Why Intercultural Competency?

Recently I had the opportunity to facilitate a parent Learning Series discussion on global dexterity and how an international education can afford children experiences that can help build intercultural skills. We had some engaging conversations on the topic. The most compelling voice in the room about the benefits came from a Grade 8 student who shared how much her cultural sensitivity and perspective has been broadened since moving to a new culture.

Intercultural competency is a skill set that is becoming highly valued by employers locally and globally. Researchers describe intercultural competency as having the skills to work effectively with others, being sensitive in both verbal and nonverbal exchanges, and most notably, with greater diversity in workplaces, “they need to have the skills to negotiate different social and cultural environments” (British Council, 2013). Therefore, developing intercultural competency from an early age will provide students with an important edge as they compete in a competitive college and career environment. Intercultural competency requires more than having tolerance for others. Intercultural competency is a skillset that touches on several different kinds of intelligence including cultural and emotional intelligence. In a study of global leaders, Tucker et al (2014) found that highly successful leaders consistently display the following characteristics and behaviours.

  • “Enjoy new challenges, strive for innovative solutions to social and situational issues and learn from a variety of sources;
  • Build and maintain trusting relationships;
  • Socialize comfortably with new people in unfamiliar social situations, demonstrate genuine interest in other people, and exhibit a good sense of humor
  • See through vagueness and uncertainty, do not become frustrated, and figure out how things are done in other cultures;
  • Remain calm, without being critical of oneself
  • Demonstrate respect for the political and spiritual beliefs of people of other cultures” (Tucker et al, 2014).

These skills are complex and not easily taught. They are in fact, often acquired through life experiences that are singularly unique, such as growing up in a biracial family or living outside your national culture.

CC: 3.0 by DarwinPeacock, Maklaan

To support children to develop this ‘global dexterity’ requires a combined effort from home and school. The British Council points out, “The research shows that despite this high demand for intercultural fluency, most employers say that education providers in their countries do not sufficiently develop these skills in students before they enter the job market” (British Council, 2013). Schools have a role to play in providing conditions and opportunities for students to practice skills in teamwork, to develop empathy for others from different backgrounds, and also to learn new languages–a recognized avenue for developing cultural awareness. Families have a part to play too. There are particular experiences that encourage intercultural competence in children. For example, encouraging children to be open and curious, supporting their friendships with children from other cultures, and of course, traveling to different cultures are three ways that families can nurture the development of these skills (Pica-Smith & Poynton, 2014). Particularly if in an international context, schools and families, are afforded opportunities to nurture children’s capacity in this valuable competency.

Pica-Smith and Poynton, (2014). Supporting interethnic and interracial friendships among youth to reduce prejudice and racism in schools: the role of the school counsellor. Professional School Counseling, v18 n1 p82-89 2014-2015. http://iucat.iu.edu/iub/articles/eric/EJ1052423/?resultId=62&highlight=%22MULTICULTURAL%20education%22

Tucker, Bonial, Vanhove and Kedharnath, (2014). Leading across cultures in the human age: an empirical investigation of intercultural competency among global leaders. Mar 6;3:127. eCollection 2014. doi: 10.1186/2193-1801-3-127http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/25674432

British Council. (2013). Global research reveals value of intercultural skills https://www.britishcouncil.org/organisation/press/global-research-reveals-value-intercultural-skills

Wilce, M. (2004). Growing up global. Tokyo Families Magazine