“Hey, did you watch ‘House of Cards’ last night?” or “What did you think about the class discussion on gender inequality?” Just like that, you engaged someone else. It does not matter the topic — the purpose is to get the conversation started.
When I interact with my advisees, conversations are marred by uncertainty. Being surrounded by different nationalities, races, genders, cultures and faiths may seem intriguing, but how do you connect? When engaging this diverse population, students often contemplate how they fit in, and more importantly, what they can do to contribute.
I am always surprised that the idea of being different is not viewed as an opportunity to teach, educate, learn and engage but is instead often considered terrifying. It is a daunting task to step out of your comfort zone and have discussions about the unfamiliar. Taking the first steps in engagement can be overwhelming.
The art of engagement is a term used in the business realm, but it is very applicable to life. Jim Haudan states in “The Art of Engagement,” “Like people, every company has a story — a journey that includes where it’s been, where it is now, and where it wants to go.” As you step through the front gates, do you seek out what is familiar or go down the paths of the unknown?
Engaging your peers allows you to understand and learn the plight of others. It gives you an opportunity to empathize and even question the values that you hold true.
We live in a 24-hour news cycle. With technology, friends and family are a click away. We get to share our thoughts and opinions about what is not only occurring on our campus but in the world. Now add to that conversation your personal experiences and background. Do you see the power that you hold when you embrace the opportunity to engage? In a learning environment, it is our obligation to do so.
On Feb. 2, School of Foreign Service Dean Joel Hellman sent out a statement to the community, “From its very founding in 1919, SFS was established as a school with a mission to understand the world and to engage the world. To achieve that mission, we have always opened our classrooms to students and scholars from every corner of the world. They have enriched our community and deepened our global understanding. This is who we are.”
Whether in Lau or Leo’s on Healy Lawn or Red Square, we strive to connect, understand and impact the world around us. We understand that educating ourselves goes beyond the four walls of the classroom. It happens anywhere and everywhere.
The moment we speak and express our thoughts, we are learning. That is what engagement is all about. By carrying the torch to be men and women for others, at times, we feel pressured to say the right thing or to come across a certain way. However, our individual uniqueness is what makes engagement so interesting.
Entering into a new atmosphere, such as college or a new job, is frightening and challenging. Acceptance of your strengths and weaknesses, and recognizing those of others, is called empathy. It is essential to your growth and maturity to constantly challenge yourself to interact with others who are different from you.
The more you diversify your engagement portfolio, the more well-rounded you become. So, is engagement an art? Sure, but you have a lifetime to find the technique that fits you best. The more you practice, the better you become. So start a conversation. “Have you taken professor Hardest Grader Ever’s class?”
Georgetown will forever educate. The classroom is a powerful tool. But we cannot forget the other “E” words: empathy and engagement. They are simply the fabric of our lives.
Kendra Billingslea is an Associate Dean in the Georgetown University Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service. From the Dean’s Desk is a rotating column that appears every other Friday.
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