Unit 2. Theoretical Context: Interculturality

Interculturality can be seen as ability to interact with people from different cultural backgrounds using authentic language appropriately in a way that demonstrates knowledge and understanding of the cultures. It is also the capacity to experience the culture of another person and to be open minded, interested and curious about that person and culture.

To state a more clear approach, we can understand the word “culture” as referred to the products, practices and perspectives of a target group of people or target culture. On the other hand, “interculturality” would be the interaction of people from different cultures and the understanding of another culture, so that the language used is appropriate to the context and audience.

In this sense, being competent in interculturality depends not only in having cultural knowledge but also on attitudes, beliefs, values and interpersonal skills. For instance, one person can know the language and not know how to interact with a specific audience, and therefore not being understood.

In the modern world interculturality is becoming increasingly important as many people migrate from one country to another to escape from conflict, persecution, poverty or to reunite families. Interculturality is also a useful resource in order to face problematic situations related with stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination, which can lead to episodes of racism and xenophobia. There are several social and personal benefits promoted by interculturality:

  • Promotion of cultural diversity and cultural adaptation
  • Facilitate approximation process among cultures
  • Enhance cultural enrichment and creativity
  • Facilitate social and labour integration of migrants
  • Provide strategies to manage stereotypes, prejudices and discrimination

Regarding the purpose of this handbook, can be said that there is a skills gap on interculturality and intercultural competencies in the management of Work-Based Learning. And at the same time, the participation of young migrants and ethnic minorities in WBL are underrepresented.

To overcome this negative situation, WBL professionals need to be equipped with the adequate skills and tools to support young migrants and ethnic minorities. The kind of skills and tools that are directly linked with interculturality. That is, VET and in-company teachers, trainers and mentors need to acquire the adequate competencies and tools to manage cultural diversity and promote migrants participation in WBL, their allocation to training places, and prevent possible situations of discrimination.

The proper incorporation of interculturality in education should comprehend the four pillars of education established by UNESCO: learning to know, learning to do, learning to live together, and learning to be.

Intercultural awareness

Intercultural awareness is defined as the ability to examine one’s own culture and other cultures involved. Intercultural awareness can help to have a better understanding and interchange with people from other cultures. In this sense, developing intercultural awareness is about learning to recognize and deal with the differences between cultures in perceiving the world. That is, comprehend the meaning and influence of culture and cultural identity on an intrapersonal level, develop awareness about cultural differences and links, and build a critical attitude towards intolerance.

Becoming interculturally aware may help VET and in-company teachers, trainers and mentors to:

  • Develop and understand themselves and their own cultural background
  • Understand that other people have different points of view to their own
  • Respect other people´s beliefs, values and expression of their culture
  • Understand the meaning and influence of culture and cultural identity
  • Understand the meaning and difference of the stereotype, prejudice and discriminating concepts and identify strategies for their management

Can be said that intercultural awareness is the most relevant competence regarding interculturality. From certain point of view, it is the basic competence required for the proper development of the other intercultural competences.

Cultural and ethnic minorities

As mentioned before, VET and in-company professionals should develop intercultural awareness as a key competence for managing interculturality in WBL. This competence will help them to comprehend the meaning and influence of cultural identity, be aware about cultural differences and have a critical attitude towards any form of discrimination. Must be highlighted at this point that cultural and ethnic minorities are going to be probably the main target groups when managing interculturality in WBL, at least form the project perspective.

Cultural and ethnic minorities constitute the most vulnerable groups in the framework of LINK-INC project, since they face more difficult situations that hampers their participation in WBL programmes:

  • strong difficulties for social and cultural adaptation, including intolerance and xenophobia
  • lower opportunities in employment and education systems, and weak personal and professional networks
  • specific motivation and needs, not necessarily the same that bigger groups

There are different definitions of what constitutes a cultural/ethnic group, but a number of features can be attributed to these groups: a proper collective name, shared myths of origin and cultural characteristics, such as language, religion, traditions and customs that distinguish a given group from others. Besides, what makes an ethnic group a minority is a numerically and politically non-dominant position in a state of which they are citizens.

The majority of European countries have ethnic minority population. These minorities can be nationals (Albanians in Kosovo), transnationals (Gypsies), indigenous (Scottish, Corsicans) or migrants (Maghreb migrants in France or Turkish in Germany)

Stereotypes, prejudice and discrimination

A clear explanation of these concepts can be offered by social psychology and the so called “ABC principle”: Affect, Behaviour and Cognition. In this case, applied to interculturality, as seen in figure 4, where are showed how this three stages influence and feedback each other.

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Figure 4. ABC principle on interculturality. Source: Social Psychology Principles. 2012

The Cognitive component in our perceptions of other culture members is the Stereotype. Stereotype can be defined as the positive or negative beliefs that we hold about the characteristics of social groups or cultures. For instance, we may think that “Muslims are violent”, “Frenchs are romantic”, “old people are boring”. And we may use those beliefs to guide our actions toward people from those groups or cultural backgrounds.

In addition to stereotypes, we may also develop Prejudice which is and Affective component. Prejudice can be seen as an unjustifiable negative attitude toward a group or the members of a culture. Prejudice can take the form of disliking, anger, fear, disgust, discomfort, and even hatred. That is, the kind of affective states that can lead to develop external behaviours. In this sense, stereotypes and prejudices are problematic because they may led us to create a type of Behaviour that we call Discrimination. That is, an unjustified negative behaviour toward members of a group or a culture based on their group/culture membership.

Intercultural awareness competence should include the ability to identify stereotypes, prejudices and discriminating behaviours, as well as the capacity to avoid these negative concepts by means of managing and apply the appropriate strategies.

In this sense, WBL professionals should be aware of these concepts and be able to:

  • Analyse and value the impact of stereotypes, prejudices and discriminatory behaviours in oneself.
  • Identify strategies for the management of stereotypes, prejudices and discriminatory behaviours.
  • Put into practice strategies to facilitate the approximation process with other cultures.