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Intercultural stories, tips & advice

Learning to live harmoniously with people from many different backgrounds can pose its challenges, so we've compiled some experiences shared by previous students, as well as our favourite tips and advice, to help you more effectively navigate through a range of intercultural situations.

Students' stories


Our top tips and advice for dealing with differences in intercultural situations:
  1. You are part of a diverse community - some rules or behaviours which are obvious to you, may not be obvious to others. An action which you consider to be very polite, may come across as rude or inappropriate to others. Being aware that these differences can occur may make it easier to deal with them as and when they arise.
  2. Often it takes us to know ourselves before we can better understand others. Take some time to think about your own cultural values and preferences, as this will help you to understand your own interactions with others. The self-reflective activities (module 4 of our online intercultural training) can help you with this.
  3. Whenever you find yourself in a new environment, you can learn a lot by watching interactions between other members of that group or community. Pay close attention to how people dress, communicate (verbally and non-verbally), and behaviours which appear to be deemed polite or rude. Interactions may vary amongst different people in the same group - there will be underlying rules and values which determine how people interact with each other, and observations over time can help you begin to understand these.
  4. You can't know what you don't know, so be aware of the effect you are having on others - if someone is looking offended by something which seemed innocent to you, try not to take it to heart; and do try to sensitively explore the source of the misunderstanding - some people may not be comfortable discussing these situations directly, so perhaps a third party, or 'cultural mediator' may be able to offer suggestions for how to avoid similar misunderstandings in future.
  5. If someone comes across as rude or offensive - or even 'weird' to you, consider whether they may just have a different set of cultural values or 'rules' which they are following. Avoid snap judgements, as often there is no 'wrong' or 'right' way of doing something, just different approaches to the same thing - as expressed in this short TED talk.
  6. - both your own, and those of others! It is important to consolidate your learning about a new culture by reflecting on your interactions; analysing their impact on you and on others; and re-evaluating your initial assumptions.
  7. Try stepping a little bit out of the safety of your comfort zone to try some new experiences; engage with and immerse yourself in your new environment. You don't have to go against your core values; or to become exactly like the other members of your new group - a little adjustment goes a long way!
  8. Making friends across cultures is often difficult - sometimes cultural differences can stack up as barriers to intercultural interaction! But keep observing, trying, adjusting, reflecting and tweaking your attempts, and you will usually get there in the end. Ever heard the saying 'no growth without discomfort'? Another way of looking at it is that the challenges you experience are also opportunities for growth (though they may not feel like it at the time!)
  9. Spotting trends and patterns in behaviour can be a useful tool to help you interact with other groups, but make sure you don't use these to apply judgements on an individual as a fixed rule - always remember that not all individuals from the group will follow the same pattern!
Want to find out more?

You can explore this and other areas further through our interactive Intercultural Training Programme. Expand your intercultural skills - sign up today!