James Bridge - Working Abroad Program Manager
James has led international programs and worked with students in a variety of countries and settings throughout his career. This experience combined with his academic focus in intercultural communications has made him an incredible part of the InterExchange team over the past nearly four years.
You have a range of experience leading international programs all over Asia. How did you find out about the job opportunity with InterExchange?
Leading overseas programs is an adventure and a privilege, but the back and forth can become exhausting. At some point I wanted to put down roots and started investigating U.S.-based organizations. InterExchange and the position I was hired for came up in a post on the SECUSS listserv for Education Abroad.
What makes InterExchange unique from other international program providers?
InterExchange places a lot of value on staff as contributors towards conversations of cultural exchange and international experience (check out our blog for instance). Of course we all have specific responsibilities, but more broadly, we are people who value travel, exchange, and cultural awareness and we all have thoughts to share in this regard. Our participants can see who we are as people with similar interests to them, not just as anonymous “representatives” on the other end of a phone line.
How has your academic background in intercultural communication helped you in your travels over the years?
Exploring intercultural communication in an academic context helped me fine-tune my observational skills and critical approach (as opposed to presumptive approach) to interacting with people. Whether the things we experience abroad are utterly confounding or totally mundane, we have a tendency to judge and categorize them based on our own cultural framework. Traveling might help us break down this tendency, but processing in an academic context deepened my understanding of why and how “intercultural competence” can vary so widely.
In what ways does InterExchange foster intercultural communication skills among participants?
InterExchange programs connect participants not only with a potentially unfamiliar cultural landscape, but we also organize a placement (and a responsibility) within a specific subculture (school, business, family, etc.) abroad. Participants are presented with the unique challenges these kinds of programs present before they travel, and of course they are provided with opportunities to reflect on successes and challenges they encounter abroad. Each program does this differently, but examples include: meetups with other participants to share stories, check-ins with program representatives, debrief calls, alumni access to language exchanges, and so many other resources.
Overall, what type of support do InterExchange participants receive before, during, and after their time abroad?
Starting when someone calls to inquire (not just after they sign up), we try to help them understand the unique challenges and highlights involved in their program(s) of interest. We think the journey begins at the research stage, when people begin to form expectations and make plans. We hold informational calls and interviews and send participants pre-departure information before they travel. This varies by program (teaching tools for teachers, child care resources for au pairs, etc.).
Once abroad, participants have support from our overseas partners, which could mean orientations, meetups, or check-ins. This really varies since some programs are designed with a lot of structure, while others are geared towards individuals seeking more independence. We also offer alumni resources, like the opportunity to join the InterExchange Language Partner Program with exchange visitors here in the U.S., a program that was nominated for a GoAbroad Innovation in Alumni Engagement Award!
From India to Nepal to Cambodia, what country is the most memorable for you? Why would you encourage students to explore it as a destination option for their international program?
India is most memorable because I spent a considerable amount of time living, working, and traveling there, in Ladakh specifically. Ladakh is fascinating as it’s a border area between the Tibetan Plateau and the Kashmir Valley; the cultural influences are so varied and the landscape is incredible. Ladakh is less populated than many other parts of India, so in that respect it’s a bit less overwhelming. Given the fragile mountain desert landscape it’s also a unique point of focus for those studying the effects of climate change.
If you could participate in any InterExchange program, which one would you choose and why?
Fun question! Of all my travels I’ve still never been to France and I miss teaching so maybe our School Teaching Assistant France program. Otherwise, Spanish Immersion Peru, because I need to improve my Spanish and would love to do some trekking around Cusco.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
The team I work with. Improving the field we work in is an ongoing conversation and it’s great to be a part of a team who is actively engaged in that conversation.
Do you have anything new in the works we should keep an eye out for this year?
Yes! I can’t provide full details at this time, but check in on our Work & Travel program category in the next few weeks for an exciting country update!
In your own words, what is the value of cultural exchange today?
Realizing that we’re allowed to (and probably should) let our beliefs and values evolve and change a little bit over time is a crucial step in getting along with any other person. Planned cultural exchange presents opportunities to reflect critically on our own preconceptions, and to make sure we’re not too strongly set in our own ways.