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„Intercultural Competencies in Higher Education" – some issues and experiences  with an intercultural train-the-trainer course at the Nekrassow University of Kostroma Russia . Overview. Why? Intercultural competencies in Higher Education What? Learning Goals and Learning Contents

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„Intercultural Competencies

in Higher Education" –

some issues and experiences 

with an intercultural train-the-trainer course at

the Nekrassow University of Kostroma Russia



  • Why? Intercultural competencies in Higher Education
  • What? Learning Goals and Learning Contents
  • Best practice / Lessens learned: Example Russia – Experiences with an intercultural train-the-trainer module:
  • How? Teaching Methods: Which instruments?
  • What? Contents of intercultural trainings

Definition of Culture

A pattern of basic assumptions invented, discovered or developed by a given group (as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration ....) taught to new members as the correct way to perceive, think and feel in relation to these problems. (Edgar Schein 1985)

This silent language includes a broad range of evolutionary concepts, practices and solutions to problems which have their roots ... in the shared experiences of ordinary people. (Edward T. Hall 1959)


Why? Intercultural competencies in Higher Education


Need for intercultural co-operation in science and society

Bringing together ideas; synergy effects

Learning of disputing (a lot of cultures have no experience

in free debating (changing arguments))

-> The Higher Education has to take into account modules or subjects for gaining intercultural competencies


Example Russia

Especially in regions like Russia or Middle Asia there is the need to learn open mindedness for cultural differences beyond folklore and exotic.

In the last 100 years there was no chance to identify differences as cultural moulded; so people have no experience in anticipating cultural conflicts and in developing productive solutions.

In times of opening to the western world students and scientists need such learning chances to be able to join in international scientific dialogues (keyword: arguing culture) complementing their specialized knowledge.


What? Learning goals

Intercultural (self and foreign) awareness is much more useful than learning do‘s and don‘ts of concrete cultures

  • -> Learning goals:
  • To adopt knowledge about foreign culture norms
  • To reflect the own cultural programming
  • To coordinate action modes which are different by culture
  • To understand strange cultures

Intercultural Competencies in Higher Education: Empathy and changing perspectives

  • Sympathy is based on cultural similarities;
  • Empathy is based on the acceptance of differences
  • The most important mechanism is the process
  • of changing perspectives (G.H. Mead): „put oneself in somebody‘s shoes“

2 Perspectives

German rules

Russian rules






Intercultural competencies at the University Kostroma: Activities

  • Developing a curriculum for an interdisciplinary subject
  • Conducting a train-the-trainer (multiplicators) programme
  • Research on differences in learning and teaching


1. Teaching and learning are cultural determined!

2. So intercultural teaching and learning have to take into account intercultural aspects in a double way!


Experiences with an intercultural train-the-trainer-course in Kostroma (Russia) – best practices and lessons learned

Different points of interest

Different understanding of topics

Different activities as ways of learning

Different social learning settings


Different points of interest. Example - definitions of culture

Deterministic definition: culture as collective programming of the mind (Hofstede)

Semiotic definition: culture as developed in communication processes (system of meaning) (Geertz)

Everyday life definition: culture as manners

Cultural studies definition: culture as an expression of the power-ful people – media are important transmitters (Birmingham School)

Conclusion: The aspect of power, media and culture (cultural studies) is in Russia much more important than in Germany!


Different understanding of topics

The words „strange“ or „foreigners“ don‘t exist in the Russian language. It‘s difficult to understand concepts for which your language has no word.

This aspect refers to another traditional coping with foreigners as we are experienced.

Conclusion: We have to take in mind that there is not the same point of view.


Different activities as ways of learning

Open discussions as we know in Germany are unknown in Russia; but reflections that follow artistic approaches like painting (individual cultural trees) or acting (nonverbal welcome rituals) are more practicable than in Germany; the same is with analysing written material (about cultural standards).

Conclusion: Russian students are unable to discuss without common ground (e.g. brainstorming) but they are very well in debating about wordings.At the beginning it‘s useful to use a methodological mixture – so you can find out the best instruments.


Example: Cultural Standards

Hall: Germany – monochronic time orientation

Russia – polychronic time orientation

Hofstede: Germany – individualism

Russia – collectivism

Task: Reading and discussing wordings about these cultural tendencies

Students reflected the relativity of cultural standards

Students discussed about self-picture and foreign-picture

Conclusion: The cultural standards don‘t fit perfectly to an huge and varied country like Russia.


Different social learning settings

In games we very often implement the role of the neutral observer. Russian students hated this role and didn‘t manage it well.

Why: They are collectivistic programmed and so nobody wants to be put outside the collective.


1. The teachers have to be neutral observers.

2. We have to develop new (collectivistic) methods to compensate the functionality of an neutral observer.


Needs for Research

Cultural standards – an euro-centric concept? How to optimize?

Cultural differences in teaching and learning – content and methodological consequences for the transfer of intercultural competencies modules

How to resolve cultural conflicts? The concept of changing perspectives in intercultural interaction has to be developed


Thank you!

Adler, N. (1997): International dimensions of organizational behavior (3rd ed.), Cincinnati (South-Western College Publ.)

Assmann, A. & Assmann, J. (1990): Das Gestern im heute.. Medien und soziales Gedächtnis, in: Funkkolleg "Medien und Kommunikation, Studienbrief 5. Hrsg. vom Deutschen Institut für Fernstudien an der Universität Tübingen, Weinheim, 41ff.

Birmingham School

Geertz, C. (1994): Dichte Beschreibung. Beiträge zum Verstehen kultureller Systeme, Frankfurt/M. (suhrkamp)

Hagemann, O. (2003): Introspektion und Empathie in der Arbeit mit Strafgefangenen, in: Kumbruck, C., Dick, M. n& Schulze, H. (Hrsg.): Arbeit – Alltag - Psychologie. Über den Bootsrand geschaut. Heidelberg (Asanger), 299-314.

Hall, E.T. & Hall, M.R. (1985 ): Verborgene Signale. Hamburg (Gruner & Jahr)

Hofstede, G. (1991). Culture and Organizations:, London (McGraw-Hill).

Hofstede, G. (2006). Lokales Denken, globales Handeln. Interkulturelle Zusammenarbeit und globales Management. München: DTV-Beck.

Kumbruck, C. & Derboven, W. (2005): InterkulturellesTraining., Heidelberg (Springer) .

Lewis, R.D. (1998 ): When cultures collide. London (Nicholas Brealey Publishing).


Mead, G.H. (1968): Geist, Identität und Gesellschaft. (engl. Original 1934), Frankfurt/M. (Suhrkamp).

Mole, J. (1990): Mind your Manners. London (Industrial Society Press), (dt. Euro-Knigge für Manager (1993)). Frankfurt/M. (Campus).

Thomas, A. ( 2003) (Hrsg.): Kulturvergleichende Psychologie, Göttingen (Hogrefe)

Thomas, A. (2006): Interkulturelle Handlungskompetenz – Schlüsselkompetenz für die moderne Arbeitswelt, in: SGAOP: interkulturell / international: arbeiten, führen + kooperieren. Dokumentation der 14. Jahrestagung Zürich 6.10.2006.

Thomas, A., Kammhuber, S. & Schroll-Machl, S. (Hrsg.)(2003). Handbuch Interkulturelle Kommunikation und Kooperation. Band 2: Länder, Kulturen und interkulturelle Berufstätigkeit. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Thomas, A., Kinast, E.-U. & Schroll-Machl, S. (Hrsg.)(2003). Handbuch Interkulturelle Kommunikation und Kooperation. Band 1: Grundlagen und Praxisfelder. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

Trompenaars, F. (1993 ): Riding the Waves of Culture: Understanding Cultural Diversity in Business: London: Economist Books.

Yoosefi, T. & Thomas, A. (2003): Beruflich in Russland. Göttingen (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht).



Basics: Definitions of Culture

‚collective programming of the mind which distinguishes

the members of one category of people from another‘

(Hofstede 1991) -> unconsciousness; socialisation;

psychological mechanisms: emotions, cognition, behaviour

‚recipe for survival‘

(Lewis1998) -> understanding of the roots (history,


‚the book of rules for the social game‘

(Hofstede 2006) ->social interaction and intercultural misunderstandings


German perspective

Russian perspective

the things of the world

Self picture (I)

Self picture (I)



Picture (me)

Self- und Foreign picture