Originally Posted By NWI, Tuesday, February 7, 2017
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Dr. John Munson
Past President, NWI Board of Directors, United States
In my avocation as an international group trip leader for the past 35 years, I have had the opportunity to visit over 30 countries around the world. This role has given me the opportunity to observe the different ways wellness has been introduced and implemented across the globe. It confirms my belief that wellness is an international language understood by all. Yet, it promotes personal lifestyle improvement activities in many forms.
More than 42 years have passed since the concept of a six-dimensional model of wellness was created by Dr. Bill Hettler. During that time, my personal journeys have allowed me to view the growth of the wellness concept in many cultures and countries. It has been an interesting and exciting journey. Wellness continues to unfold and morph in diverse formats and processes. In thinking about wellness connections to people around the world it occurs to me that now is a time where sharing our thoughts and expertise is positioned to bring great rewards. We must continue to learn from each other.
Wellness language in different cultures provides a good insight into how common themes are viewed. In the United States of America “stress management” is an accepted term while in the United Kingdom the term “resiliency training” is seen as a positive term and stress management as having a negative connotation. The terms, wellness, well-being, and health promotion may be terms more acceptable in one culture than in another. Professionals need to be aware of accepted terms in their local culture. The question becomes, should one term be replaced with another based upon shared understandings?
Climate change, natural disasters, political upheaval, and economic challenges are driving millions of people from different ethnic backgrounds and cultures to move. Finding safe havens and a place to lead productive lives and raise healthy families bring new challenges to wellness professionals who encounter these people. Wellness professionals must understand cultural norms and taboos to begin to work with people who appear at their doorsteps. Even within individual countries, people escaping natural disasters that force them to move bring with them the belief structures common in their local communities. When people move from one compass point to another, especially over long distances and perhaps across many borders, they find themselves in a community with quite different understanding about food, family planning, religious belief, and basic relationship standards, etc. This challenges wellness professionals to understand a client’s cultural differences. Engaging with people from other countries and backgrounds requires broader and in-depth knowledge and understanding. Wellness professionals gain this by experiencing face-to-face dealings with people from other countries. Building international friendships provides great rewards both on a personal and professional level.
The advent of Multi-National Corporations that have dealings in countries around the world also requires wellness professionals to carefully analyze their wellness outreach programs. It is not unusual for a wellness professional to be located in one country and be responsible for corporate wellness programs in another country where the workforce consists of both out-of-country and in-country workers. Failure to understand in-country workforce perceptions of wellness often leads to ineffective wellness programs. The challenge is being able to deliver effective programs to all workers no matter where they “grew up.”
The rapid advance of technology and its implementation into different cultures from music to video games to teaching strategies are reflective of the cultural norms within the countries in which they abide. Failure to understand the impact of this immense new way of delivering information can lead to disastrous results. It is easy to fall into our own views and bubbles of reality. Learning about other cultures by traveling globally, or mixing locally with people from other countries will enable us as wellness professionals to be able to take advantage of the vast potential of rapidly expanding technology delivery systems. We need to be able to see, feel and understand as they see, feel and understand.
Polarization of views and beliefs provides new challenges for wellness professionals. Media often drives messages that are adopted by large segments of any given society. When these messages become main-stream and when wrong information goes unchallenged, societies harden to outside systems and beliefs. Through travel, friendship and relationship building, mutual appreciation and understandings are built. It behooves all wellness professionals to get out of their own silos, put on the shoes of other cultures and grow in their understandings.
Perhaps, on a personal level, maintaining one's international wellness connections pays back with friendships that last a lifetime. Getting to know people from other cultures broadens and deepens one's understandings of the world and enriches personal life. As such, actively expanding and growing international wellness connections have never been more important than now. One way to do this is by engaging yearly with the international speakers and attendees at the National Wellness Conference who are facilitated through the NWI International Wellness Group. NWI members are also able to access the 56 (including this one) archived International Wellness Connections articles which have appeared in the NWI monthly newsletter since January 2012, as authored by 46 wellness professionals from 17 different countries.
Dr. John W. Munson, Professor Emeritus of Health Promotion/Wellness – University of Wisconsin – Stevens Point currently serves as the Past President of the Board of Directors of the National Wellness Institute. John has over 40 years of active involvement in the wellness field. He and his colleague Anne Abbott created the nation’s first academic program to educate wellness specialists. Additionally, he helped NWI create the first process to accredit undergraduate academic health promotion and wellness programs. In addition to his roles in NWI he was recognized as a Fellow in the former Association for Fitness and Business and is currently a Distinguished Ambassador for the Medical Wellness Association. His love for travel continues to drive his knowledge about international wellness. John is also a founding member and strong supporter of the NWI International Wellness Group.