03. März 13

Welcome to our new blog on intercultural and international issues!

For me personally this will be an opportunity to share some thoughts and experiences not only from international osb projects, but from some other networks of interculturalists such as

  • SIETAR (Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research, www.sietar-deutschland.de), with a very active (and culturally diverse) regional chapter around Hamburg

  • AFS Germany (www.afs.de), partner of a worldwide community of non-commercial intercultural education, youth exchange, and volunteer service providers – as board member of that NGO I have the pleasure of facilitating an Advisory Council of researchers and practitioners from the fields of intercultural communication and education,

  • the Researcher-Practitioner Dialogue on International Youth Work (www.forscher-praktiker-dialog.de), a project line which since the late 1980s has initiated numerous conferences, research studies and publications – and in 2011 helped to establish a European Platform on Learning Mobility (www.learningmobility.eu) which will hold its second European conference on March 20-22 in Berlin.

A current “theme” which I observe in different contexts dealing with intercultural competence seems to be a changing perception of what happens when people (professionals, sojourners, exchange students and their hosts) from different cultural backgrounds meet and interact:

The more traditional way would be to look at the individuals and their mutual or one-sided adaptation efforts aimed at solving problems together, managing a business or service transaction, or living in one household for a length of time beyond the “guest stage”. This approach has generated a wealth of studies on cultural specifics, often described in dimensional models, characterizations of national cultures by their prevalent cultural standards (Kulturstandards in German), and countless sensitization and orientation training concepts to prepare or guide people in intercultural contacts and collaborations.

A different approach, based on a constructivist understanding of culture, seems to emerge in recent years, although some of its central concepts such as “third culture building” (Useem, Donoghue & Useem, 1963), “international micro culture” (IMC, Casmir, 1999) and “virtual Third Culture” (M. Bennett, 2003) have been introduced much earlier. This approach puts more emphasis on the process of intercultural interaction, even going so far as to refer to culture itself as a “process”. It would thus be difficult to predict the qualities of a third culture purely from the knowledge of the different orientation systems involved. Rather than “engineering”, for example, an international team culture from the specific cultural preferences of the team members involved it would seem more promising to be attentive to the process of becoming acquainted with the individual preferences stemming from personal experience, disciplinary and functional background as well as from national cultural socialization, to discover potentials for mutual enrichment, and to co-develop in new directions.

In preparing for our learning journey to India, I find myself again and again in the “traditional mode” of trying to gauge cultural specifics, for example, of gaining access to corporate management for arranging a company visit, which dress code will be appropriate for that occasion, and which presents will be welcome. I hope that these attempts at categoriziation will not keep me from being open to finer differences and commonalities and thus to the potentials of situations. Stay tuned …

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