Academic journal article The International Schools Journal

Intercultural Communication Competency for International Educators

Academic journal article The International Schools Journal

Intercultural Communication Competency for International Educators

Article excerpt


Several months ago at the ECIS leadership conference in Vienna, Austria, a presentation was given on intercultural communication competence (ICC). During the presentation, participants discussed what they do in their schools to ensure the development of intercultural communication competence in their school setting.

The answers were interesting and informative. Respondents indicated a very wide range of activities, including short-term orientations and day-long workshops for all staff and faculty to the far end of the continuum which was stated as 'we don't do enough'. Questioning further and probing for examples it became clear that, while there is strength in the development of ICC in some of our international schools, others are struggling to determine what, if anything, they should be doing.

The following discussion of ICC is not to advocate for a single definition or set of strategies that should be used with international educators but rather to promote discourse at the campus, school or classroom level between and among educators who serve in international settings.

Teachers recruited to international schools

The most predominant groups choosing to teach in international schools are from western nations, primarily Canada, United Kingdom, Australia, New Zealand and the United States. Little is known about their language facility other than English, their ethnicity, their educational background, exceptionalities or socio-economic status (Shaklee, 2011). Little is known about their prior training in intercultural communication skills or their prior international experiences.

Other than a bachelor's degree of some sort, some will have a credential to teach; some will have teaching experience in their current country; and some will come with no experience or credential in teaching whatsoever. What we do know is that they are generally eager, adventurous, curious, risk-takers who specifically target international schools with an eye for a career in teaching. We also know that some are children of international schools educators and/or third culture families who are most comfortable continuing to live and work in an international setting.

Understanding the attributes and experiences of international educators is vital to understanding the effect that teachers have on international students (Shaklee & Baily, 2012). Though many westernized teacher education programs have recognized the emergence of globalization, most teacher education programs in the western world still prepare educators for the education within their native country (Levy, 2010). Thus, with heavy influence of the western world in international schools, it becomes vital that international educators develop and continue to understand the importance of ICC.

As humans, it is part of our nature to distinguish similarities and differences among peoples. Lee (2007) found that 'understanding how difference is constructed, both within and across cultures, is one of the most important points for understanding self and others' (p 157). Hence, it is important to understand who one is before trying to understand another. This concept is critical for international educators, as many tend to migrate to international schools in which their culture is not the dominant culture of the students they teach or families they serve.

Intercultural competence and research

Intercultural education has a variety of definitions because it is a concept that continues to evolve. In 1998, Cushner defined intercultural education as:

. . .imply[ing] comparisons, exchanges, cooperation, and confrontation between groups. Problems and situations are seen as so complex that they can be dealt with only through the convergence and combination of different viewpoints ... intercultural education is more proactive and action oriented than multicultural education, and rather than focusing on specific problems ... [intercultural education] recognizes that a genuine understanding of cultural differences and similarities is necessary in order to build a foundation for working collaboratively with others (page 4). …

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