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Students Learn Mindfulness Practices & Intercultural Communication Skills in Bali

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Though the threads have begun to fray, Ying Lin still wears the bracelet that Balinese priests blessed during a traditional healing ceremony she took part in while in Indonesia on the UVM travel course over winter break last year.

Led by UVM faculty, the travel course brings UVM students to Bali every winter to investigate traditional Balinese healing techniques and develop their intercultural perspective and communication skills.

Having participated this course, Lin says, “The concept of mindfulness has truly been defined and integrated into techniques of coping in daily life.”

She is a UVM senior graduating this winter as a Chinese major with a psychology minor. Upon graduation, Lin hopes to gain experience in health care and promote health care access and services to vulnerable populations.

Growing Intercultural Communication Skills

Traveling through remote Balinese communities, students experience rural community life with a backdrop of rice fields and green hills. By engaging with community members, students explore cultural similarities and differences. As they settle into the Balinese experience, students are asked to reflect on their experience, making time for meditation, writing, and discussion. Through this process, students recognize cultural differences and investigate the rural roots of Balinese culture with a comparative lens. By the end of the course, students have developed multiple tools to understand, communicate, and connect with people in a different cultural setting.

Developing a Global Perspective

UVM’s Faculty-Led Programs Abroad set out to create opportunities for students to learn life skills and develop a global perspective. In particular, the Indonesia: Consciousness, Culture, And Community in Bali course is designed to develop intercultural communication and trans-cultural skills. By engaging with Balinese families, teachers, and traditional healers through site visits and field work, students are encouraged to deepen their sense of community and learn how to balance their own needs with the needs of others.

Western education and thinking tends to emphasize the rational mind, categorization, analyzing, splitting, and prominent elements in the foreground of our awareness. In contrast, Balinese tradition, as with many Asian societies, tends to emphasize feeling, intuition, relationships, sensitivity to background context, complexity, balance, and a capacity to embrace change.

Bali is a particularly interesting place to study these cultural dynamics, and the course investigates how the arts, healing, spirituality, and community are uniquely interwoven into daily life in modern-day Bali.

As part of this comparative study, students visit with community leaders, participate in a homestay with Balinese families, and practice mindfulness exercises as a group. One of these exercises includes participating in a directed meditation session with Dr. Doctor Luh Ketut Suryani – which was a memorable experience for Lin. Describing the session, Lin said that the experience, “allowed vulnerability and offered calmness, tranquility and peace in exchange.”

Beyond a classroom exercise, Lin says, “the experiences I had in Bali have helped me to think about my own life differently.” In describing the healing session with Dr. Suryani, Lin said, “It was beautiful and cathartic. My experience was life-changing. The way in which I view stress has fundamentally changed. I’ve never met anyone with such presence before; she truly embodied the definition of a ‘healer.’ Her session allowed vulnerability and offered calmness, tranquility and peace in exchange.”

Experiencing Self-Growth

By granting these types of experiences, the course enables students to explore their own personal story while studying a different culture and developing their intercultural communication skills.

Seeking to expose students in a safe learning environment and urge them to understand their own cultural assumptions, the course takes a comparative look at how even short exchanges and perceptions impact their daily interactions with others. As the course description attests, “It is easy to assume that our own cultural biases are universal. Even when we recognize that cultural conditioning is relative, we may be unaware of how our usual context is skewing our interaction with the world.”

Better than any trinket or souvenir she could have brought back from her travels, Lin says that her experience abroad made her a more empathetic, caring person. She said, after her experience broad, “I want to be a more altruistic person. I’m learning to be grateful for the privileges that have been given to me. I find myself wanting to give something back.”

This focus, on both individual and collective well-being and on the resolution of imbalances in our societies, is a major focus of the course. The Balinese perspective provides a compelling contrast to dominant “Western society.” Students learn by example how cultures can be complementary, and how you can learn from other cultures and infuse those practices into your own life.

“I have learned about the power of shared experiences, vulnerability, friendship, happiness, and living in the now.” Returning with this new focus may have helped her to adapt back to life on campus,” Lin says. This process can be challenging for some students, but Lin says that she “really didn’t experience culture shock.” Instead, she seems more confident and able to articulate the benefits of her experience abroad.

“My experiences abroad have greatly contributed to my personal-development,” she says. “This course helped me to further identify what matters to me in life and helped me to direct my focus.”

Lin is graduating this winter. She urges other students to build their global perspective and gain experience through travel.

“What do you have to lose? Nothing. You have everything to gain, especially in terms of creating priceless moments and memories,” she says. “What I realize is that life is defined by these experiences, and surely you want to build your life on more than just college and your career. Go out and see the world.”