What is intercultural competency?
„Other folks, other customs“ is a much used maxim. Cultural differences are, of course, not limited to folkloristic customs, which get tourists to stare in amazement. They include language, gestures, behaviour patterns and manners plus much more.
As a result of the great diversity of these cultural manifestations, there exists an increased potential for misunderstanding when members of different cultures encounter each other. Even at the simplest level of communication, a gesture made with friendly intentions can be understood by the communication partner as rude or demeaning, and can thereby damage the relationship between the participants before it has a chance to get started.
Intercultural competency means having the ability, when interacting with members of other cultures, to analyse interactions and recognise misunderstandings of various kinds, in order to solve conflicts arising, or even better, to prevent them in the first place. In the age of globalisation and internationalisation, it is an essential skill for entering and working successfully in multicultural business environments both at home and abroad.
But intercultural competence is much more than just another item on a growing list of work relevant soft skills. It is also very important in the sphere of private life, and that is not only because of holidays abroad “far from the beaten tourist trails”, but rather because of migration and the increasing multiculturalism evident in daily life at home
The project „Global Systems and intercultural competence“ is a joint project conducted by various faculties of the University of Würzburg. It is financed by student fees. The goal of the project is to develop a sophisticated and scientifically founded teaching program for the acquisition of intercultural competencies by students. These skills will be of increasing importance for students of all majors, considering the cultural pluralisation of the environment in which we live, even though the program is not integrated into the regular curriculum of the university. Up to now at the University of Würzburg, there have existed only a few noteworthy attempts to teach intercultural competency. Our program is designed to extend, supplement and make available a wide range of courses to students of all faculties of the university, so that the broad spectrum of skills and knowledge, which makes the University different from many similar institutions in Germany, will be expanded once again in an important way.
Looking at the details, within the framework of the project, initially theory-based courses to teach the material are being developed, be they regular attendance based courses or online modules of the relatively new case-study learning project, within the framework of which case studies of problematic intercultural interactions are used as teaching tools. Furthermore, students are being given the opportunity to use what they have learned in workshops or intercultural role-plays (Moot-Courts). The program is rounded off with lectures of visiting scholars and joint courses both with other faculties of the university and with other universities.