The ability to communicate across cultures is incredibly valuable and extends far beyond your time abroad.
According to Dr. Darla K. Deardorff, "Intercultural competence is the ability to develop targeted knowledge, skills and attitudes that lead to visible behavior and communication that are both effective and appropriate in intercultural interactions."
When you are interacting with people in your host country, you must keep in mind that they have developed their identities in a culture that may be very different from your own. These differences might be reflected in surface activities and behaviors - your classmates in Spain may eat dinner much later than you're used to or your French host mother may insist on keeping bathroom doors shut even if they're unoccupied - or they might be deeper differences that are harder to notice. For example, your host sister in Senegal may be quieter than you expected. Does that mean she's just an introvert? Or does her behavior reflect some deeper cultural difference between you and her?
As you develop your intercultural competence, you'll be able to recognize these differences and then alter the way that you react when you notice them. At first, you might find that eating dinner at ten o'clock each night is inconvenient or even annoying. But as you begin to adapt to your host country's culture and way of life, you'll find that your perspective might change. Hopefully, you'll come to appreciate the various reasons that your host culture has adopted this and other unique practices.
Intercultural competency doesn't cease to be useful when you return to the U.S. In fact, this skill is incredibly important in our everyday lives. As our world gets smaller, and people from various different cultures live closer and closer together, the ability to navigate cultural differences in professional settings is a highly sought after trait and can distinguish you to potential employers or admissions panels. On a personal level, the development of these skills will help you forge deeper and more meaningful connections with the people you encounter in your host country and in other countries you may visit in the future.
The first step to developing your intercultural competence is to have an awareness of what you're trying to accomplish while you're abroad. No matter where you are studying or how long your program may be, we hope that you take the time to set goals for yourself. You may not realize it now, but your time abroad will be over sooner than you can imagine. What do you hope to accomplish while you are abroad? Are you interested in an internship, honing language skills, traveling, engaging in a club or a sport, learning about your family heritage, understanding the business environment of your host country, or finding a group of like-minded friends? Set your goals early so that you can give yourself enough time to realistically achieve them over the course of the semester.
As you work to achieve these goals, you may find that certain cultural barriers or traits come up that impact your ability to reach them. Let's say you went abroad to perfect your language skills but find that a very specific regional dialect is spoken in your host country. Rather than just giving up on your goal, try to think about why and how this dialect developed. What might the use of this regional dilect say about relationships of history, culture, and place?
By considering the cultural and historical reasons behind the behaviors and practices that you encounter in your host country, you will develop the skills to think critically about why host country nationals behave the way they do. Hopefully, by extension you will also gain insight into the derivation of your own identity and behaviors.
Whether you are taking all of your classes in your host country language or simply navigating your study abroad locale in a brand new language, you may also find yourself feeling some language fatigue. Pushing through that feeling, even though it may require a bit more mental energy, is an important part of breaking down the language barrier, and one you will not have the opportunity to do as readily back in the United States. You may feel inclined to seek out other English-speaking students that understand these same linguistic challenges and, while it is important to have a support network, we encourage you to continue to push yourself outside of your comfort zone. Learning to navigate your semester in a foreign language will open up a whole new world of possibilities and allow for more language fluency gains over the course of your study abroad.
Deepen your knowledge, understanding of and respect for other cultures with the following resources.
This first course in a series of three 1-credit courses is a pre-departure seminar designed to give students the skill set to capitalize from the outset on the experiences, network connections, and academic environment that their particular exchange experience will offer. Prior to departure for study abroad, students have the option to develop a Service-Learning or Internship project to be conducted while abroad that will function as a point of class discussion for the following course taken while abroad.
3-credit series broken up over the course of 3 semesters:
To enroll, you may sign up for this course via Gibson during the semester prior to departure for study abroad. If the add date has passed but you would still like to be added, please send your name, your email, and your Splash Card ID # to Prof. Annie Gibson at email@example.com.
The Global Observer is a print and online publication committed to exploring global issues and trends. Written by Tulane students, alumni, faculty or staff authors of diverse backgrounds and perspectives, each print issue will explore a theme. Our goal is to collect a myriad of writing that will illustrate the similarities and differences of region, geography and citizenship. You can learn from other's experiences abroad, and later submit your own.
Studying abroad is a meaningful way to build intercultural competency skills and gain insights into another culture. But have you considered the ways that you can gain the same skills and experiences right here on Tulane's campus? The international community at Tulane is a large and thriving population of students, faculty and staff. They are involved in the classroom, in on-campus organizations and in various other projects and programs. The Center for Global Education promotes a number of ways that international and domestic students can work together to foster intercultural learning and understanding.
Here are just a few of the ways that you can get involved, either before or after your study abroad experience: