Frameworks for Intercultural Learning


Key idea

When interpreting new experiences it can be misleading to assume that there is a ‘normal’ way of doing things.

What’s the point?

When trying to interpret a different culture, there are good reasons to be slow in making judgements .

We all have assumptions and ideas about places we’ve never visited and these tend to influence our perceptions. We gain much of our information from secondary sources such as the media, things that we read and hear about and conversations with family and friends. It is inevitable that these sources will be partial and fragmented and that the impressions that we form from them will be unrepresentative.

Visiting somewhere at first hand complements our initial images and may come as something of a shock. Western travellers who visit the global South for the first time often bring with them ideas about an exotic and mysterious world.


Conversely visitors from the global South visiting the West have expectations which have been filtered through the experience of colonialism. Experiences which challenge our assumptions can sometimes force us to acknowledge more entrenched values and beliefs. It is often best to refrain from making judgements even when confronted by unsettling events.


Being open to new experiences and being flexible enough to change our ideas allows our thinking to develop.



Read this extract from Bill Bryson's 'Notes from a Small Island' describing his arrival in England. »

  • What assumptions do you think underpin the image of England which Bill Bryson describes here?

Consider this extract from The Kentish Gazette about an overseas study visit »

  • What assumptions do you think are being made in both the text and the photograph in this local newspaper article?


Research vignettes

(a) What is your reaction to the views expressed by the Gambian teacher? How were his assumptions disrupted by his visit to the UK?

(b) In a similar vein, how were the UK teacher’s assumptions disrupted by her visit to India? What can these voices teach us?


Gambian voice
"My perception (of the UK) was just about industrialisation development and was nothing like an agricultural involvement so I was not expecting that definitely. We weren’t prepared to see all those farms along the way, while we were driving (from the airport) to your home."


"Another surprise also the way I found some people living in the UK. I was never expecting that I would see such a thing like the homeless in this place.  That was definitely a surprise because [...] I mean, UK’s already a developed country but I mean everybody who lives in the UK being our colonial masters, up there, they had everything. That was what I said in my interview before we went, that I mean ... UK colonialism, we copied lots of things from them.  They groomed us up to this level, so here we’re expecting that, you know, whoever is there is up there.  We feel that people in the UK are more superior than people in the Gambia."


UK voice
"I started seeing myself from another angle, from a different perspective and I thought, how strange. How strange that you would actually (do this)!
So from a very personal point of view, I began to see not only my own things which I had taken for granted, but I began to appreciate a different view."


"The main learning experience was what I learnt about myself and my attitude to others. It is rather awful to realise that before I visited (India) my overriding feeling towards the people I was to meet was pity – almost in a superior way…..I very quickly realised that whilst they might need my help, they certainly didn’t need my pity and I quite envied some of them their lives. .. this was a very positive experience for me although rather painful."

Going further

Scoffham, S. and Dorman, P. (2007) ‘Multiple Perspectives, Profound Understandings’ in Primary Geographer 64 31-33

Young, M. (2010) ‘The Global Dimension’ in Scoffham, S. (Ed) Primary Geography Handbook, Sheffield, Geographical Association