Intercultural Understanding

intercultural understanding

EIESL chose theme of “Intercultural Understanding” to capture the key emerging questions, comments, and concerns arising from faculty and student dialogue sessions that focused on the considerations for effective interactions with people from different cultures.

Community Voice on Intercultural Understanding

“Students need to not only know the broad strokes of the culture they are coming into but they need to also understand the divisions within it and they need to go deeper than stereotypes. Politics and history are very important and understanding these will help the volunteer to understand many things about culture. They will need to keep an open mind and know it is a process.”
- Employee of a Mexican NGO in Comitan, Mexico

How can we (students) take responsibility for our own cultural learning and adaptability?

Can a person be taught to be “ inter-culturally understanding”? What does this even mean? What are the limits to cultural knowledge and competence?

How much language skill is enough? What are the gaps in resources available for students in this regard?

How can we better train ourselves to be conscious of our assumptions and the things we take for granted?

What mutual effects are there as a result of our presence in a (vulnerable) community? What are we taking with us when we leave? What are we leaving behind?

How do we understand the concept of “Otherness” and what effects does that understanding have on our learning and service? How can we use culture to bridge our different worlds?

What roles/tools do faculty have with respect to teaching intercultural understanding? How can we (faculty) teach students important competencies without it being seen as fluff and being reduced to tedious points on a check-list?

Therefore, EIESL bases its discussions in this guidebook on “Intercultural Understanding” around the assumption that, to be ethical, students and faculty members need to be conscious of the ways in which their own culture influences their behaviour, as well as how other people’s cultures influence their behaviour, and thinking and acting accordingly. While incredibly challenging, intercultural understanding in international engagement is important for working and communicating effectively and respectfully.

A strong general awareness of the cultural environment of the community with which you will be engaging can help to avoid establishing or sustaining negative stereotypes, which are counter-productive and can render relationships unsustainable. Strong intercultural understanding facilitates the building of trust, which can enrich your learning allow your work to run more smoothly.

In a larger sense, competency is extremely important if you are going to have something to offer to a community. No amount of good intentions can replace a relevant, concrete and well-rounded set of skills.

As one student commented during an EIESL dialogue series event: “I’ll never be able to go into an international setting and not be a foreigner.”

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