Five Ways to Give Poor Advice

Giving poor advice is a form of art. Like other forms of art, it requires both talent and diligent practice. Here are some simple techniques you can use to hone in on your poor advice skills. All you need is a brief moment of silence (optional) and a vulnerable person who has not asked for any advice, opinions, solutions, or guidance whatsoever (essential).

  1. Give it at once. Do not waste time waiting until your target person has finished explaining their concerns. Poor advice must be shared as quickly as possible. You do not want them to think you are really listening.
  1. Pay no mind to objections. Know that your person may attempt to redirect the conversation or disagree with your solution. Although you may feel tempted to stop the advice-giving due to feeling unappreciated, do not give in. Similarly, ignore any hesitation by your person and proceed as planned. They will appreciate you later.
  1. Impose your worldview and values. Do not forget this part. What you believe goes. Likewise, what worked for your aunt last year will definitely work in this situation too.
  1. Show superiority. After all, you have figured out how to live. It is your responsibility to reach out to those unfortunate others who have not made it as far. Your person might even claim that their problems are complex. You know better. Now tell them!
  1. Be adamant that your person follow through with the advice. Poor advice is like good wine – it should never go to waste. Use words like “must” and “should”, and be clear that not doing what you suggest will be a mistake.1936896_100012509999_4257113_n

In rare cases, these steps may not suffice. You may have encountered an ungrateful soul who insists on finding their own path or stubbornly rejects your unsolicited help. If so, your best course of action is to exit the conversation with an audible sigh and an at-least-I-tried expression on your face, thereby communicating your concern for their wellbeing. One day, they will regret not taking your word. Who could possibly find their way without your clear and simple directions? And when that day comes, you better mention you told them so…

Advertisements

International Students: Bring on the Money!

During the 2013-2014 academic year there were 886,052 international students enrolled in undergraduate and graduate program in the U.S.

That’s close to one million people.

What does this mean for universities in the U.S.? What do these students bring and what do they gain from their time spent on American soil?

IMG_3208 (2)One thing they do bring is money. It is becoming increasingly evident that international students are a financial asset to educational institutions. In fact, international students bring in millions of dollars for many large universities, due in big part to them paying a higher tuition (even three times higher) than U.S. students who are from within the state. One example is the state of Indiana, where $688 million in economic benefits are gained yearly only from international students. Moreover, as pointed out by the New York Times, some universities have started to charge foreign students additional fees, making their presence even more profitable. Although they may at times need services that domestic students can do without, the net result is profit.

Another common perspective is that international students are fortunate to get the chance to study in the U.S. and gain academic knowledge to bring back to their home countries. I know many foreign students feel the same way. Thousands of them each year spend money, time, and a ton of effort trying to get into universities in the U.S. and a partial explanation for that is that sometimes students do not have equivalent educational opportunities in their home countries. That was my own story anyway, coming from a small country where graduate programs in counseling psychology were nonexistent. And then there is the imperialistic notion of Western (American) supremacy that leads a whole lot of people in our global village to believe that knowledge gained in the United States is more valid than knowledge gained elsewhere.

In sum, internationalization is the new buzzword for many colleges in the States. Universities gain money and foreign students gain education. Simple enough.

Except, high quality education is not a one-way street.

Educational excellence is not reached by gathering fresh minds and telling them how to think. It is reached by sharing information, shifting perspectives, encouraging critical discussions, allowing for personal reflection, applying theory to real-life situations, and graduating students with knowledge, skills, dedication, and abilities to exchange ideas with other humans in the world.

So when people talk about all the money foreign students bring and how lucky those students are to get to soak up American wisdom, a critical piece of the story is left out – the part on the immense educational benefit of a culturally rich college environment.

An educational system that reflects true appreciation for diversity provides invaluable opportunities for students and faculty to hear different perspectives on all kinds of topics, challenge preconceived notions about the world, experience intercultural friendships, practice second-language skills, and examine biases and stereotypes that emerge in classrooms and conversations. And when I say true appreciation for diversity, I mean not just admitting culturally diverse students and taking their money, but engaging them with inclusive teaching methods, valuing their input and ideas, encouraging critical questions and comments, re-evaluating discriminatory procedures, getting rid of biased course material, and showing openness to feedback at all times.

This is relevant to all students. When we do this well, international students and cultural minorities get the message that their presence is not just tolerated, but truly valued, and cultural majority students learn to grapple with new ideas, reflect on their position in the world, and engage in difficult and important dialogues.

The problem is that when the benefits of real, inclusive, mind-stretching, and cooperative diversity are not consistently highlighted, U.S. students and professors may sadly come to the conclusion that they have little to gain from interacting with international students and miss out on chances to broaden their worldview. They may also indirectly contribute to the separation of international and domestic students on campus and the devaluation of foreign ideas and values that all too often occur in academic settings.

International students have this amazing ability to open the door to the big world outside our backyard – as long as we’re willing to hear them out.

Are You Analyzing Me?

A few types of interactions in my life are recurrent. They happen over and over with different people in all kinds of situations and can be summarized as follows:

  • Person asks for my name. I introduce myself. Person asks again. I repeat my name and a conversation starts about the impossibility of pronouncing Icelandic names.

  • I start speaking. Person asks where I’m from. Apparently there’s an accent.

  • I mention my work in psychology. Person asks: “Are you analyzing me?” I never am, but I doubt they believe that.

The third scenario is the only one that happens no matter where I am. Icelandic and world citizens alike seem equally concerned that because I work as a psychologist, I might be somehow able to see into their thoughts and interpret their behavior in order to make a formal assessment of their character and personal problems. Most often, I am just attempting to have a conversation. All the years I have spent studying and practicing psychology have not left me with any superpowers and I am no more able to read minds than I am able to tell someone’s blood pressure by looking at them.

These situations are so frequent that Freud himself would be thrilled to hear how much influence he has had on people’s view of psychology. I bet at least half the people who ask that third question, picture therapy as involving a “patient” lying on a couch (like this) and a nodding “shrink” with a clipboard attempting to reveal the hidden parts of the patient’s psyche to figure them all out.

Unfortunately, there have been plenty of examples throughout the history of psychology of people being labeled, behaviors misinterpreted, and oppression carried out by folks who abused their authority and power. Considering that, mistrust of psychologists has been warranted.

But to those who might be concerned that my conversational nods mean I am taking mental notes for later report writing; rest assured. Analysis is not my cup of tea and I am a firm believer that therapy is effective when done with people, and not to them.

Gender Boxes

I was at an outdoor festival this summer, sitting on a bench with a friend, watching people walk by and enjoying the kind of summer weather I’ve rarely found in Iceland. As we sat there talking about politics, a person walking by caught my friend’s eye and he paused and asked with a slight grin, “Do you think that’s a man or a woman?” He seemed puzzled and amused at the same time.

I didn’t know. Who was I to answer that for anyone, really? And what made that any of our business to begin with?

Yet, we make assumptions about other people’s identity all the time. And sometimes, when we can’t seem to figure each other out, we get really uncomfortable. A person with an ambiguous gender expression gets confused looks on the street and some folks get very upset at the thought of someone daring to cross the “sacred” boundary between masculinity and femininity. As if world order is threatened by someone identifying their gender a bit differently than others do.

This doesn’t of course only happen with gender. Mixed race people and persons whose appearance does not fit neatly into a particular racial category get asked, “So, what are you?”, and American-born Americans of color are asked about their country of origin and questioned again when they say they’re from Ohio. Asked to explain and justify their identity to soothe the inquirer’s anxieties.

“Which box do you check when you don’t belong in any box? How do you navigate the world when acceptance is dependent on you identifying with one of a few predefined groups and the identity that feels right to you doesn’t match any of those?”

How other people identify is really none of our business. But creating an environment where we can all be who we are without feeling excluded, judged, or rejected definitely is our business.