Strategies for Interviewing Elders from Diverse Ethnic Backgrounds

Several educational modules in this curriculum suggest having students interview elders from ethnic backgrounds other than their own as part of their learning experience. This appendix provides instructors with some specific strategies and ideas for how to design and optimize such interviewing assignments for students.

Any interviewing assignment should take into account the following:

  • The level of education, experience, skills, and maturity of students.
  • The nature of the course/training/educational experience of which the interviewing assignment is part.
  • The specific ethnic population/sub-population likely to be encountered by students and available for interviewing.

Preparing Students

  • Prior to any interview, students should have completed their own values history and participated in some assignments/discussions designed to explore their own cultural background, attitudes, and beliefs.
  • Students should be encouraged to become as knowledgeable as possible about the specific ethnic group(s) of the person(s) they will be interviewing.
  • Instructors should review with students some basic guidelines for interviewing older adults and culturally-appropriate communication skills (see Module 4 for outline of communication issues and resources)
  • Instructors may wish to involve students in simulation and role-play exercises designed to prepare them to interview those of different ethnic backgrounds. Good examples of such exercises can be found in:
    1. Pedersen, P.B., & Ivey, A. E. (1993). Culture-centered counseling and interviewing skills: A practical guide. Westport, CT: Praeger Publishers/Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.
    2. Pedersen, P. (1988). A handbook for developing multicultural awareness. Alexandria, VA: American Association for Counseling and Development.)
  • Students should be encouraged to practice interview questions with each other or the instructor before conducting the interview.
  • It may be advisable to have a cultural guide (i.e., representative, respected leader, or provider) help to prepare students for their interview experience, orient them to salient cultural beliefs/values, and/or review the interviewing assignment/questions.

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Recruiting Interviewees

  • Older adults from diverse ethnic backgrounds may be contacted through formal or informal networks. Formal networks include: Area Agencies on Aging, county/city offices on aging, local senior centers, health and social service agencies, retirement communities, long-term care facilities, and senior housing units and assisted living residences. Depending on your geographic location, agencies or organizations may exist which serve elders from specific ethnic backgrounds exclusively (e.g., a Chinese-American senior center, Indian Health Service, coalition serving elders of Asian descent, etc.). Informal sources might include churches, synagogues, or faith-based communities and family or extended-family networks.
  • Depending on the number of students and the number of interviews to be completed, it may be advisable for instructors either to recruit interviewees themselves or to make the initial contacts with the formal sources to be used in recruitment. Think of how burdensome it could be for the social service director at a local senior center to be contacted with 20 separate requests for interviews with African-American elderly clients.
  • When contacting potential interviewees or recruitment sources, it would be helpful to provide an information sheet that briefly describes the purpose of the interview, identifies the course or educational experience of which it is a part, and specifies what the interview involves (e.g., time commitment, types of information sought, how confidentiality will be handled). People may be more inclined to participate if they understand the rationale behind the request and the specifics about what is involved.

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Suggested Strategies

Depending on the nature of the course/educational experience of which the interviewing assignment is part, instructors have many issues and options to consider:

  • Longitudinal Experience: Have the student develop a relationship with one ethnic elder and interview him/her on several different occasions.
  • Exposure to Diversity (Student Level): Have the student interview several different ethnic elders and compare similarities/differences.
  • Exposure to Diversity (Class Level): Have each student interview one ethnic elder, with different ethnic populations/sub-populations represented among interviewees.
  • Exposure to Diverse Settings/Environments: Interviews can be conducted in different settings (e.g., interviewee’s home, service delivery setting, or educational institution), and the setting can become part of the learning experience for the student.

Regardless of strategy, instructors should consider creating a structured interview guide, with questions focused around the learning objectives for the course or/and the specific curriculum module(s) under consideration. Such a guide could be created in conjunction with students, making the construction of the interview guide a participatory learning experience. Drafts of the proposed interview guide should be reviewed with a knowledgeable cultural guide/broker.

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