My Top 10 Resources to Help Navigate Cultural Nuances Impacting our Daily Work

Every day in higher education we collaborate with, serve, and encounter people from all walks of life. Our institutions value and pride themselves on promoting and supporting diversity and inclusion in both the student body and the professionals they employ (in other words - us). So, how are we ensuring that we align with that value in the work that we do? What does it mean to support the diversity and inclusion of students, faculty and staff in your job?

As a study abroad advisor, when I think about diversity and inclusion in my job the first thing that comes to mind is cultural diversity. Cultural diversity is relevant to any department who has students, faculty or staff from a culture different from that which you identify. When you consider that culture is not just based on nationality, but also on values, ethics, cultural heritage, social norms, beliefs, and many other factors, almost everyone is culturally different from one person to the next. Cultural identity plays a big part in how we relate to and interact with others and whether those interactions are successful and positive.

If we want to improve diversity and inclusion in our work, first we need to better understand how culture influences our behavior, and more importantly how our own culture dictates what we perceive as “normal” and acceptable versus “foreign” or “strange” behavior. Once we have a sense of how culture influences social behaviors, we can then start to identify ways to navigate the cultural nuances that may have impeded our work with diverse individuals in the past due to a lack of understanding.

This is easier said than done. Fortunately, there is tons of literature and resources addressing cultural identity, cross-cultural communication, and diversity in higher education. Over the last few years in my studies and professional experience in international affairs, I’ve become familiar with some amazing resources that helped increase my ability to serve and work with individuals from around the world in higher education.

Here are my Top 10 resources:

1. Beyond Culture - by Edward T. Hal

I consider this book my intercultural bible. This book provides incredible insights into how everyday social behaviors are controlled by culture and how to navigate the complexities of less obvious cultural dimensions. The author uses real life situations to illustrate the dynamics of culture at play in society. Edward T. Hall is considered the founding father of cross-cultural communication as a field of study. He helped found the Foreign Service Institute with the US Department of State, teaching cross-cultural communication skills to foreign service personnel representing the US overseas.

2. Kiss, Bow, or Shake Hands - by Terry Morrison and Wayne A. Conaway

This book is a very practical guide for social and business protocols when working with individuals from other cultures. The book is organized by country and includes insights into each country’s national history, a quick introduction to its government, its language, a cultural orientation, overview of business practices, personal greetings, gestures, and business attire, among other tips and insights for cultural sensitivity.

3. Building Cultural Competence: Innovative Activities and Models – by Kate Berardo and Darla K. Deardorff

This book is a collection of tools (activities, discussion topics) for building cultural competence. Although it is geared toward professionals who will lead the activity with a group, it can be equally valuable as a cultural reflection resource for yourself. Each tool is presented in a way that makes it ready to use for whoever is facilitating the activity or discussion. These tools have been used in international student orientations, study abroad student pre-departure orientations, campus housing trainings, faculty trainings, and even by Fortune 500 companies.

4. International Student and Scholars Professional Resources; NAFSA: Association of International Educators (

You might think NAFSA is only for professionals in international education, but its resources on serving the international community on our campuses can be helpful for anyone working in higher education. Particularly helpful are their articles on best practices for cultural, social and academic adjustment and preparation for international students and scholars (located at the link above). These articles can offer insights into the challenges that are unique to the international community and how these challenges impact their higher education experience.

5. Open Doors; Institute of International Education


How many international students and scholars are studying, researching, and/or teaching in Oregon? What are they studying at our colleges and universities? Where are your students studying around the world? Open Doors is the leading US publication providing data “on international students and scholars studying or teaching at higher education institutions in the United States, and U.S. students studying abroad for academic credit at their home colleges or universities.”

6. Identity Development Theories in Student Affairs Origins, Current Status and New Approaches - by Vasti Torres, Susan R. Jones and Kristen A. Renn; Journal of College Student Development (Nov/Dec 2009)

This article offers a great introduction to the complexity and intersectionality of college students’ identities and how identity development has been understood in the professional field of student affairs in higher education.

7. Diversity, International Students, and Perceived Discrimination: Implications for Educators and Counselors - by Shideh Hanassab; Journal of Studies in International Education (2006)

This publication is based on a study involving interviews with over 600 international students at UCLA to gather feedback concerning discriminatory incidents they experienced within their university (whether from peers, faculty, staff, or employers). The findings are telling of the ways by which our actions as professionals in higher education greatly impact the overall view our students hold as to whether they are welcomed and accepted on campus or not.

8. Perspectives and Experiences of Muslim Women Who Veil on College Campuses – by Darnell Cole and Shafiqa Ahmadi; Journal of College Student Development (Jan/Feb 2003)

This study explores how the collegiate experiences of seven Muslim women impacted their choice to continue or discontinue wearing a veil.  The study offers valuable, firsthand accounts from their perspective on the role campus professionals, groups, activities, and even class discussion topics play in whether they felt accepted, alienated or marginalized on campus. 

9. Diversity and Inclusion, International Student and Scholar Services (ISSS) and International Programs Office(s) at Your Institution

Most of our campuses are lucky to have incredible professionals who specialize in promoting and supporting diversity and the international members of our community. Your offices of Diversity and Inclusion, ISSS, International Programs, or the like, possess staff dedicated to studying cross-cultural communication and cultural understanding. In my experience, these individuals are eager to share their knowledge with others. Take advantage of the resources within your own backyard.

10. Pinterest

Yes, that’s right: Pinterest. It’s not just useful for creating boards to inspire tonight’s dinner menu. By searching for pins under “cross cultural communication” or “diversity in the workplace” you’ll find endless pictographs, charts, articles, illustrations and activities that are not only fun but informative.


Elizabeth Abbasi is a Study Abroad Advisor at the University of Oregon. She can be reached at

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