FutureLearn: Intercultural Communications Week 4 – Values?

Week four of my FutureLearn course (you can find previous posts here: Week 1, Week 2, Week 3) introduces ‘Values’ and how they affect intercultural communication:

Values are often considered a core element of culture. It refers to what is important, what is desirable, and what is our guiding principle for life – Steve Kulich

Values are compared to an iceberg, you might only see the surface part of it reflected in everyday situations, but below it there is a whole other part which informs how those values came about and are practiced, which you can’t directly observe.

We were asked to look at an article, again by Steve Kulich, where he quotes a previous researcher

Shalom Schwartz similarly (2005a, reprinted here as chapter 8) suggests three basic human needs, which he suggests our values seek to satisfy. These are the needs of individuals as biological organisms, requisites of coordinated social interaction, and survival and welfare needs of groups.

(Excerpt from Intercultural Research Vol. 4 Chap 1 Kulich

Values Studies: The Origins and Development of Core Cross-Cultural Comparisons)

Basically, the article asserts that cultural values are created to bind a society together, and better understand the environment that society grows out of, and (as we’ve seen earlier on in the course) the values are often unconscious (again with the iceberg, below-the-surface comparison), which means we don’t often notice or consider our own values until we encounter different ones.

Of course, historically values were often codified by authority or educational figures who laid out specific ways in which people were advised to live their lives (Confucius is referenced several times, and of course various religious figures such as Jesus or the Prophet Mohammed. From the end of the 19th century onwards, researchers tried to create systems of values to apply theory to – much of these were geographically based and assert that our cultural values are determined by upbringing and immediate environment in our early years. However much of the early research came from one scholar writing about a culture distinctly different from their own, which often came with certain biases. Since then, research has started to be conducted at an international level to try and determine what common factors and variances different cultures have, how they intersect and how they differ.

One very important research project was created by researchers Clyde and Florence Kluckhohn in the 1950s, who posited the following five questions to define someone’s cultural values:

    1. What is our orientation to human nature?
    2. What is the relation of man to nature?
    3. What is our time focus?
    4. What is our orientation toward activity?
    5. What is important in our social

Their project was focused on geographically close but culturally different communities within the United States. A more recent and international study came up with the following seven contracts.

  1. Universalism vs. particularism.
  2. Individualism vs. communitarianism.
  3. Specific vs. diffuse
  4. Neutral vs. emotional.
  5. Achievement vs. ascription.
  6. Sequential vs. synchronous time.
  7. Internal vs. outer direction.

However, I don’t think you would want to consider these as binary options, perhaps except in the case of directly comparing two very different cultures where they would definitely be more one [option] than other [option]?

However, these lead onto the GLOBE “Global Leadership and Organizational Behavior Effectiveness” project, which the course linked an intro to here: https://www.grovewell.com/wp-content/uploads/pub-GLOBE-intro.pdf and I definitely need to keep and read through as a business-focused view on intercultural communications and issues. 


FutureLearn: Intercultural Communications Week 3 – Variance in communicating

Week 3 of this course focuses on the communication side, having covered cultural differences in week 1 and week 2, and starts to look at how methods of communication vary across cultures.

The first section looks at the difference between High Context and Low Context communications – The short version of this is that HC relies more on situational context and non-verbal cues, and LC relies on clarity of speech and frankness. This is another point of intercultural comms where misunderstandings can occur.

These ideas were originally coined by anthropologist E.T. Hall, who developed many of the concepts of intercultural communication. Much of his work was from experience and observation, like many people who were required to work across cultures, but he was one of, if not the first, person to provide a formalised basis for how difference cultures can interact, which in turn has informed training for people working in international diplomacy, trade etc.

Whilst High context and Low Context mostly covers actual spoken communication, there are other factors which can positively or negatively impact interactions, for example the amount of space people have around them or occupy (proxemics) or the acceptable timeframes between interactions, actions and discussion (chronemics).

Understanding that these cues can affect how a person perceives you, perhaps before you’ve even spoken to them, can both help you to better interpret non-verbal cues, and also to make allowances for potential misunderstandings – to read where someone isn’t being deliberately rude, or where someone is uncomfortable with your actions.

While society and background affects this, it is so important not to assign certain behaviours or make assumptions about someone because of their cultural background. One, you can’t ever assume someone’s background and history if you don’t know them well, and two, this can lead to automatically ‘othering’ someone because of racial or cultural background.


FutureLearn: Intercultural Communications Week 2 – Cultural Bias

I’m only part-way though the course with this post, but this section of the course threw up some really interesting ideas that I wanted to get down before carrying on with notes etc. for the rest of Week Two.

Issues of Cultural Bias

Starting out with a quote from one of the course leaders, Chi Ruobing:

 ‘the concept of cultural identity implies both a shared sense of community and apparent similarities that generate both shared and common patterns, as well as social markers. And these help give participants a sense of belonging, a sense of security or satisfaction, and some continuing connectivity.’

Being challenged to look at your cultural identity is quite hard – and the next section of the course admits this – probably because in UK society (and quite a lot of other places), we’re encouraged to believe that cultural inequality or cultural differences don’t exist if we pretend they don’t exist, and that we somehow increase to the problems of racism, sexist and other forms of bigotry if we draw attention to them. After all, aren’t we supposed to be aiming be to one big happy equal society? But the whole point of this course is to examine the unconscious assumptions we draw between cultures.

This is actually pretty topical in the UK press at the moment, with the high-profile firing of BBC presenter Danny Baker for comparing the Duchess of Sussex’s baby to a chimpanzee. He claimed that since he’s not an outwardly racist person, of course he wouldn’t have seen the issues with comparing a child of African-American descent to an ape – so clearly, he’s not at fault! But it is his failure to recognise the cultural context, and his participation in the unconscious (and sometimes conscious) press bias amongst the Duchess of Sussex, as a mixed-race, American ‘outsider’ to the British Royal family.

How to start bridging the gaps

Having gone into detail over the previous few sections about identifying cultural differences and the where the potential for misunderstandings can arise, we now get into the next important bit, how do you go about ensuring you do understand? The first thing, again, is to start with yourself.

From the course article:

‘Our identity (self-view and how others perceive us) has a major effect on our communication. It influences the language and gestures we choose (Approach), the desires or hopes we have (Expectations), the way we conduct the interaction (Exchange) and the results (Outcome). And every communicative encounter leaves us redefining our identity…Subconsciously, we are involved in Identity Management constantly in our communicative encounters.’

In other words, we learn to reinvent ourselves through every new interaction, and through each interaction, we find it easier to connect with and understand the motives, behaviours and values of people from other cultures, even cultures we have not experienced before.

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/

Back to Social Learning

I’ve been doing Future Learn free online courses for a few years now and I’ve been documenting them on here, but it’s been a while since I’ve started one and I suddenly got a bit of the bug again. I’ve signed up to a slightly different  course from the usual ones that I do, but one that I think will help in the future – Intercultural Communications.

This course is intended for people going to study or work abroad, but it also looks at variations in cultural behaviours and communications which I think could be really useful in the future. However, it doesn’t start until the end of April, so like all FutureLearn courses there’s an option to introduce yourself to the other learners, which gets you used to the social and discussion aspects of the course. On each section in a FutureLearn course, there is a discussion section and this is considered to be an essential aspect of the learning process. However, with a few exceptions there is no requirement to partake, and it’s perfectly possible to be an entirely passive reader/watcher on the course.

There’s nothing wrong with this, and you still definitely learn things, but it’s something that I’ve been guilty on my last few courses, and looking back I would have benefitted from being a part of some of these discussions, as they often do help to bed a subject more firmly into my brain. So I’ve written my introduction, and by the time the course starts I’ll have made an effort to comment on a few other people’s, just to get me back into the swing of it. Then, of course, I’ll have my notes (and maybe some my comments) up on here!

#Blaugust x #FutureLearn – Museums as a Source for Learning Part Five

I’ve made it to the final week’s worth of learning for Future Learn‘s ‘Understanding Museums as a Site and Source for Learning’.


This section of the course focuses on the role of a conservator in museums, especially when working with contemporary art that might have been made from less-than-sturdy materials. How do you preserve and record, and do you need to preserve it at all in some cases?

The main function of a conservator is to look after the artworks in their organisation’s collection – so proper installation and storage instructions are very important. A wide range of skills are necessary, and an understanding of a huge range of possible materials. The course didn’t mention it, but I assume you would also need to know may specialists in this job! We are asked the question – when it comes to caring for an artwork, who’s opinion is more important, the conservator or the original artist? I feel I would slightly come down on the side of the conservator, as their organisation is in a position of responsibility – frequently to the public, if an artwork is purchased and maintained with public funding.

There was a discussion around conserving the installation ‘Inner City’, which I mentioned in my previous blogpost for this course. This was able more than preserving the physical aspects – there were sound files on obsolete disc technology that had to be recreated, and a lighting system that needed updating for current health and safety regulations. In a digital age, these kind of issues will be more and more common in the future. However, there is also the issue of whether the degradation of an artwork is a part of the artwork’s history, or whether you should keep it exactly as it was when first created.

The next section revolved around the basics of how you would create a collection and the basics of an exhibition. This was really interesting to read, but harder to write about! Plus, I’m about to pay Future Learn/University of Glasgow to have this course accredited, which as well as getting an exciting certificate, it means that unlike some previous Future Learn courses, I get to go back to this course whenever I like!

This has been a very different, fascinating course for me to do, and while I promised myself that I wouldn’t be taking any Future Learn courses just for the sake of Blaugust content, I may have to sign up for something else verrrrryyyy soon…

#Blaugust x #FutureLearn – Museums as a Source for Learning Part Four


(Image above from Flickr, under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0. Insel Museum, Berlin by Mike Steele, original here)

With Blaugust underway, I’m back to looking at my current Future Learn course ‘Understanding Museums as a Site and Source for Learning.’ As I started this course after it went live, I’m rushing a little to get the three weeks worth of content worked through, since I’m keen to get this course accredited (I don’t often pay to get all my Future Learn courses accredited, as this one seems worth it.)

Previous posts of this course are here: Part One, Part Two, Part Three

While the first parts of the course looked at audiences, this week looks at curation and working with artists/collaborators, in particular the choices that go into a specific exhibition and how it is presented (with text etc.)

Contemporary Art

There was a discussion as part of the course on styles of contemporary arts, leading into a section how a curator might design a contemporary art exhibition. There was a focus on the curator as a storyteller, choosing specific pieces with certain explanations and accompanying text/media to lead an audience through an exhibition in a certain way, and to a certain understanding.

An important quote from this report (which was in the added resources section.)

“Who is the 21st century curator? A scholar, storyteller, entrepreneur, fundraiser, facilitator.

The curator of the exhibition ‘Inner City’ at Gallery of Modern Art in Glasgow explained their decisions when creating the exhibition – a lot of this linked back to the audience work from earlier in the course, as the exhibition is aimed at adults, but the main feature is a large scale installation to be walked around, children can engage with it on a different level, through the medium of workshops. They also created a virtual tour of the space, recognising that it might be difficult for people with accessibility issues to see all of the exhibit in the intended way.

The exhibit itself is focused on cities and communities, and though some of the work is not new, it’s original focus on city regeneration (or lack of) was something that they felt Glasgow audiences would relate to.

Text for Exhibitions

Accompanying text and media for exhibits are hugely important as they will influence how audiences react to an consider a piece. They need to be short and to the point – people will not read long text when they have come for a visual experience.

The goal shouldn’t be to tell people what they would be looking at/thinking, but to provide context and theme that will help them formulate their own thoughts on a piece, especially an artistic rather than historic piece. In art in particular, curators shouldn’t be trying to teach in a formalised sense, but to engage the audience in learning about a work.

Also, in artistic exhibitions, some artists may object to having their art ‘labelled’ if they feel it detracts from art as expression. However, art exhibitions with no labelling can easily come across as confusing or elitist to the audience and put them off – it is important to find a middle path and be creative!

  • Labels should be written with enthusiasm for the topic
  • Suggest, but don’t command ways for the audience to engage/interact
  • Be accessible, with short, varied sentences and words
  • Think how you would talk to someone about the object, then use that style to write with
  •  Think about the technical words that your audience may not be familiar with

The third and final part of the course looks at museums and conservation, so I’ll be getting to grips with that next week, along with other blog topics.