5.3 Intercultural communication 

The Intersection of Intercultural Communication and Student Engagement

In an increasingly globalised world, universities and their classrooms have evolved into melting pots of diverse cultures, backgrounds, and perspectives. With this diversity comes the invaluable opportunity for enriched learning experiences, but also the challenge of ensuring that communication bridges rather than divides. Intercultural communication, in this context, becomes more than a mere tool — it’s an essential skill for educators, student support staff and students alike, ensuring that every student feels recognised, valued, and motivated to engage fully in their educational journey.

Mastering the nuances of intercultural communication

Understanding and appreciating the nuances of different cultures is pivotal in creating an inclusive learning environment. This extends beyond recognising holidays or dietary preferences—it encompasses language subtleties, non-verbal cues, value systems, and even learning styles. For educators, this means being attuned to potential cultural barriers or misunderstandings that may hinder student engagement. By creating a classroom ethos where different perspectives are celebrated and intercultural misunderstandings are seen as opportunities for growth, students are more likely to feel a sense of belonging and, in turn, actively participate in their education.

‘The ripple effect’ of intercultural student engagement

When students from varied cultural backgrounds feel genuinely engaged, the entire educational ecosystem benefits. Intercultural communication fosters an environment where students not only learn from the curriculum but also from each other. This cross-cultural exchange deepens their understanding of global perspectives, enhancing their cognitive flexibility, empathy, and problem-solving skills. Furthermore, as students embark on their professional journeys post-education, their competence in intercultural communication sets them apart in the global workforce, proving that the impact of such skills in the realm of student engagement holds profound implications for their future

Role (and risks) of intercultural student organisations

Intercultural student organisations play a pivotal role in fostering cross-cultural exchange and support. These groups often act as safe spaces for international students, providing them with a sense of belonging and community. They facilitate events, workshops, and interactions that enable students to share their unique cultures and learn from others. 

However, while these organisations are crucial in celebrating diversity, there’s an underlying risk. If not careful, they can inadvertently create silos, where students primarily interact with peers from similar backgrounds, leading to potential separation from the broader student community. This segregation may limit cross-cultural interactions, hindering the very essence of an integrated, multicultural learning experience. As student support staff, you can prevent this from happening by integrating these organisations in the broader campus life.

Integrating intercultural student engagement in broader campus life

To harness the benefits and mitigate the risks associated with intercultural student organizations, it’s imperative for educational institutions to promote integration and interaction among all student groups. Encouraging collaboration between intercultural organizations and other campus groups can break down potential barriers. Furthermore, understanding and appreciating the nuances of different cultures creates an inclusive learning environment. This recognition goes beyond mere surface-level acknowledgments—it encompasses language subtleties, non-verbal cues, value systems, and even learning styles. By fostering an environment where diverse perspectives are celebrated, students are more likely to actively participate in their education, benefiting from both the curriculum and the rich tapestry of their peers’ backgrounds and experiences.

For an example of intercultural student engagement, you can – among many others – look at the sources from the pictures above, but you can also look at the University of Albany (US): https://www.albany.edu/multicultural/ or University of New England (US): https://www.une.edu/student-affairs/ise for some inspiration. 

Intercultural communication: Dr. Deborah Swallow 

Whether you are talking about intercultural communication or cross-cultural communication you are also talking about diversity. This short video aims to explain a few concepts so you can very quickly and easily grasp the fundamentals of intercultural communication and get a better cross-cultural understanding. To give you a little insight on intercultural and cross-cultural communication Dr Deborah Swallow mentions some of the most striking cultural differences that people face when working with people from diverse communities and in international settings. First, there is the way people speak. Next there is the different approach to rules. The Little Pilot also encounters differences in formal and informal behaviour along with different perceptions of time. In today’s global business environment, it is essential to learn to navigate across culturally diverse landscapes. All the above characteristics have implications in the workplace and the more we understand about cross-cultural differences the better able we are able to work more productively with diversity.  

Link video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSt_op3fQck 

 An introductory video about intercultural communication. A short explanation about the global changes and the fact that societies are more and more intercultural. 

Hofstedes’s cultural framework (Conceptualitation). 

Intercultural issues (Introductory video to understand that cultures can contribute different ways of understanding life). 

Short introduction: “Nowadays, cultural diversity is important because our workplaces, schools, and other areas of our lives increasingly consist of various cultural, racial, and ethnic groups. We can learn from one another, but we must first have a level of understanding about each other in order to facilitate collaboration and cooperation. Learning about other cultures helps us understand different perspectives within the world we live; it also helps dispel negative stereotypes and personal biases about different groups. Additionally, cultural diversity makes our world a more interesting place to live, as people from diverse cultures contribute different ways of thinking, new knowledge, and various experiences. In order to better understand different cultures, scholars have tried various methods to analyze and categorize them. Today, we are going to study one of the most applicable approaches to understanding cultures: Hofstede’s cultural framework.”

Link video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TX0fUAhBAfc&t=51s  

Resources We invite you now to explore the following resources for more information:   Cross cultural communication 

  1. A short but sweet guide to effective cross cultural communication. 

Link video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lMplUEgo5YQ    

  1. A more detailed video about cross cultural communication: 

This video covers three basic aspects of cross-cultural communication that are useful to pay attention to no matter what cultures are involved.  Link video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0SNGe0AtV3s     Name: Handbook of Intercultural Communication and Cooperation  Type: A book, quite theoretical, with various concepts and theories - also talks about intercultural coaching and intercultural training.  Link: https://library.oapen.org/bitstream/id/b4cc2a3d-3fa5-4529-a2d0-424d0c46f6ae/1000245.pdf    Name: Intercultural Communication  Type: A book chapter which defines and explains the importance of intercultural communication, describes the role intercultural communication plays in communicating effectively, defines culture and co-culture and what it means to possess a cultural identity, explain the six dimensions or frameworks for studying cultural differences and distinguishes among assimilation, accommodation, and separation strategies and their purpose.  Link: http://personales.upv.es/mcandel/Hybels9_Ch3.pdf  Name: Case Studies for Intercultural and Conflict Communication  Type: This is a sample from a book with various case studies about intercultural and conflict communication, namely about Ethics and Politics in Multicultural Societies, Intercultural Communication, Managing Cultural Diversity, Gender Identity and Sexual Orientation, Family and Relationship Conflict and Workplace Conflict. This sample examples how to design one case study, with theories linked to it, activities etc.  Link: https://www.cambridgescholars.com/resources/pdfs/978-1-5275-7713-8-sample.pdf    Name: An Introduction to Intercultural Communication  Type: A PDF document with information about intercultural communication and many exercises to work on.  Link: https://www.press.umich.edu/pdf/9780472033577-ch1.pdf