect, confidence, patience, and understanding, are positive behaviors that communicate without words. Actions do speak louder than words.
There is such a need to increase capacity globally in nursing education. I encourage you to go and be of service to others. The experience will stretch you and help you grow professionally. Create the professional engagement you have always desired, and don’t let circumstances or language barriers get in the way of reaching your potential. RNL
Jan M. Nick, PhD, RNC-OB, CNE, ANEF, professor at Loma Linda University School of Nursing, Loma Linda, California, USA, is dean and professor of the Department of Nursing at Saniku Gakuin College, which has campuses in Otaki and Tokyo, Japan.