How Broadening Horizons leads to the Development of Intercultural Competences

How Broadening Horizons leads to the Development of Intercultural Competences

I would like this post to inspire emerging educational researchers. That’s why I’m going to include a lot of my own experiences.

Currently, in Poland, intercultural competences are developed only during philological studies. While learning a foreign language, we can understand what these competences are and how they are supposed to work. What about the rest of society? Should only foreign language students be ‘citizens of the world’? There are Erasmus type programs that allow all students to study abroad. However, not everyone knows how to take advantage of them.

From an early age, children should be accustomed to diversity and taught that nothing is better or worse. Everyone deserves respect and love. We all have similar needs, despite the colour of our skin. Meanwhile, there is still not enough content like this in the educational programs for the youngest students. When it appears in older classes, it is associated only with the culture of the country whose language they are currently learning.

Beginning my intercultural journey

I started my adventure with interculturalism by volunteering in Vietnam in the small village of Sapa. I taught English there and conducted art classes. A young Vietnamese Hmong couple ran the Homestay. In exchange for working with the local children, I spent quality time with their family, participated in all celebrations, and had meals with them. I met people from different countries and even continents every day. It was an extraordinary and fascinating experience for me.

After a month’s stay, I returned to Warsaw. Nothing was the same as it was before I had left. Even the tea lost its flavour. I felt a huge thirst for travel, and I was hungry to discover, taste and admire new things. I felt a terrible hunger for knowledge. Only then did I understand how much we lose by closing doors and surrounding ourselves with people from the same cultural circle. If it weren’t for this trip, I would not have realized how diligent and hungry for knowledge these children are and how much they care about learning. They can truly appreciate it. Unfortunately, the region lacks English teachers with intercultural experience. The teachers I encountered had little awareness of the use of English in different cultural contexts.

Thanks to my stay in Vietnam (apart from trying durian, drinking fresh coconut juice, making my own spring rolls), I experienced Milton Benett’s Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity myself. I have gone through all the phases, from Denial (Ethnocentric stages) to Integration (Ethnorelative stages). I believe that I will remember this process for the rest of my life.

Exploring the Concept of Intercultural Sensitivity 

It was the beginning of my doctoral studies, and I was eager to explore this concept. So I started looking for universities that interested me in terms of the research they conduct, hoping to complete a short internship or a study trip.

I was able to find a university that not only suited my needs scientifically but was also willing to accept me for a short stay – the first Center for Cultural Psychology in Europe, which was then at the University of Aalborg in Denmark.

The stay in Denmark exceeded my expectations. I cooperated with scientists from all over the world in meetings, seminars, conferences and workshops, which provided a lot of inspiration. At that time, I also had the opportunity to communicate in English on a higher level than before. I met people not only from Europe but also from South America, Asia and the United States. Every Wednesday, a ‘kitchen seminar’ was organized. That was the name of the meetings of scientists from around the world where we discussed one given topic every day. 

Imagine discussing one specific scientific topic from different cultural perspectives. This experience enriched me​​ scientifically. I am still very grateful to the scientists who are developing this Center, who took me under their wings. I think that was a milestone in my scientific development.

ECER and the Emerging Researchers’ Group

Shortly after defending my doctoral dissertation, I learned about the opportunity to participate in the European Educational Research Association Conference (ECER). The Emerging Researcher group was of particular interest to me. I imagined how wonderful it would be to be among young scientists from all over the world. Those are the young people who want to change the educational space. They are brave, and they look at the world with trust and openness. They have broad horizons, and they want to keep learning and improving.

 I learnt that there was an opportunity to receive a conference scholarship. I decided to apply. I was happy to find out that my application was accepted and that I could go to Hamburg!

The organization of the entire conference was excellent, starting with critical, interesting comments that I had the opportunity to hear, to various workshops and events that were organized to fill the time fruitfully. Everything was arranged on a world-class level. During the ERG and EERA conference, I had the opportunity to meet fantastic people from all over the world. We were all one big family.

One of the most interesting events for me was the exchange of personal experiences with women of my age in a similar scientific situation (facilitated by the ERG). Long conversations about our experiences during meals or while sightseeing around the city provided an excellent opportunity to reflect on our lives and goals. The exchange of scientific understanding is always invaluable. Communicating with people so culturally different teaches us humility and greater self-awareness.

It also allows you to understand your location on the map of the world and in space. Finally, it teaches that what is objectively good is not always good in reality. And what’s bad is not only bad. Indeed, there is more than just gray.

 

Forging lasting friendships through intercultural experiences 

What is the result of all these experiences? First, I teach Intercultural Competences at my university, The Maria Grzegorzewska University in Warsaw. It is in the form of workshops and is aimed at students of education of all years and nationalities.

Apart from fruitful intercultural cooperation, I have gained unforgettable experiences and friendships. I discovered that there is more than a Polish educational space, that dumplings are not only eaten in Poland because they can also be eaten in Argentina (as Empanadas). The concept of marriage can vary between continents and countries, and collective memory has become an inspiring research topic. 

It is impossible to develop intercultural competences without experience with OTHERS. We will never know who we truly are without exposure to foreign cultures. We will never appreciate our country and culture without knowing others. If you want to be an outstanding teacher or scientist, you must have intercultural experience.

Developing intercultural competences through communing with others is a beautiful relationship. Maybe a bit turbulent at first and bringing a bit of fear, but in the end, giving a great sense of satisfaction, security, and fulfilment.

Dr Maja Wenderlich

Dr Maja Wenderlich

Assistant Professor in the Department of Supporting Human Development and Education, The Maria Grzegorzewska University, Warsaw, Poland

References and Further Reading

What is Erasmus+? European Commission: https://ec.europa.eu/programmes/erasmus-plus/about_en  (05.06.2021)

Curriculum for Primary School in Poland: https://podstawaprogramowa.pl/files/D2017000035601.pdf   (09.06.2021) 

R. Flowers, Ethnic minority education in Viet Nam: challenges and opportunities during COVID-19 outbreak, https://www.unicef.org/vietnam/stories/ethnic-minority-education-viet-nam-challenges-and-opportunities-during-covid-19-outbreak (04.06.2021)

E. Pachina, My Vietnamese Experience: Challenges for English Learners in Vietnam,

https://www.teflcourse.net/blog/my-vietnamese-experience-challenges-for-english-learners-in-vietnam-ittt-tefl-blog/ (05.06.2021).

M. J. Bennett, 1986, 1993, 2002, 2005, 2011, A Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity, The Intercultural Development  Research Institute: https://www.idrinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/FILE_Documento_Bennett_DMIS_12pp_quotes_rev_2011.pdf  (05.06.2021).

AAlborg Univeristy, Denamark: https://www.ccp.aau.dk/ (05.06.2021).

Promoting Emerging Researchers:  https://eera-ecer.de/about-eera/promoting-emerging-researchers/ecer-conference-bursaries/ (05.06.2021)

M. J. Bennett, Becoming interculturally competent. (In): J.S. Wurzel (Ed.), Toward Multiculturalism: A Reader in Multicultural Education. Newton, MA: Intercultural Resource Corporation, 2004.

Gu, Intercultural Experience and Teacher Professional Development, (in:) RELC Journal; Volume 36, Issue 1, April 2005, pp. 5–22.

Further Reading

Bennett, M. J., & Wiseman, R. (2003). Measuring intercultural sensitivity: The Intercultural Development Inventory. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 27(4), 421-443.

Koester, J., & Lustig, M. W. (2015). Intercultural communication competence: Theory, measurement, and application. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 48, 20-21

Martin, J. N. (2015). Revisiting intercultural communication competence: Where to go from here. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 48, 6-8.

Minzaripov R. G., Fakhrutdinova  A. V.,  ,Mardakhaev  L. V., Volenko O. I., ,Varlamova E. Y. (2020) Multicultural Educational Approach Influence on Student’s Development.  International Journal of Criminology and Sociology, 9, 1-5.

Savicki V. (2008). Developing Intercultural Competence and Transformation: Theory, Research, and Application in International Education, Stylus Publishing; Illustrated edition.

 

Fostering Cultural Creativity in Foreign Language Classrooms

Fostering Cultural Creativity in Foreign Language Classrooms

As language is one of the prominent ways in which people express their cultures, language classrooms cannot be isolated from the teaching of cultures. In addition to four basic skills of language, which are listening, speaking, writing, and reading, culture is suggested to be regarded as the fifth skill of language classroom (Kramsch, 1993). Culture can be defined as concepts carrying historical roots represented through symbols, characters, or interactions in the daily lives of people (Geertz, 1973).

Culture comes from the Latin word colere, meaning to cultivate, which implies developing and pursuing common goals. It entails being a part of a group that shares a mutual past, collective thinking, and a language (Kramsch, 1998).

Using language activities to help student develop a multicultural understanding

While the main emphasis of the language lesson is generally on the culture of the target language, providing a perspective through students’ own culture helps them to develop multicultural understanding. When the students recognize and evaluate the values of their own culture and the target culture, they can better adapt to cultural differences and do not have a sense of intimidation or alienation (Byram, Lloyd & Schneider, 1995; Byram, Holmes & Savvides, 2013).

UNESCO (2017) highlights culture as one of the key steps to consider while developing textbooks and materials. Knowing the culture helps the learner gain perspective and better communicate out of the classroom context. However, developing cultural awareness is not a task that can be handled quickly through a few activities, books, or exercises when limited exposure to language is taken into consideration during foreign language learning. Cultural diversity needs to be represented through content, images, depictions of genders, races, and religions. If teachers design materials themselves, they need to pay attention to such inclusive elements.

Using digital tools in foreign language lessons to improve cultural awareness

Increasing use of digital media positively affects learning about culture in language classrooms as students can work on the target language while practising their 21st-century skills. Language classrooms may not always have a multicultural structure if the students come from the same background. By integrating multimedia and web tools in the classroom, learners can reach out to peers from different countries, share their experiences in practising the language and overcome some of the challenges they face while learning. Interactions through social networking platforms, emails, web 2.0 tools, recordings, and video conferences with target language speakers are among contemporary ways to improve cultural awareness and connection (Murray & Bolinger, 2001;Wu, Marek & Chen, 2013).

Teachers can help the students get to know the culture and provide a network to make them witness a culturally diverse setting. Teachers should pave the way for creating a harmonious classroom, as is indicated in the photo above, welcoming all races, ethnicities, religions, gender identities, sexual orientations, abilities, and disabilities.

Practical tips for teachers to promote cultural diversity in foreign language classrooms

Nowadays, language teachers try to focus more on communicative techniques and blend them with process and product-based instructions (Richards, 2006). Projects, portfolios, learning journals, and collaborative works are popular in designing learner-centered lessons. While giving such assignments, teachers can encourage the use of authentic materials that represent different ways of life and communicative styles. Even if there is no access to technological resources, adapting lesson plans, curriculums, and materials to implement cultural teaching can be a good solution.

In addition to using coursebooks or teacher-made instructional materials, integrating different teaching resources allows student autonomy to have dynamic learning of culture in language classrooms.

Here are 12 simple ways of familiarizing students with cultures and fostering cultural creativity: 

  • greeting each other in various languages in the morning
  • reading about or bringing realia like food, clothing, crafts or any kind of daily objects from different cultures
  • playing music from other cultures and doing some dictation activities with lyrics
  • bringing in authentic materials like newspaper or magazine articles, posters about the lesson topic of the week and creating a bulletin board in the classroom or a page on portfolio websites
  • encouraging students to display learning journals, diaries or making posters out of them to display on the bulletin boards or portfolio websites
  • inviting or video conferencing with a native speaker or a target language speaker who also has proficient knowledge about the culture
  • communicating online with penpals from the target culture
  • introducing and practising cultural etiquettes
  • practising non-verbal cues like facial expressions or gestures from the target culture
  • writing collaborative online blogs, recording podcasts or videos about cultural elements
  • celebrating the special days or festivals of target cultures along with the ones in local culture to embrace diversity and awareness
  • organizing a cultural day in which students introduce concepts or materials from the target cultures

Teachers often want to focus on teaching culture, but they may not know how to implement the cultural content in the lessons or may experience other constraints like lack of material, time, or planning (Castro, Sercu & Méndez García, 2004; Young & Sachdev, 2011). Taking simple steps to engage in activities like the ones suggested above can help boost interest in cultural topics and raise cultural awareness. Such a positive classroom atmosphere and the dynamic between students and teachers promote cultural awareness for improved interaction.

Dilara Özel

Dilara Özel

PhD Student and Research Assistant at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey

Dilara Özel is a PhD student and also a research assistant in Guidance and Psychological Counseling program at Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, Turkey. She received her master’s degree from the same department in METU with a master thesis titled An Examination of Needs and Issues at Refugee- Receiving Schools in Turkey from the Perspectives of School Counselors. She is an alumnus of the Faculty of Education Bachelor’s Program in Guidance and Psychological Counseling department at Boğaziçi University, İstanbul. She worked as a volunteer at several projects and trained in peace education, conflict resolution, and human rights. Then, she gave short training sessions on negotiation and mediation techniques. Dilara worked as a school counsellor at a private college with preschoolers. Her research interests are peace education, multicultural education and refugee studies.

Ayşegül Yurtsever

Ayşegül Yurtsever

English teacher, Bursa, Turkey

Ayşegül Yurtsever is an English teacher in Bursa, Turkey. She completed her master’s degree in English Language Teaching from Hacettepe University in Ankara with a thesis titled A Teacher Inquiry into the Effects of Teacher’s Motivational Activities on Language Learners’ Classroom Motivation. She holds a B.A in ELT from Boğaziçi University, Istanbul. She previously worked as an assistant language teacher in Belgium. Her research interests include the psychology of language learning, self and group dynamics.

References

Byram, M., Holmes, P., & Savvides, N. (2013). Intercultural communicative competence in foreign language education: Questions of theory, practice and research. The Language Learning Journal, 41(3), 251-253. doi:10.1080/09571736.2013.83634

Byram, M., Lloyd, K., & Schneider, R. (1995). Defining and describing ‘cultural awareness’. The Language Learning Journal,12(1), 5-8. doi:10.1080/09571739585200321

Castro, P., Sercu, L., & Méndez García, M. C. (2004). Integrating language‐and‐culture teaching: An investigation of Spanish teachers’ perceptions of the objectives of foreign language education. Intercultural Education, 15(1), 91-104. doi:10.1080/1467598042000190013

Geertz, C. (1973). The Interpretation of cultures: Selected essays. New York: Basic Books.

Kramsch, C. (1993). Context and culture in language teaching. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Kramsch, C. (1998). Language and culture. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Murray, G. L., & Bollinger, D. J. (2001). Developing Cross-Cultural Awareness: Learning Through the Experiences of Others.TESL Canada Journal, 19(1), 62-72. doi:10.18806/tesl.v19i1.920

Wu, W. V., Marek, M., & Chen, N. (2013). Assessing cultural awareness and linguistic competency of EFL learners in a CMC-based active learning context. System, 41(3), 515-528. doi:10.1016/j.system.2013.05.004

Richards, J. C. (2006). Communicative language teaching today. New York: Cambridge University Press.

UNESCO. (2017). Making textbook content inclusive: A focus on religion, gender, and culture. Paris

Young, T. J., & Sachdev, I. (2011). Intercultural communicative competence: Exploring English language teachers’ beliefs and practices. Language Awareness, 20(2), 81-98. doi:10.1080/09658416.2010.540328

Further Reading

Byram, M. & Grundy, P. (eds.) (2002). Context and culture in language teaching and learning. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters

https://www.learningforjustice.org/

https://www.education.com/worksheets/community-cultures/