The following blog post was written by Tahira Ebrahim, Centre Liaison Officer at the Centre for Excellence in Immigrant and Intercultural Advancement.
It seems now more than ever that intercultural competence is becoming a critical skill to ensure social cohesion and inclusion. Changes in social structure, including the increasing movement of people on a global scale and the depth and breadth of diversity within our cities, warrant a need for intercultural competence.
So what is intercultural competence? Deardoff (2004) defines it as, “the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately in intercultural situations, based on one’s intercultural knowledge, skills, and attitudes."
In my experience, it seems that we can become overwhelmed by the knowledge piece of intercultural competency, even if this is at the surface level. For example, how are we supposed to know how to interact with different people from different parts of the world? Do you shake hands or do you bow? Is it better to try to say a few words in a foreign language, or do you risk insulting someone who speaks that very language? Do you look someone in the eye or avoid eye contact?
These constant questions can make interacting with others that are different from ourselves feel intimidating. Rather than focusing on knowledge first, a place to begin is focusing on one's attitudes with a goal of cultivating respect, curiosity, and openness. By applying an attitude of mindfulness and empathy to those around you, you can create a space to dialogue when faced with difference. With this attitude informing your behavior, you will be far more versatile in encouraging connection, rather than worrying about potential offense. We needn’t expect perfection, but we should expect acceptance and recognition from one another.
Looking for tips on engaging with people for the sake of understanding? Take a look at our blog on asking responsible questions.
Deardorff, D. K. (2004). The identification and assessment of intercultural competence as a student outcome of international education at institutions of higher education in the United States. Unpublished dissertation, North Carolina State University, Raleigh.