Frameworks for Intercultural Learning


Key idea

Intercultural learning can challenge our sense of identity.

What’s the point?

As we interact with and relate to different people and cultures we learn about ourselves.

Stepping outside our everyday routines gives us the chance to question what we do. Immersing ourselves in a different culture often enables us to probe much deeper. It initiates a process of reflection which challenges us to reconsider who we are and what we value. This can be a highly illuminating but also unsettling process. Much depends on how we respond.

Deep learning takes time and involves making extensive links between our own lives and new situations. Rather than trying to make sense of new experiences on our own it is valuable to deconstruct them along with others. This helps to open up different interpretations and new meanings. 


The benefits in terms self-understanding and self-realisation can be very considerable. However, too much disturbance can precipitate a state of denial in which we block out new experiences altogether. There is much to recommend gradual exposure rather than abrupt shocks. 


The problem is that we often cannot anticipate what it is that we will find shocking.


Research vignettes

(a) In the vignette from the Gambia, what do you think changed the speaker’s self image?

(b) Meeting another culture is often likened to looking at yourself in a mirror. How do you think the vignettes show a growing awareness of identity and intercultural learning?


Gambian voice
"I used to suffer from an inferiority complex when I met people from the UK before the partnership experience but I now feel very confident in meeting and interacting with them ."


[Commenting on facilitating a workshop during the UK conference] "… Well, it was overwhelming I would say, but it was interesting at the same time, because the interaction I had was...I just felt at that moment that we were equals [...] while I was facilitating I did not see them as any superior [...] we discussed freely, we cracked jokes, alongside... I treated them just like I would myself.  I was not looking at the level or standard of education."


UK voice
"I think you have to be really open to self examination, if you like, and how you think that others are viewing you, so to be able to [...] just to sit and think about: How are other people experiencing me on this trip? How are the other staff experiencing me? How are the students experiencing me? And then, how do the people from a different culture experience me as well?"


"She sat me down and grilled me with questions…..  That for me was one of those moments where I was aware of the sort of impact on me, the impact on her …..   I began to see the much bigger impact, the ripples in the pond going out ……….  I suddenly saw…… how she must be seeing me".


"I’ve become much more conscious of being so far from my parents and family, who are getting older.  Looking after the aged is very much your duty in India. ….I think having seen the regard that Indian people have for their elderly has brought it a lot more to the forefront of my mind.  I feel almost like I’m not a good son." 

Going further

Scoffham, S. and Barnes, J. (2009) ‘Transformational Experiences and Deep Learning: The impact of an intercultural study visit to India on UK initial teacher education students’ in Journal of Education for Teaching 35,3 257-270