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Improving cultural competence

Sep. - Dec. 2017

Culture is the invisible bond that ties people together. By understanding cultures other than our own, we become more in tune with the rich social fabric of our world. Unfortunately, most often taught through language courses, the world’s array of culture is studied through monotone lectures and quizzes in the classroom. Mysa changes this by connecting people from diverse backgrounds to improve cultural competency through practical speaking and in-person interaction while creating community.
Nicole Ferreira
Marcie Laird
Anina van der Vorst


How can we develop a business model for an analog and digital platform that is approachable to a culturally diverse audience?



The first move in determining our unique value was to identify where current cultural and language education methods fail. We researched the issues behind academic language courses, language exchange services, and plain language learning apps. All of these systems seemed to fall down in counteracting speaking anxiety and failed to accommodate a plethora of motivations for learning a language. These areas are where I focused my research. After studying the Socio-Educational Model of Second Language Acquisition Motivation (left), my team and I developed seven unique personas to form our business to. These potential customers represented all facets of learning styles, anxiety levels, cultural backgrounds, motivations, and frustrations. Keeping these personalities in mind helped to keep the business structure open to the most amount of people.


Service model: Who we are

Our users are made up of a community of people who're passionate about learning about language and culture through authentic experiences. Our ambassadors are in-house staff that foster and encourage an environment that is welcoming, energetic, and comfortable. They serve as professional support for those engaged in conversation exchanges, as well as work with local organizations to plan cultural events. Local organizations collaborate with our staff to host these events at the Mysa space. By doing so, they can broaden their own communities and make new, meaningful connections.

Our mobile app is focused on connecting users for conversation exchanges. It also allows users to connect to cultural communities and find more information about activities and events within the physical space. This space is the key to fostering a community of multiple cultures within a city. It also serves as a comfortable learning space where users won't feel anxious or nervous to speak. Our cultural events serve both as an introduction to our larger service as well as a gateway to experiencing a culture beyond that of its language.

Branding: Crafting a voice

We wanted our brand to be welcoming, worldly, and cheerful with a cheeky undertone to add more character to our brand. We decided early on that we didn’t want to go in a cliché route and reference language in our names with roots like lex, lingua, and instead wanted to focus on the atmosphere and community that our brand would create. We wanted a short word that was easy to say and didn’t have any common associations. We finally landed on the name Mysa— mee-sah (v.): To be engaged in an activity that is comfortable or pleasurable. [ex. A cat lying in the sun.]

App: Sparking a conversation

Language is the most powerful tool in engaging with another culture. Our app helps you find people to start a conversation with through a personalized selection process. You can talk about anything, big or small, from how to tip in Spain to the entire Spanish language.

Space: Giving you a place to get started

When discussing our idea, it became apparent early on that a physical space would be a key component of our proposal. With our research on speech anxiety and conversation exchanges, we felt that it was necessary to include a space that made people feel more comfortable and enhance a sense of community within Mysa. We wanted our space to get away from the classical classroom environment, and provide a place where someone can feel comfortable learning a language. We also wanted our space to provide a place where someone can stay for a while without feeling guilty for taking up space. We envision that conversation would lightly guided by ambassadors within the space, to help people feel less intimidated by speaking a new language.

Understanding the limitations of rural and even small cities, we imagine that Mysa would be most successful in an urban metropolitan area, where the public transportation is well established and the a greater network of cultures already exists.

Cultural events: Engaging the local community

Mysa events allow people to get together and perform a cultural activity within the Mysa space. Cultural activities are part of learning a language that aren’t really taught in formal classroom settings but are important in learning the whole language. These events are set up by language ambassadors, and are opportunities to collaborate with local cultural organizations and communities.

These events are advertised on the app, as well as through printed posters, mailouts, and word of mouth. These would also serve as a source of revenue for Mysa to help keep our language learning service free. These cultural events can range from culinary evenings, celebrating national holidays and events such as the Super Bowl or Day of the Dead, or teaching cultural quirk understanding (ex. tipping, eye contact, etc.,).

See the entire breadth of touchpoints for Mysa along with further research and descriptions here.