Third Space Lab helps foster intercultural competence | Duke Kunshan University

Third Space Lab helps foster intercultural competence

By Xiaoxi Zhu ’22
Student Media Center

In many cultures and regions of the world, the golden rule is to treat others how you’d like to be treated. If that’s the case, the platinum rule in an intercultural environment should be “treat others how they’d like to be treated.”

That was the message from global education expert Darla K. Deardorff, keynote speaker at the launch of Duke Kunshan’s Third Space Lab, which aims to explore a new field in which different cultures converge, contest and collaborate.

Deardorff, executive director of the Association of International Education Administrators and a research scholar at Duke University’s Social Science Research Institute, said seeking to understand others rather than making assumptions is essential to an intercultural lifestyle. She discussed ways people can improve engagement and communication with peers from different backgrounds.


 From left: Darla K. Deardorff, Xin Zhang, Saghar Leslie Naghib and Emmanuelle S. Chiocca.

“As humans, we tend to listen for either response or for judgement,” she said. “But instead, to seek first to understand, it’s important to really develop the skill of listening for understanding, which means focusing 100 percent on what the other person is saying … and how they’re saying it.”

Deardorff also urged students to stay curious about unfamiliar people and their experiences, show respect in interactions, and carry out regular self-reflection to understand changes in their inner thinking.

Achieving intercultural competence is a lifelong process, she added. “There’s no point at which any of us can say, ‘OK, we’re there.’”

The concept of the “third space” comes from the hybridity theory of Harvard scholar and critical theorist Homi K. Bhabha. Co-directed by Language and Culture Center faculty Xin Zhang, Saghar Leslie Naghib and Emmanuelle S. Chiocca, the lab will investigate the transformation of multilingual students’ identity in multicultural environments, such as the Duke Kunshan campus.

Zhang said the university welcomes students from all over the world, from many different countries and backgrounds. For some, it is the first time they have interacted with other cultures, meaning they may lack intercultural life experience.

“We as a lab conceptualize ‘third space’ not as a boundary that puts cultures and subcultures in opposition, but instead it’s an emergent space that empowers the marginalized,” she said.

In May, the lab recruited six undergraduate research assistants for projects exploring areas related to foreign professionals in Chinese workplaces, conflict management, and perspective transformation.

The Third Space Lab is one of three labs launched this year by the Humanities Research Center. The others are the Health Humanities Lab and the Freedom Lab.