The Warwick intercultural training programme was designed originally to help those participating in outbound mobility to have a deeper and more transformational experience when living/working/studying abroad, resulting in the development of, and the ability to articulate and contextualise, intercultural competencies, known to be highly prized by global graduate recruiters (NCUB, 2011; British Council, 2013). More recently, we have been thinking about internationalisation at home and have adapted the content of the training to speak equally to students not engaging in student mobility, but who still want to develop their intercultural competencies (and who frequently have their own experience of negotiating cultural difference). The benefits of Warwick students being more interculturally sensitive and curious about other cultures is that it leads to greater inclusiveness and integration of students as a community, as well as the graduate employability advantages that it brings to individuals.
Our blended training, comprising two experiential workshops and an online module, is non-essential, which means that it doesn’t offer ‘an ABC of Chinese culture’ for example, as this would reinforce stereotypical thinking. Rather, it focuses on four dimensions: intercultural sensitivity – thinking about how culture conditions our thinking, our perceptions of the world and our unconsciously held values; intercultural communication – how culture affects the way in which we communicate verbally and non-verbally, how we deal with turn-taking and context; intercultural relationships – building rapport, the role of humour, issues of face and intercultural reflections – deepening one’s understanding of the role of culture on one’s own encounters with cultural difference through structured reflection.
Students’ favourite parts of the training are the experiential workshops, which are fun whilst being challenging: in workshop one students are asked to respond to a series of quick fire questions about culture eg ‘Is politeness universal?’, ‘is it better get something completely right or finish on time?’ The quick fire means that students don’t have time to think ‘is this what I should be saying’ and so begin to surface some of their own culturally-determined values. They then play a cultural simulation game in which they experience the disorientation and the amusing oddness that comes with being in a different cultural environment and not knowing the rules of the game.
As part of encouraging students to shift their perspectives and their attitudes towards difference, we equip students with the observation, analytical and reflection skills to understand how they personally react to difference and to become aware when they are resorting to stereotype. Our final workshop helps students to reflect on situations in which they have used their intercultural competencies to achieve positive results and, using peer feedback, we teach them how to refine their stories into job interview stories.
Over the last few years, we have seen the programme grow in popularity, from a 2014 pilot involving 41 students to a programme engaging over 800 students per year, with five academic departments working with us to embed the training into their professional skills/induction modules. We are keen to expand the training further so that all undergraduate students can benefit from it, in line with the internationalisation pillar of the new Education Strategy. We are also starting to work on a new module concerning itself with race, power and culture. For more information, contact Claire O’Leary or Simon Brown in the International Student Office.