FutureLearn – Intercultural Communications: Getting Started

I signed up to this FutureLearn course a few weeks ago, which isn’t my usual style, generally I pick a course that both sounds good and that I can get stuck into right away. This was a weird feeling, and I found that I lost my initial enthusiasm for the course content as a result, and my enthusiasm to get back into online learning. This is my own fault of course, and now I’m behind, since we’re almost at the end of the first week into the second week!

It’s also a huge shame, because from the moment I started up the first video introducing the course, I was extremely back into it.

Right from the start – by which I mean the course leaders introducing themselves, the word ’empathy’ came up, which I think is a really important consideration when talking about communication – it covers and goes above things like language and intent and many other facets.

Early on, they presented a series of quotes on Intercultural Communications and learners were invited to choose one and/or discuss which ones best summed up the topic. This was my reply in the course section comments:

I definitely like Number two – but one thing I think needs a mention came up in 1.4 when Dr Chi Ruobing mentioned ’empathy’. This is something that allows understanding by way of one person putting themselves into another person’s shoes. Thinking about that now, maybe Number three is the better interpretation!

For context, the three quotes were:

  • Intercultural communication refers to the communication between people from two different cultures. (Chen & Starosta, 1998:28)
  • Intercultural communication is a symbolic, interpretive, transactional, contextual process, in which people from different cultures create shared meanings. (Lustig & Koester, 2007:46)
  • Intercultural communication refers to the effects on communication behavior, when different cultures interact together. Hence, one way of viewing intercultural communication is as communication that unfolds in symbolic intercultural spaces. (Arasaratnam, 2013:48)

The next section starts defining Intercultural Communication with more depth – which only shows how much harder it is to define, and also how many intercultural boundaries there can be, sometimes in unexpected places. The quote below is from the provided article, and shows this fairly well:

Cultural differences can be categorized by nationality, ethnicity, religious belief, gender, age/generation, geographical region, political ideology, body (dis)ability, sexual orientation, etc. None of us belong to only one type of cultural groups, so it is natural that several of these categories might apply in one interaction. In certain contexts, one or more of the cultural categories would be salient or singled out in comparison with others.*

Keeping up with my promise to myself (and a previous blogpost) that I would work to provide comments within the course and not be a passive online learner, I put this note in the comments:

I appreciated that the article suggests shades of grey in what is and isn’t intercultural communication – that depending on context there may be greater or fewer intercultural differences at play. It also illustrates that in a communication setting, one person may understand or see this more clearly than the other.

The next section looked at potential cultural conflicts – starting with the ‘fish out of water’ metaphor that most of us would use in this situation without even really examining it. We grow up and live in one culture that becomes a familiar and natural environment, one that we don’t even have to think about, it’s a part of our life, our daily being. Then, when placed into a new cultural environment where social cues or behaviours are changed or missing, we feel uncomfortable and confused – again, this may not even be from conscious behaviour because we have never had to consider these behaviours consciously.

The term ‘cultural baggage’ came next, as they discussed the importance of examining your own culture as much as others, because your learned environment creates a specific understanding of the world, and specific expectations of the world, which may not apply to other people.

There was also a focus on evaluation as you go through life interacting with other cultures, to see where misconceptions and misunderstandings may have occurred (whether they were obvious at the time or only in retrospect) and to consider how you may have acted differently. Doing so will help, to quote one of the course contributors (Dr. Yan Bing Zhang):

…become informed citizens, leaders, and advocates in understanding ways in which communication sustains and erodes collaboration within and among local, national, and global communities.

*Chi, R. B. (2015). What is intercultural Communication? The SISU Intercultural Institute “Intercultural Communication” FutureLearn course reading. Retrieved from https://www.futurelearn.com/courses/intercultural- communication/