Fostering Intercultural Competence in Higher Education: Designing Intercultural Group Work for the Classroom

Fostering Intercultural Competence in Higher Education: Designing Intercultural Group Work for the Classroom

Eika Auschner (Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Colombia)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2177-9.ch009
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Within the ongoing process of globalization, intercultural competence has been identified as one of the key competences of the 21st century. Universities need to prepare their graduates for working across countries and cultures and have been focusing on the international and intercultural aspect of their programs. Research has shown, however, that the development of intercultural competence in students does not happen automatically but needs to be fostered and supported. Within an action research project, an intercultural group work was designed to foster the development of intercultural competence of business students in an international double-degree program. The analyses of individual self-reflections after the group work suggested that the group work provided students with international working experiences, and that the reflection process has to be structured and supported to foster the development of intercultural competence in students.
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Developing Intercultural Competence In Higher Education

Defining Intercultural Competence

From a sociological point of view, culture can be understood as the “vital world of a group of individuals characterized by shared patterns of interpretation in the context of shared knowledge” (Woltin and Jonas, 2009, p. 469). Geert Hofstede describes culture as something that connects a group of people on the one hand and, on the other hand, distinguishes them from other people. He calls it “the collective programming of the mind” (Hofstede et al., 2010, p. 6). Based on this understanding, intercultural communication occurs “when the participants of a communication situation belong to different cultures and when the partners are aware of the fact that the other person is “different”, when one is perceived as a “foreigner” (Maletzke, 1996, p. 37). So-called intercultural competence is needed to overcome these differences and to handle intercultural situations.

In the context of Higher Education, intercultural competence can be defined as the “ability to communicate effectively and appropriately in intercultural situations based on one’s intercultural knowledge, skills, and attitudes” (Deardorff, 2006). Deardorff´s model of IC development describes the development as a process: based on particular attitudes (e.g. tolerance and openness), the acquisition of knowledge about foreign cultures, and the development of cultural self-awareness as well as of certain skills (e.g. to listen carefully, to analyze situations) can initiate a reflection process. Basic (cultural) assumptions may be questioned in this reflection process, which can then lead to a shift of one´s frame of reference and a change of perspective. This internal reflection process may result in effective and appropriate behavior in an intercultural situation, taking into account the objectives of the communication (effective) and the expectations of behavior of the communication partner (appropriate).

Due to the process orientation of this model, it is well-suited to visualize differences in IC development and to improve the design of group works and activities, lectures, seminars and study programs that aim at the IC development of students. Yet, the model does not explicitly take the impact of intercultural contacts on IC development into account. Although the external outcome (“effective and appropriate behavior”) does imply some kind of interaction, the model lacks the importance of intercultural interactions. Still, it serves as a theoretical base in this chapter.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Experiential Learning: A learning theory proposed by David Kolb with understands learning as a process combining experience and reflection with cognitive elements.

Intergroup Contact: The contact between members of different social groups.

Internationalization at Home: (Academic) activities that promote internationalization of higher education and that take place on the home campus, such as attracting foreign students and international guest lectures.

Critical Incident: A situation that is perceived by at least one person as confusing, irritating, or even amusing.

Internationalization Abroad: (Academic) activities that promote internationalization of higher education and that take place in foreign countries, such as study abroad programs.

Intercultural Competence: A key competence of the 21 st century needed to interact with people from different cultural backgrounds.

Ingroup/Outgroup: A person usually identifies as a member of a social group he/she shares certain characteristics with, while outgroup is a social group with which an individual does not identify.

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