Cultural Learning Benchmarks

Within the eCUTE project, the target audience to receive intercultural training was narrowed down to two groups: (1) school children aged 9 to 11, and (2) young adults aged 18 to 25 years. For both groups, the overall aim of the training was to increase intercultural awareness, sensitivity, and to a lesser extent, communication competence. These three concepts have been previously linked to gradual changes in cognitions, emotions, and behaviors, respectively. We hold that in the area of cross-cultural competence, emotional and cognitive competences are strongly intertwined, and cannot be taught in isolation of one another.

For this, we will use the learning framework as specified in Figure 1. A strategic choice was made to focus on the early stages of intercultural learning with children for conceptual and practical reasons. Thus, learning goals will be presented up to the level of the Journeyman for MIXER and on all levels for Traveller.

Figure 1: eCUTE Learning Framework

MIXER

The MIXER scenario depicts a peer conflict occurring when two groups of school children play a game together. As the game unfolds, it becomes evident that the groups adhere to different rules which reflect the fact that their cultural backgrounds differ. This is then the source of the conflict and the players are supposed to learn that while the other group might seem strange, or even unfriendly, they are in fact nice people, but just different. This is of utmost importance for the children’s scenario. In the current scenario design, disagreements arise between children from a mismatch of how the groups with different cultural profiles expect a common play situation to unravel, and this in turn contributes to distortions in how they perceive each other and how they react emotionally to the intercultural interaction (Ting- Toomey, 2009). Even though conflict competence is particularly related to dealing with emotional frustrations (Ting-Toomey, 2009), there are two criteria that seem to be relevant to the cognitive processing of the conflict.

  • Appropriateness (Ting-Toomey, 2009) concerns behaviors adjusted to both the ongoing situation and the expectations of the parties involved. At this point of the game, children could generate behavioral options for themselves and for the children from the other group.
  • Effectiveness (Ting-Toomey, 2009) refers to a shared meaning of the intercultural conflict. This can be constructed out of the knowledge about one’s own group interacting with a different group with the focus on cultural influences.Introduction of the concept of a moral circle. The fact of accepting out-group members into one’s own circle was said to be the most fundamental goal of the eCUTE’s training approach. However, it appears that in order to achieve this, previous experience with the out-group is necessary. Singer (1981) traces the idea of a moral circle back to various forms of altruism (kin, reciprocal, and group) which evolved into a form of between-group morality and justice. A sign of allowing children who belong to a different group into one’s moral circle could perhaps be the comprehension that the game rules according to which they play are exactly as good as our own rules, and that our expectations as to the game are just as important as their expectations.Starting as a Beginner, it is important to become aware of the specific practices and values of the other group.

• Children should see that the other group has different rules from their own. So far, these differences still don’t have much meaning, but they increase curiosity to learn more about them. The conflict situation makes it necessary to consciously reflect on personal values and worldviews and ways in which they influence one’s line of thinking. Although these reflections may not always be objective, but rather colored by one’s own beliefs they challenge existing and held assumptions.

The Journeyman integrates the knowledge acquired in the beginner learning goal, and tries to integrate it within their mental model of the world.

• By trying to shift perspectives, children begin to understand on a basic level the differences and similarities between their own group and another group. They should be able now to describe the game from the point of view of people from the other group. The aforementioned general skills are necessary to enable the children to meet the prerequisites to increased conflict competence, that is, to gather sufficient knowledge about the intercultural setting and to be mindful in focusing on one’s own cognitions as well as trying to attend to those of other children. Subsequently, children may concentrate on the conflict itself.

Traveller

At present, the Traveller scenario includes three stages. The first one is the Beginner, whose major task is to start learning the values and practices of an unfamiliar group.

• The player encounters different groups with certain values and rituals that seem different from one’s own. By paying attention to the behaviors of another group, players can increase their factual knowledge about their practices. The conscious recognition of the ways in which cultures can differ enables learning of the specific practices and values of another group.

The Journeyman is capable of relating his or her experiences to those of other people in the context of intercultural differences.

• By having experienced different cultural scripts, they should see how various standpoints of groups lead to respective reactions and behavior. Young adults now understand in which ways certain belief systems and values are shared or not shared by groups. In this context, they also start to learn how their own behavior and apprehension of the world must appear unusual and unfamiliar to other cultures.

The Expert can choose the right course of action in a given setting, adapting behaviors to new acquaintances.

• The previously acquired skills oriented towards gathering information on another culture and becoming aware of one’s enmeshment in one’s own culture now enable cultural adaptive behavior in new situations. Young adults should be able to easily shift perspectives and select appropriate strategies for interaction with different cultural groups.

Singer, P. (1981). The expanding circle: Ethics and sociobiology. New York, NY: Farrar, Straus & Giroux.

Ting-Toomey, S. (2009). Intercultural conflict competence as a facet of intercultural competence development: Multiple conceptual approaches. In D. K. Deardorff (Ed.), The Sage handbook of intercultural competence (pp. 100-120). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.