Instructing Global Learners: Intercultural Competence

Provides MU community with tools to assist in fully integrating international students and fostering intercultural competence for all students.

Cultural Sensitivity

It is important to remember that international students are facing many challenges while studying here at Marquette due to cultural and linguistic differences. They may be experiencing culture shock, anxiety resulting from a loss of familiar social customs, cues, and norms.  Be understanding of students who may seem withdrawn and/or struggling to acclimate to the U.S. culture. Adjusting to a new environment is a different process for everyone. 

For many international students, English is not their first language. The level of language acquisition may vary from student to student. All communication with international students should be approached with patience, understanding, and a true effort to comprehend what students are saying. 

Intercultural Competence

Awareness of one's intercultural competence level is important. It affects how one sees and evaluates the work of international students. Being interculturally competent helps faculty best teach international students because it allows them to better understand various situations. It is also the responsibility of the faculty to open the minds of U.S. students in their classes so that they are more interculturally competent. Take advantage of the diversity in your classroom as you and your students develop intercultural competence.

According to the Intercultural Knowledge and VALUE Rubric by the Association of American Colleges and Universities, intercultural competence can be defined as: “a set of cognitive, affective, and behavioral skills and characteristics that support effective and appropriate interaction in a variety of cultural contexts.” As colleges and universities continue to diversify, consult this rubric to assess intercultural knowledge and competencies for faculty and staff.

Intercultural Competence Models

Darla Deardorff's Intercultural Competence Model

Darla Deardorff’s Intercultural Competence Model (2006) is based on five elements: attitude, knowledge, skills, internal outcomes, and external outcomes. This model provides a framework that can be utilized to guide a curriculum that promotes intercultural competence and assessment of learning outcomes.

  • Attitudes: There are three key attitudes: respect, openness, and curiosity. Respect demonstrates that you value others who are from different backgrounds, and openness and curiosity are necessary to move outside of your comfort zone. These three attitudes are foundational for the development of knowledge and skills needed for intercultural competence.
  • Knowledge: In order to achieve intercultural competence, you must have a cultural self-awareness, culture-specific knowledge, deep cultural knowledge (understanding of other world views), and sociolinguistic awareness. Understanding the world from others’ perspectives is fundamental to intercultural competence. 
  • Skills: Observing, listening, evaluating, analyzing, interpreting, and relating are skills necessary for processing knowledge. When interacting with others from diverse backgrounds, you cannot rely on knowledge alone. You will also need to use these skills in order to understand and process information.
  • Internal Outcomes: The attitudes, knowledge, and skills lead to an internal outcome that consists of flexibility, adaptability, and empathy. These abilities allow individuals to achieve intercultural competence to some degree. At this point, you are able to begin to see from others’ perspectives and respond to others according to the way in which the other desires to be treated.
  • External Outcomes: The behavior and communication skills demonstrated by an individual based on their attitudes, knowledge, skills, and internal outcomes are the external outcomes experienced by others. The effective and appropriate behavior and communication are the visible external outcomes of intercultural competence.

Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS)

Many people are at different levels of intercultural competence. To help visualize where you may be, look at the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS) by Milton Bennett (1986). There are six steps to achieving an intercultural mindset:

Stage 1: Denial- The ability to recognize the more observable cultural differences, but may avoid or withdraw from these cultural differences.

Stage 2: Polarization- A judgmental orientation that views cultural differences in terms of “us” and “them.” 

  • Defense: Critical view of other cultural values.
  • Reversal: Critical view of one’s own cultural values and not critical of the other

Stage 3: Minimization – Sees cultural commonality and universal values that may also mask deeper recognition and appreciation of cultural differences.

Stage 4: Acceptance – Recognizes and appreciates patterns of cultural differences and commonalities in one’s own and other cultures.

Stage 5: Adaptation – Able to shift cultural perspective and change behavior in culturally appropriate and authentic ways.

Stage 6: Integration – Able to move smoothly in and out of different cultural worldviews and develop a feeling of membership in a new culture.

Integration graphic showing the process from denial through adaptation

The goal is to move from a monocultural mindset, in which we make sense of cultural differences and commonalities based on our own values and practices and use stereotypes to identify cultural differences, to an intercultural or global mindset. In an intercultural mindset, we use our own and other culture’s values and practices to make sense of cultural differences.