research, expats, student affairs, participants, dissertation, student affairs professionals, overseas, dexterity, model, trust, kevin, sharing, work, campuses, saudi arabia, students, country, study, arabian peninsula, cycle


Kevin Stensberg, Lixing Li

Lixing Li  00:00

Hello everyone, welcome to the podcast of global connection CGDSD. I am your host Lixing. Joining me today is Dr. Kevin Stensberg. Kevin is a first generation college student who recently completed his Doctorate of Education in Organizational Leadership Studies at Northeastern University, where he was recognized as one of the 100 most outstanding students across the university. Kevin has offered the field of student affairs research a scholarly contribution in the form of his dissertation study, exploring the cultural dexterity building of expatriate student affairs professionals working at overseas campuses, for which he has received the 2022 ACPA Excellence in International Research award. Bridging a multi-continent higher education career and the research entrance, importantly capable university leadership. He brings a wealth of experience to his scholarly endeavors to advance student affairs practice. Welcome, Kevin


Kevin Stensberg  01:02

Thank you so much. Thank you for having me here today.


Lixing Li  01:05

Thank you. And congratulations again, on your recent ACPA award of 2022 Excellence in International research, we are so happy to have you here to share your research on cultural dexterity building for student affairs professionals. The key word or the topic your research is cultural dexterity is very attractive and new to me. How did you come up with this theme? And what is the inspiration behind the research?


Kevin Stensberg  01:32

That’s a great question. So. So global dexterity, cultural dexterity, it’s, it’s, I got it from a professor named Andy Molinsky, who’s in Boston, who I’m whom I’ve never met, but who has written a book on global dexterity and cultural dexterity. And I became aware of his work from a student affairs professional named Jenny Roberts. Jenny had worked previously in Qatar. And when he left the country, he wrote a really beautiful published a really beautiful article about his experience there. And he used Molinsky as global dexterity model to to talk about some of the cross cultural differences. And that’s how I that’s how I originally got tapped into the idea. So for listeners who aren’t familiar, it’s essentially what Molinsky does is he says, you know, under under previous cross cultural models, what you were doing as a as an outsider, as you were memorizing, what’s appropriate behavior somewhere else, and you were adapting to that. What Molinsky does instead is he asked people to start with thinking about their own culture, thinking about how would I operate in these different settings in my own, you know, home country, and then looking at what’s appropriate in another culture and then trying to find a way to bridge the two. And the I think the the big difference in his model is that he he wants practitioners to maintain their own value sets, while action appropriate and other settings. And I think in student affairs, because we often start our work with self reflection, it was a really good model. So I entirely owe the finding of that model to Danny Roberts.


Lixing Li  03:06

Sounds good.I really like the idea that we have to start with our own culture, and then learn the local culture, the local your culture, and then we bridge the two and create, like our cultural thing, right, instead of what I learned from your research. Great. And I learned from your research that you mentioned, expatriates or the expat, I look it up in the dictionary and it says a person who lives outside their native country. So for those who are non native, native English speakers like me, because theycould you help us understand who are considered as expats in your study here?


Kevin Stensberg  03:42

That’s a great question. So of course, like you just said, expats in general would be somebody who is working outside of their home outside of their country of origin. In my study, so many of the campuses across the Arabian Peninsula have large numbers of expats. In fact, there are countries in on the Arabian Peninsula where the entire country has more expats than nationals living in the entire country. For the purpose of my study, because I was looking at cross cultural issues, I only focused on expats from Western countries, because otherwise, it would have really would have really been a wild web to untangle. So for me, I had different participants in each round of research. I did three rounds of research, but the expats came from Australia, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom in the US.


Lixing Li  04:31

I see. So the western countries can consider like the English native speakers, right? English speaking countries.


Kevin Stensberg  04:39

Yes, they were all native English speaking countries.


Lixing Li  04:42

I see. And I also learn that your study was entailed three rounds of research, could you walk us through each round of the research.


Kevin Stensberg  04:51

Yeah, absolutely. So So I did action research, which the kind of three main tenants that I see in action research or that you’re, you’re working in tandem with your research participants, you’re kind of a co participant, that it’s iterative. So in case of my research, I did three cycles, and it usually has a social justice component to it. So in my research, what I did the first round, which we call cycle zero or baseline, is I met with Western expats, who were working in student affairs roles. And they were working in two different countries in Qatar and Saudi Arabia. And I basically asked them questions about the cross cultural situations that they encountered in their work using this Molinsky global dexterity model, basically finding out where was their dissonance? Where were they where were they encountering challenges. Then about a year later, I did the second round of research, which was called cycle one. And in cycle one, I specifically was meeting with Saudi Arabian nationals across three different campuses in Saudi Arabia. And I was sharing with them what the expats had said, in cycle zero, to get their perspectives and to try to get some context to what they had to say. And then about a year after that, slightly less than a year after that, I did cycle two and cycle two was where there was an action step. So in cycle two, I got together a total of 12 participants from from both Western countries, as well as natives from the Arabian Peninsula together. And they did a number of different actions. So there were some videos they watched, there was a lecture that they participated in, they did practice exercises on their own, they did some intergroup dialogue in and then they had exit interviews with myself. And then in there, we basically brought the two concepts together, and tried to help the two groups to learn from each other, so they can sort of maximize the impact of their practice.


Lixing Li  06:43

Wow, that sounds very interesting! Seems that from the research is not only for you to figure out why and how, but really helping the local community to learn from each other and build a local community of the “we” our module our frame.


Kevin Stensberg  06:59

Yeah, you know, it’s interesting, because that’s one of the ways that I grew as a researcher. So when I started, when you look at the early rounds of my research, my focus was on the expats; my focus was how can I get the expats to be more culturally sensitive, and how can I get them to be more impactful. But what really happened in the end is that both groups, you know, which is much better outcome, obviously. But both groups really grew and learned about each other on how to basically create a new system, because most of the campuses that my participants were at, we’re trying to adopt some Western ideas and some Western ways of doing Student Affairs work. But why don’t you do that in a way that really is not not just incorporated, but was really founded on indigenous knowledge?


Lixing Li  07:44

I see. I see. And since your research is about working for the aspects of working oversea, we are personally curious, I’m personally curious in your research, did any of your interviewees or respondents or even yourself, you mentioned, can share how you ended up doing working overseas in Saudi Arabia? Yeah, like, what are the what could be the factors that influence your decision making?


Kevin Stensberg  08:16

Sure. Yeah, absolutely. In fact, one of the things that I originally thought about researching was, what were some of the motives for people to go overseas and working in new countries that ended up not being something that used later as the research went on. For myself. I’ve spent the I’ve been in student affairs for 20 years, the first 10 years were in the US and the last 10 had been overseas. And for me, it was mostly just an interest in having a different kind of life. You know, so when I first moved overseas and moved to China, I was the Dean of Students for the Beijing center for Chinese studies, which at that time, operated as Loyola University Chicago’s campus overseas. And it served as a study abroad host site for Jesuit institutions. So we have students from all over the world, mostly studying in the US coming over to China for a semester or two. And I’ve done some other overseas work since then, the last five years have all been in Saudi Arabia. So for me, it was it was coming initially from a personal interests, I wanted to see the world and I wanted to explore and I wanted to get new perspectives. I think that was true of a lot of the folks that I’ve met. But there were other motives that other people mentioned. I for sure, for some participants there were there were financial rewards in being overseas or moving because they wanted to be a lot. Some some folks were like Third Culture kids, you know, they didn’t have necessarily a country that they saw as home for them anymore. So that was not my own experience.


Lixing Li  09:45

I see. Wow, that’s interesting. Well, I didn’t recognize that the third culture kids. But I I can recall when I’m traveling for recruitment. There are some non natives on Arabian born students are from different countries, but they live and study there and try to come to United States. That’s, that’s really good sharing. Thank you. So in your research, have you got into any challenges? Like what type of challenges did you face in your research?


Kevin Stensberg  10:18

Sure. So well, of course, there were many, it started with a challenge. That’s, you know, kind of where the problem of practice began, which was that I have tracked from having worked overseas in a couple of different contexts, that there were cultural challenges that people were facing in their work. And there weren’t a whole lot of resources particularly geared towards student affairs professionals, but in general, to how to overcome those and how to see those things differently. And so that was I mean, that’s like the practice, if you will, that’s sort of where the main thing was, in terms of some of the challenges I ran into, though there were many. So for one, it took a long time for me to decide what was going to be the scope of the project, right. So had I had I focused on just one university, for example, that would have been an easier way to get participants and to have more specific findings. But the transferability wouldn’t have been so great. And then I would have been reliant on that one host site to want to continue through this multi year project. On the opposite end, there was a point when I thought about doing this focused on the Middle East. And very quickly, my participants from round one, the Saudi Arabian participants were like, no, no, no, the Middle East is too big. It’s too geographically and economically and culturally diverse. The findings from that would not be very applicable or useful, and probably very difficult to pinpoint. So it took me some time to kind of, you know, figure out what was what was the right scope of the project. And then the last that I mentioned, which is also probably something a lot of researchers out there can relate to right now was COVID. So originally, what I set out to do, yeah, originally my change agent, what I had envisioned was that it would be an in person, kind of day long, or maybe even more than one day, kind of intergroup dialogue, facilitated exchange. And, you know, my, my cycle to research happened in the spring of 2020. So very quickly that that went away. Now, that ended up being good, because by moving it online, it was it saved me basically all of the costs that I would have incurred. And it also made for much more culturally diverse and much more country diversity in terms of the participants because it was free for everyone to participate. No one had to travel.


Lixing Li  12:32

Yeah, yeah, absolutely. COVID hit and made everything different. And you should be so proud of yourself for such a big like completment.


Kevin Stensberg  12:44

For me, actually, COVID work to my advantage as a doctoral student, and that, you know, for about a year, there wasn’t a whole lot else I could do. And so being able to code my data and write about it was a really good use of time.


Lixing Li  12:59

Yeah. So the next question is, what are the most exciting or surprising discoveries in your research?


Kevin Stensberg  13:07

Sure. Well, I won’t bore you with all of the details there in the dissertation, which is available for free online in ProQuest. If anyone wants to read it, I think the most important, which is not necessarily surprising, but the most important is the applicability of Molinsky’s model, and the adaptability of the framework that he uses. So basically, testing is, is this six part cultural dexterity model, a good way for us to talk about the cross cultural differences between Western and Arabian Peninsula ways of doing in student affairs, and I found that it was participants found it was very intuitive to understand and that they were able to apply it and use it and speak to it. And I tested that in a number of different ways, both in groups and individually and writing and verbally. So that’s helpful, but maybe not surprising. I think my most surprising finding was actually had to do with the virtual component of it. So when I moved this online, participants were really clear that they that they needed it to be done in an efficient way. They didn’t want to spend the whole day online. You know, they, they got together in a couple of different times. And one of the practices that I had never heard of, and probably never would have seen if I hadn’t moved this online was this idea of swift trust. Basically, in a nutshell for listeners, you know, a lot of times when we do in student affairs, when we’re doing like a group facilitation, we spend a lot of time sort of setting ground rules.


Lixing Li  14:38



Kevin Stensberg  14:39

The idea of Swift trust and the way that it worked well in my virtual environment was basically the facilitator just establishes trust, they just say, you can you can be trustful. I did it in three ways I had so I had interpersonal trust or interpersonal trust. So this was I told all the participants that they could trust that they belonged. That no one had to have imposter syndrome, they had all either been hand selected by me, or through members of my professional network that they could have trust with interpersonal trust, which was they could trust that that the others in the room were also student affairs professionals and could understand the context that people were speaking in. And the third was system trusts that because they were all doing this as part of my dissertation, they had all signed rights through the IRB process. And what was amazing is I could establish that trust, by just sort of saying it in about two minutes, and saved, probably, you know, 20 minutes of activities. And unanimously all of the participants who remembered it said it worked. There was one participant who didn’t remember that we had gone over it. But that participant went on to say they also felt comfortable sharing in the group.


Lixing Li  15:49

Wow, that’s interesting.


Kevin Stensberg  15:51

Yeah, I had never heard of it before, but it was an efficient and effective way to do it.


Lixing Li  15:55

Yeah, yeah. I, I believe just because your research is very attractive and interesting, like, people get into the trust pretty quickly. Nice! With the experience of conducting research, could you share some advice for new professionals or graduate students?


Kevin Stensberg  16:17

Sure. Well, I, you know, I think I got a lot of really good advice along the way. So my advice is not original. It’s things that were shared with me. But one thing that I had been suggested to do, and that most people in my program did, was to focus our research on our own work. So they kind of joke that it’s me-search instead of research. But that that was helpful to me. So by doing this action, research study, and actually working in my own contexts, I was able to think about things in a much deeper way than I would have been able to do if it had been a more kind of objective, you know, situation. And then I think another thing, so I had more than one chair as the time of my dissertation went on, because my first chair, got promoted. But one of the things that she regularly told me was, you know, your dissertation is not meant to be your like penultimate study. It’s meant to be your first study. And so keep it simple, keep it focused, you know, keep it you know, innovative and have it be something new and helpful. But don’t overdo it. And I will say that one of the things that comes up consistently, when I’m talking with other doctoral students now, is, they have that same feeling, they feel like they need to do something that’s so big, and it’s going to change the world, when in fact, what they need to do is graduate. That’s what they need to learn how to do research, learn how to analyze it, learn how to write about it. And they can always expand on that research for the rest of their careers. They can write articles, and they can do all kinds of additional research. But I would just my advice that I can reiterate from, from what was told to me is, this doesn’t have to be your life’s work, this can be the next step in your own kind of education process.


Lixing Li  17:59

Thanks for the sharing. So then what will be your next step for your life work? How are you going to use this research for your future work?


Kevin Stensberg  18:09

That’s a great question. You know, it’s to be determined, I don’t even want to project what I might do, because I don’t know I can, I’m happy to share and be vulnerable with with listeners in saying so I left Saudi Arabia in January of this year, with the idea that I would job search for new jobs for the fall. And I am in fact spending this spring and this summer, reconnecting with my family and my friends. And I’m gonna be doing some travel, both here in the US and as well as in Europe, just kind of enjoying and resetting after, you know, the stress of a doctoral program and the stress of COVID and the stress of for about two years, I was overseas without really an easy way to get back home because of the pandemic. And I don’t know where that will lead me. So I’m looking for senior level and near senior level student affairs work, mostly in the US, but also overseas. I am open to considering maybe doing something in the consulting world. I was intentional when I did my dissertation. I did it in Organizational Leadership Studies, specifically because I wanted to have more doors open to me and have options of doing different kinds of things moving forward. But I don’t know. I hope that by the time the fall comes, I can answer that question accurately. But I don’t actually know.


Lixing Li  19:20

Thank you. Thank you Kevin. I appreciate all of your Sharon’s and like Kevin mentioned, the research shouldn’t be the life work, it should be the beginning. So I honestly I feel very interested I feel like I want to do the research in the future even though I’m not a doctoral student, but maybe in the future. If I ever get into doctoral program, your research definitely enlightened my passion in doing the research and thank you for that. And I really appreciate to see that you’re sharing about this with trust. I wish this could happen like in any organization just like how we can use that into the local organization. And thank you again for your time. I hope that whatever the comes in your way in the future will be great for you. And I wish you all the best. Thank you, Kevin.


Kevin Stensberg  20:11

Well, thank you I very much appreciate I apologize for the dog barking. This is our new COVID  reality. I very much appreciate that. And I appreciate that you and the Commission nominated me and or accepted me for an award. And certainly for any of your listeners out there. If they want to connect with me. I’m on LinkedIn. And I’m happy to have individual conversations with anyone who is interested in the research or in, in working overseas and in other contexts. Thank you for this opportunity.


Lixing Li  20:39

Thank you again, Kevin. And for our audience. If you haven’t checked, Kevin’s research is available. Just Google it and you will love it. Yeah, it’s definitely well time spent. Thank you again. Thank you, Kevin.


Kevin Stensberg  20:51

Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.


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