How interculturally competent are you?

14 June, 2017
  • 3 min read
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Hotelschool The Hague is an International Hospitality Business School. In the context of intercultural competence, this statement is critical. Intercultural competence activates Global Citizenship, and the notion of being hospitable is intimately linked to the knowledge, skills and attitudes that intercultural competence necessitates (f.e. openness and respect).

So what is intercultural competence exactly?

Intercultural competence is, according to Deardorff: “The ability to communicate effectively and appropriately in intercultural situations based on one’s intercultural knowledge, skills and attitudes” (Deardorff, 2006).

Typically, students and scholars discuss the theories of Hofstede and Lewis, as these effectively categorise differences in and among nationalities. Yet, nationality is only one part of a broader set of factors that drive and co-determine culture. Indeed, inter-culturalism encompasses much more than the concept of nationality. In today’s world, people rarely live in mono-cultural societies.

There is also the danger that determining cultural difference leads to stereotyping, as well as locating those people with common traits in segmented types. This denies an understanding of the cultural complexities inherent in the individual. Thus cultural knowing needs to start at the level of the individual. Intercultural knowledge is knowledge about one’s own cultural background and about different cultural backgrounds. Understanding national culture is part of the requisite for intercultural knowledge and is equally important for international hospitality businesses. As there is a lot of research on differences in nationalities like Hofstede, Lewis, but also Erin Meyer, it is quite easy to acquire this knowledge before you interact among those with different national cultures.

Erin Meyer (2014) states firmly in her book The Culture Map that “Yes, every individual is different. And yes, when you work with people from other cultures, you should not make assumptions about individual traits based on where a person comes from. But this doesn’t mean learning about national contexts is unnecessary. Many well-intentioned people do not educate themselves about national differences, because they believe if they focus on individual differences that will be enough.” If you rely on your ability to work successfully with people from around the globe, you need to have an appreciation for national differences as well as respect for the other cultural differences. Both are essential and you need to be mindful not to stereotype individuals based on their nationality. Indeed, recent research has shown that the largest cultural gaps are actually found within countries, and not between them (Kirkman, Steel & Taras, 2016).

So what are the other areas of culture then? According to the Cultural Detective (2012) (see Fig. 1) culture is expressed in and composed through a multiplicity of attributes, for example ethnicity and age. These layers of culture are both visible and invisible (see Fig. 2).

From my own experience of Hotelschool The Hague students, many are well-travelled, many have lived in different countries and often had international schooling at primary or secondary level. Indeed, also some of our students are third-culture kids; those whom have lived in different countries other than those of their parents and have interacted with many different nationalities. However, this doesn’t automatically make you interculturally competent.

Just like culture - intercultural competence evolves continuously, as the world changes.

However, just as Figure 1, Layers of culture reminds us, through understanding the dynamics that stimulate both identity, culture and ways of knowing – it constitutes and provides a guiding frame in becoming a global citizen. We can do our best to keep on developing intercultural competence. Deardorff (2006) posited three broad elements necessary for intercultural competence, i.e. attitudes, such as respect, openness, curiosity and discovery, as well as the knowledge and skills, necessary to activate intercultural competence, like cultural self-knowledge, knowledge of others and being able to interact in a specific language, and viewing the world through the lens of the other (See Fig. 3).

About the author

Anemoon Schepel

Anemoon is a lecturer, researcher and coach. She teaches classes on Marketing and Innovation, Hotel Operations, Information and Communication Management, but is currently specialising herself in education with her Master studies. She conducts research on internationalisation in education, where intercultural competence plays a big role.


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