You might think that knowing about country facts or differences between cultures is the key to being interculturally competent – but that is in fact only a small piece of the puzzle! Intercultural competence is an umbrella term for a range of qualities, attitudes and skills that allow you to mediate and communicate appropriately and effectively with people from different backgrounds in your native or in a foreign language. Such attitudes include for example a strong sense of self, curiosity, respect and open-mindedness towards ways of being that are different from what you understand as ‘normal’. An ethno-relative instead of an ethno-centric mindset is also crucial: An ethno-centric leads people to think that their familiar ways are superior to others, whereas an ethno-relative view enables you to switch perspectives without such judgement. Intercultural competence is therefore not achieved by learning country facts, but through lifelong, holistic learning.
The short course that this taster course is based on offers a foundation for this lifelong learning effort. The taster course examines three aspects that are highly relevant to intercultural competence: culture, communication, and identity. These three terms are used frequently by us in our everyday lives, but their meanings can seem ambiguous and broad. Have you for instance considered that equating culture with country can actually lead to more confusion and stereotypes than seeing the two as separate entities? The activities that you can try out here aim to give you a little more clarity on what such key concepts stand for and how they are used with regards to intercultural communication. The activities also aim to increase your cultural self-awareness, which is an important basis for building cultural knowledge, because if you start to understand how your own cultural values and beliefs are reflected in your behaviour, you can relate to and interpret the behaviour of others who might have different experiences and beliefs from you.
Course learning outcomes
After studying this course, you should be able to:
- consider culture in ways that are not reductionist and essentialist
- understand the properties of human communication and what intercultural competence entails and requires
- apply the notion of complex and dynamic identities to your own experiences
- have a critical understanding of national culture and be able to apply the concepts ‘othering’ and ‘belonging’ to intercultural encounters.
First Published: 07/07/2022