The Institute for Cultural Communicators (ICC) has been a stalwart in the Singapore homeschooling landscape since the 2000s. Dawn Fung interviews Daphne Chai (Student Leader Liaison, Southeast Asia) to learn more.
Dawn: Let’s start with the local history of ICC and how that is a bigger part of ICC USA, where it originates. What were some notable developments in ICC in Singapore, and were those developments an entirely local creation or spun off from the USA?
Daphne: The Institute was founded 26 years ago in the USA. Its founder, Dr Teresa Moon, first made a trip to Singapore in 2010 accompanied by a small team of Student Leaders. They ran small workshops out of Victory Life School. These were attended primarily by homeschooling families who publicised the event by word of mouth or, in those days, the Yahoo group. That visit inspired two groups of homeschooling parents to form Chapters and start using ICC’s curriculum.
Growth of ICC in Singapore and the Asia Pacific Region
In 2014, ICC returned with a much larger group of Student and Adult Leaders and held a conference at RiverLife Church in Pasir Ris. This time, the formal 3-day conference was more widely publicised. It resulted in two more Chapters in Singapore and one in Malaysia being formed. Each Chapter, or community, comprises students from 6-18 years of age, who would attend 6 or 12 meetings a semester, accompanied by their parents, whom we call Coaches.
The conference in 2014 was followed by its first tournament, the ICC Forensics Society (in the US, “forensics” refers to Debate activities) in 2015. The back-to-back events helped ICC gain traction among the homeschool community in Singapore. Community evaluators were invited to give feedback to our students for their assorted presentations. From Literary Interpretations and Informative Speeches to creative Original Adaptations of famous stories and even Debate rounds, more in the local community got to observe the fruit of the training these students were receiving in their Chapters each week. That is how ICC continued to grow in Singapore.
ICC’s Global Leaders consist of almost all volunteers, primarily based in the US. They knew that these Chapters needed a local voice to represent them organisationally. In 2015, Cassandra Shepherd, a New Zealander and former expatriate based in Singapore, agreed to take on the role of Area Coordinator. She had just started a Chapter with her two daughters the previous year! And now, it was her job to mentor the Chapters in Singapore and attend to the interests of the Chapter families. She had a team of other volunteer parents to help her, and together, they formed the SouthEast Asia Area Leadership Team. The Global Leaders mentored them in various aspects ranging from student and family engagement to student leadership matters, organisational management, and personal development such as coaching, time management, and peacemaking skills.
We currently have eight physical Chapters in Singapore and Malaysia and one online Chapter (which is international in nature, with families attending from Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Singapore). There are also three school Chapters running out of Learning Centres in Kuala Lumpur. This speaks of the strong desire for such training in this part of the world. Compare that with 24 Chapters in the USA. This tells us how hungry Christians in Asia are for something that will help them find their voices and learn to seek and speak truth in a world that desperately needs it.
Evolution of a New Chapter Model
The involvement of Learning Centres (LC) was an initiative from our Malaysian Chapter. Learning Centres are private schools whose students work through the Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) curriculum. After being invited to attend a Communicators for Christ conference some years ago, the principal of one of these schools was convinced her students needed ICC. Our existing structure of family-oriented Chapters run by highly-invested parent volunteers is very different from what occurs at the LC, where busy working parents drop off their children and rely on teachers to supervise their progress through the curriculum. In our family Chapters, one parent steps up as the Chapter Sponsor. At the LCs, teachers serve as Chapter Sponsors and the invested adults to mentor the students through the ICC curriculum called the Young Speakers Guild portfolio.
The LC Chapter model is something entirely new for ICC, which, until just a handful of years ago, only had the family Chapter structure by which to deliver its learning objectives. This was also the basis for its student leadership training pathways. In an ambitious decision announced on its 20th anniversary in 2017: to reach 20 countries by 2020, the organisation started exploring alternative community and curriculum models. This departure from only family Chapters would enable more people to use its resources and curriculum and access its Academy courses. Worldwide demand spurred ICC to deliver its curriculum in new ways: through online streaming, subscription models, individual family groups, and more.
Of these, the LC model was developed not only through the tenacity of the LC school principal, who had caught the ICC vision and was determined to make it happen for her students but also through the belief and the perseverance of a Malaysian ICC leader Michelle Loh Toh, as well as the Director of ICC Academy, Eunice Au. Michelle and Eunice worked hard to figure out how to equip their teachers to deliver a sustainable and authentic ICC experience for the LC students.
In my 13 years with ICC, I have seen it evolve from an organisation focused on developing communication skills to one focused on mentoring the next generation: adults and students. A full calendar of carefully organised training and tournament events throughout the year creates a constant stream of touchpoints that help students and adults alike to reinforce and renew vision, celebrate achievements, and practise their communication, leadership and mentorship skills while learning to build interpersonal connections along with a strong sense of community.
Dawn: A long organisational history doesn’t come without challenges. Would you share some problems you have faced that your community has overcome? What are some difficulties ICC might encounter that will continually be critically debated? How would you reframe them into opportunities for learning?
Daphne: I would not say “problems,” but I would describe the following possibly more as conflicting priorities or perceptions.
It appears to me that most people readily see the value of such training that ICC offers. However, although we are a largely volunteer-run non-profit organisation, developing the training resources and running a full calendar of events year-round takes quite a bit of funding. So, membership and our activities are fee-based. Since many homeschooling families operate on a single income, this means deciding how their educational dollars will be allocated between sports, music, and other activities, including ICC training.
Additionally, there is a strong tradition here of the “homeschool co-op”, in which families come together for activities run rotationally by parents in a kind of barter system. Hence, the name co-operative. Some of these parents eschew the idea of paying fees for such activities as they feel these skills can be taught and practised in their co-op. Of course, they can, just not in the same way as in ICC because we operate on a different scale, with resources developed and tailored specifically to our core values.
Going for weekly 2-3 hour Chapter meetings, serving as staff in tournaments, staffing conferences, mentoring not just our own students but also other students in the Chapter, guiding our students in drafting their speeches, reaching out to the community for speaking opportunities, etc. – these are just some of the things ICC parents do. We’re not a drop-off program because we’re a mentoring organisation. We mentor adults to mentor their students. We also mentor students directly. These require a large time investment by parents. It sounds like a long list of things to do. What it actually is, is a ministry for those of us who serve in leadership roles. Through this ministry, we have the opportunity and privilege to speak into the lives of other students than our own. After all, our vision statement makes it clear: we are on a mission to influence the world, one extraordinary leader at a time.
But this kind of time investment may not be possible for everyone. And we recognise and appreciate that. Everyone has their priorities and passions.
We say, after all, that we are Cultural Communicators. Cultural differences happen everywhere, in many shapes and forms. One of the obvious places is language and nuances in understanding between Americans, Singaporeans and Malaysians, even if we’re all using English. Also, we have different priorities, values, and ways to communicate a concept. We also communicate the value of our training differently. We constantly work hard to navigate these things to deepen our understanding towards one another and our audiences and be better examples and role models. But no matter how we communicate, we stay true to our core values and are unapologetically Christian in mission and purpose.
For some parents, ICC is not a CCA but a core activity. That’s how it is for all who have stepped into leadership roles within the organisation. We don’t give our children a choice about participation – at least, up to a certain level. And it is a fact that the more invested a parent is (in time and effort), the more one will see that investment bear fruit in their student(s). That’s not necessarily the case with other activities requiring some innate talent, like music or sport. Beyond a certain point, no amount of money you throw at it will increase the skill or talent of your child at music or gymnastics if there isn’t some innate talent or ability. Whereas, in a mentoring organisation thoroughly invested in equipping its next generation, the bigger the parent’s focus on mentoring the students in the community, the bigger the payoff – and it has a multiplier effect.
The perception that ICC is just a homeschooling activity
One thing that’s been a bit more challenging for us here in Singapore is attracting more school-going students. As you know, school-going children usually have full-on schedules, and their parents find it hard to fit in one more thing that also requires their presence at Chapter meetings, close supervision and mentorship. As such, most of our members are homeschooling families, even as we work to overcome the perception that we are a homeschoolers’ activity.
We do have a handful of members who attend mainstream schools. Their parents’ deep convictions spur them to make the time to participate in weekly meetings and commit to progression through portfolio work, speeches, community presentations, and attendance at training events. These are rare parents who can see beyond academics and realise what the next generation truly needs. Even so, it is tough for them because the students have so much schoolwork and CCAs to juggle. Therefore, we shall simply wait for the Lord to open the doors wider for schoolers to join us.
Dawn: So really, what profile of people suits ICC? I don’t believe – not one iota – that one group can cater for all people groups. It is not humanly possible. And it should not be. It is unrealistic. What recommendations would you give to those interested to join?
Daphne: Of course, you’re right. ICC has never ever said it caters for all. Nor do we want to. As you’ve said, it’s unrealistic and dilutes our focus.
For one thing, we are, as I’ve said, unapologetically Christian.
For another, we’re cultural communicators, but the organisation is still based in Nashville, Tennessee, USA, and that may lead some folks to criticise ICC as not understanding Asian perspectives. Still, they may not comprehend what we’ve readily accepted about ourselves: that we’re a work in progress, always striving to improve, and that means being willing to admit our mistakes, learn from them, and do better next time. This is, in fact, fundamental to how we train our students.
For a third, we’ve limited organisational resources and want to direct our energies to those who truly want to come alongside us. We want people who have caught the same vision as we have, who relate wholeheartedly to our core values, and who desire passionately for their students to be equipped to communicate, not just for a better job, future, or even a better planet, but for Christ. For the truth of Christ. For the hope of salvation in Christ. It doesn’t mean every student who graduates from ICC will leave as a passionate believer. There are no guarantees, just as there are no guarantees even the most evangelical pastor’s son can stay faithful. But we believe they have a much higher chance of staying in the faith when they can articulate what they believe.
Aligning One’s Motivations
If you’re a parent only looking for a communication curriculum, or a “communications and leadership course” for your student, or for your student to be able to speak confidently, then ICC is not for you. We want parents who are convinced of the purpose of this communication and influence. Public speaking courses are available commercially or elsewhere. But we’re looking to develop competent and character-driven communicators with purpose.
Getting to Know ICC
Those who want to know more about ICC can go to our website, but we’ve long recognised it is hard to communicate what we do via a website. This is because so much of what we do is interlinked. Looking at the events we run as discrete pieces might not give one a good idea of what we do. However, attending one of our events will give someone insight into our learning outcomes. The truth is that many families join ICC from seeing something they like at one of our events or from a visit to one of our Chapters. But they usually don’t get the full picture until some time (occasionally some years) later. That is fine.
It was the same for me! Join in faith knowing you have a greater purpose. Well, my purpose was primarily for my children to be able to articulate their faith because we were told at the very first workshop I attended that if our students aren’t able to articulate the truth for themselves, they are going to start pretty soon believing the “truth” they are told. So, to be honest, one could say that I joined in fear!
And when we see what is happening in the world today, we know just how critical it is for our students not just to know truth, but to be bold enough to speak it and do so winsomely.
Dawn: What do your titles refer to, anyway? What are the roles of a Student Leader Liaison, an Area Coordinator and a Director?
Daphne: The Area Coordinator is the voice for (or of) 4-5 Chapters at a Global Level. The incoming Area Coordinator for Southeast Asia is Amanda Chong from Malaysia. She is responsible for mentoring and equipping the Chapter Sponsors to deliver the program at the Chapter level. Mentoring happens at every level of the organisation, by the next level up.
As Director of the ICC Academy, Eunice Au has been responsible for designing and delivering interactive, online learning experiences for students and adults in the US and internationally. She is moving into a new role – Director, Volunteer Empowerment – focusing on empowering ICC adult volunteers to get themselves and others ready to speak.
As Student Leader Liaison, it’s my job to be a wise guide and mentor Student Leaders in our SouthEast Asia Chapters to fulfil their potential within ICC. Having served in this role for three years, I’m transitioning to a new position and the incoming Liaison is Tsui Ling Hoy.
Dawn: Can you give young homeschooling parents a closing piece of advice? It can be about ICC, not about ICC. I’ll leave it to you.
Daphne: Choose what is most essential for you as outcomes for your homeschooled child, and make sure all the curriculum and activities you choose point to that. Being singularly focused is challenging in our homeschooling landscape, where it is easy to experience FOMO (fear of missing out). But over the years, I’ve not scheduled anything else on Fridays (except for the last couple of years in which my sons have played floorball before lunchtime) because I will not allow them or myself to miss Chapter meetings unless for a good reason, like family holidays. Being hyper-aware of overscheduling has helped me keep homeschooling sane for myself and my sons.
Dawn: On behalf of Homeschool Singapore, thank you, Daphne, for your time.
Here are a couple of immediate opportunities to experience ICC this week!
Communicate for a Change
When: Tuesday June 6, 2023, 7:25pm
Where: Bethesda Katong Church, 17 Pennefather Rd, Singapore 424441
Register for this FREE programme via this LINK.
ICC Southeast Asia Regional Championship Tournament
We would love to have more community evaluators come and share your precious life perspectives by giving valuable feedback to our students in order to help them improve their communication skills.
When: June 9 2023, Friday
Where: Geylang Chinese Methodist Church, 52 Aljunied Road S389870
Sign up via this FORM.
Save the Date
- Communicators for Christ Conference, Singapore September 12-15
- Communicate for a Change, Johor Bahru Sept 17
- Communicators for Christ Conference, Malaysia, September 19-22
Find out more about ICC here. Get in touch with Daphne at Daphne.Chai@iccinc.org.