Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

Intercultural Activities through the Eyes of Students: Feedback from the Ierest Project

Academic journal article The Journal of Linguistic and Intercultural Education

Intercultural Activities through the Eyes of Students: Feedback from the Ierest Project

Article excerpt

1 Introduction

One of the main benefits of student mobility within the Erasmus programme is often quoted to be gaining greater (inter)cultural awareness, which in turn leads to enhanced intercultural communicative competence, an important skill, which in a globalised world increases and strengthens Erasmus students' employability. By acquiring (inter)cultural awareness students expand and deepen their understanding as to how cultural values and conventions affect our attitudes and behaviour (Byram 1997; Chen, & Starosta 1998-99), a competence that helps them mediate effectively between cultures and languages in intercultural encounters, termed intercultural communicative competence (Byram 2012; Chen, & Starosta 1998-99; Deardorff 2004; Fantini 2000/1).

The Green Paper on Learning Mobility (COM 2009, 329: 5) suggests that "learning mobility adds to human capital, as students access new knowledge and develop new linguistic skills and intercultural competences". However, studies by a number of researchers (Dervin 2009; Golubeva 2003; Holmes, & O'Neill 2012) point to the fact that development of (inter)cultural awareness is not naturally acquired through exposure to intercultural contacts in an international environment and that residence in a foreign country does not of itself produce positive representations of that country (Byram, & Zarate 1995; Dervin 2008; Anquetil 2009), what is more, it does not even abate students' stereotypical perceptions of otherness (Starkey, & Osler 2009; Starosta 2014). In order to help students derive benefit from their study period abroad in terms of enhancing their intercultural communicative competence, intercultural learning should, therefore, be assisted, facilitated, guided.

The need to help students delve into intercultural issues and integrate new communication paradigms during their study or work sojourn abroad was also confirmed by the initial research within the IEREST project. Responses to questionnaires gathered from students who had participated in the Erasmus exchange programme previously, those currently taking part in it and those preparing for a sojourn abroad, as well as their discussion in focus groups, indicated clearly that the majority of students perceived a need for guidance in intercultural matters (for further discussion on this see Beaven, A., Borghetti, C., Van Maele, J., and Vassilicos, B. 2013). Moreover, the relevance of guidance for students preparing for study and/or work mobility as to the way in which to approach intercultural matters in international contacts is evidenced by a slew of teaching modules and courses dealing with intercultural issues (e.g. the Interculture Project at Lancaster University in UK; SALTO - an EU project within the Youth in Action Programme; De.C.I.D.E - an EU project within Lifelong Learning Programme; Mobility for Young People by AHA Moments; Intercultural Competence Training by Kwintessential) that are proposed to students by various tertiary institutions and projects in the EU and beyond.

A number of theoretical paradigms concerning intercultural learning, communication, and pedagogy underpin existing courses such as those listed above, aimed at developing intercultural competence for Erasmus mobility, as well as other teaching materials and study programmes tackling intercultural communication topics. As a consequence, many authors and researchers have recently discussed the elusive problem of defining intercultural competence (Byram 2012; Deardoff 2009; Dervin 2009; Holmes 2009; Rathje 2007; Spitzberg, & Changnon 2009) and have identified the term 'intercultural' as polysemic, often used interchangeably with a number of variants derived from 'culture' such as 'cross-cultural', 'transcultural', 'intercultural' as labels for the same meaning (Beaven, Comas-Quinn, & Sawhill 2013). Similarly, Byram (2012). Holliday (2012) and others pointed to a proliferation of rather confusing terminological variants in the field of 'interculturality', all entailing very different ways of treating cultural matters and intercultural contacts, thus indicating the coexistence of multiple and sometimes contradictory approaches to facilitating the process of developing (inter)cultural awareness and competence. …

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