Too many times I have limited my thinking of the use of technology in career counseling to the administration of assessments, job search services, and career research strategies. Recently, I was confronted with a much more difficult case and was able to bridge a cultural gap by using several tools available on the internet during my meeting with this international individual. I was able to learn a great deal on how to utilize technology to fill in communication gaps regarding a language and cultural barrier.
The person was from Japan and could speak basic English. She had been in the United States for a short time and was taking classes to improve her speaking and comprehension. The individual consulted with me concerning difficulties she was having with not wanting to stay in the US and finish her degree program. She had been experiencing much anxiety about trying to decide to return to Japan and giving up her original career plan. Our first encounter was an attempt to get to know each other and for me to gain a greater understanding of her difficulty. I have travelled extensively and I know that I often run into communication difficulty with non-native English speaking people.
I tend to have a habit of using a lot of metaphors when I talk and this is often confusing for non-native English speakers. Since I knew this about myself, I openly discussed this with this individual. I asked if it would be okay for me to use the dictionary and other internet resources to help us more fully communicate. She also used a Japanese to English electronic dictionary to aid her in communicating and understanding. We first made sure we understood what metaphors were and that we could relate metaphors from one culture to another. This actually became easier as we typed phrases into the internet and used pictures and other media to more fully understand the metaphors. An example of a metaphor with which we worked to find a common meaning was “when someone talks out of both sides of their mouth”. We found many fun and interesting symbols and pictures to represent the phrase on the internet.
As we talked and used the electronic resources, she began to risk more with me concerning her desires to return home. I asked her to talk with me about her home. She was from a large city in Japan and I was able to use the internet to find pictures and read about her home city. This helped her describe her home to me and she was able to relate more about why she wanted to return home. In summary, we were able to use these electronic resources to develop a greater understanding of each other and enhance the meaningfulness of our communication.
I have been one that usually dislikes technology as entertainment or for online counseling. I have experienced technology as a barrier to developing a counseling relationship and more recently in teaching online courses. I usually view technology as a necessary tool. However, after my experience with this individual, I now see technology in a different light. I was able to use technology to enhance the counseling relationship and gain better understanding of this person. Office technology can be a critical resource for helping people understand each other. Really, I credit the technology for adding much clarity to our conversation.
What are your views of incorporating technology into your counseling with clients especially cross cultural counseling?
Kevin Stoltz is counselor and an assistant professor at The University of Mississippi. He specializes in career counseling and Adlerian Psychology and has a strong interest (no pun intended) in early recollections related to work life.