According to alumnus Denis LaClare’s (Ph.D. ‘18) dissertation research, international student enrollment is increasing in North America and across the globe. He noticed little was being done to understand how those who work with international students did so effectively. For his doctoral research at Biola University, LaClare set out to understand what made transcultural — those who work across two or more cultures — workers successful in their jobs. 

LaClare studied the attributes of six successful and effective transcultural workers from the organization Bridges International to find specific behaviors that made them successful. The organization works with the 1.2 million international students studying at American colleges and universities. In his research, he also looked at the extent to which they can free themselves from their native cultural norms, customs and biases in order to engage and navigate other cultures. 

“My findings could be applicable to anyone working cross-culturally or polycultural environments, ” said LaClare. “While my research is not grounded theory but narrative, we can consider whether we should aspire to embody these 15 attributes and whether we are working at creating ‘other’ spaces where our international friends (students, refugees, immigrants) can be themselves. We have these competencies to varying degrees, but I think they can be improved upon with practice, and perhaps even training.”

Creating ‘other’ spaces is a key part of LaClare’s findings. According to LaClare, in order to be successful as a transcultural worker, one must be vulnerable and open to practices that may be different from their own traditions in addition to creating a place for others to feel comfortable in a new space.

“These new spaces (whether physical or emotional) created by transcultural workers, are characterized by a sense of neutrality, acceptance, and freedom for everyone – regardless of nationality, ethnicity, religion, language or race – to be themselves,” said LaClare.

The six workers LaClare interviewed for his research exemplified three prominent attitudes: learning, postponing judgment and inquisitiveness. His research also showed nine dominant behaviors of the workers. They were adapting, welcoming, loving, advocating, eating, listening, sharing, playing, and practicing. Three experiences of the workers rose to the top of his findings as well: developing cross-cultural friendships, discovering, and knowing.

Although LaClare’s research subjects work with international students, he shared that his findings can apply to anyone working toward creating welcoming spaces, including Biola students, to international communities such as refugees and immigrants.

“[Creating space] would be a nice way to shine a light on international students and try to understand their culture,” said LaClare.

Read Denis LaClare’s complete dissertation. Learn more about Cook School of Intercultural Studies.

Written by Jenna Loumagne, assistant director of media relations and strategic communications. Contact Jenna at (562) 777-4061, or