The University of Montana’s Multicultural Learning Solutions program is expanding beyond campus and into the community after interest in the program nearly doubled between 2012 and 2013.
Global Gateway is a program that aims to take the educational spirit of MLS into Missoula Public Schools, local businesses and existing international organizations in the community.
“What I’m trying to do is help people become more cross-culturally knowledgeable,” said Udo Fluck, MLS director. “People get so upset and frustrated with other people because they don’t know enough of the other person’s cultural background.”
A division of the Office of International Programs, the MLS program educates on the necessity for multicultural awareness, not only to avoid breaking local taboos but also to promote international unity through cultural diversity. through seminars, workshops and practical applications.
A person could get into a lot of trouble on the international scene if he or she doesn’t know local customs, Fluck said.
Throwing a peace sign the wrong way could get a someone knocked out by a passing Londoner. If they try to throw their hairy, bare feet up and relax in the city square, they’re offending most of the Arab world.
People, especially students, not aware of cultural norms will have trouble building positive international relationships and increasing their employability on the global scene, Fluck said.
“It’s a program that’s important for any university,” said Paulo Zagalo-Melo, director of the Office of International Programs. “All universities deal with multicultural environments. It’s not only important to students, but also faculty who are dealing with an increasingly diverse classroom.”
Zagalo-Melo said students must be prepared to live and work in an international society.
“We need to become globally minded,” Zagalo-Melo said. “Anyone who watches the news can see that not even the most powerful nations deal with issues alone.”
In addition to the social importance of cultural sensitivity, Fluck said students need extensive multicultural training to compete in any workplace.
“Your ability to interact with a culturally diverse workplace is becoming more and more critical,” Fluck said. “Globalization is not reversing anytime soon. We’re going forward and interacting with others more than we have in the past.”
Cross-Cultural and global competence comes from a person being proactive in learning, Fluck said. Teaching cultural norms at an early age can positively impact someone’s cross-cultural relationships, he said.
The brainchild idea of both Zagalo-Melo and Fluck, the Global Gateway program provides an avenue for students to gain relevant knowledge early on.
Zagalo-Melo said when he first came to work in the U.S. for the Portuguese-American Foundation, he noticed that his young son adapted and absorbed information better than he and his wife.
“Children learn so much more than we do,” he said. “They don’t second-guess anything. They just take it as something normal. We don’t have to wait for our students to come to UM to become globally minded.”
Fluck said he is very grateful for Missoula’s open-minded community. As globalization becomes more of a reality for Montana, he’s confident interest in the program will continue to grow both on and off campus.
“We can learn a little bit about each other,” he said. “We can create a mutual understanding and appreciation that we’re all in this together.”
MLS will officially launch Global Gateway at its 10th anniversary celebration on Wednesday, Nov. 13, from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. in the Davidson Honors College lounge.