Interculturality is everywhere. It is in your schools, neighbourhoods, workplaces and possibly, even in your families. Interculturality has become pervasive that many take it for granted. If interculturality is everywhere, then what is it? This article will help to shed light on this vast and complex topic.
What is Interculturality?
The word "Interculturality" is a combination of three parts.
- Inter- means between or among
- cultural means to cultivate or educate
- – ity means a state of being
By combining the three parts, interculturality refers to being among differently cultivated and educated people. Dynamic exchanges between different cultural groups can dramatically evolve the groups themselves. Thus, interactions and encounters with other cultural groups are termed intercultural.
The word was first coined in 1959 by Cultural Anthropologist Edward T. Hall in his book called The Silent Language1. Ever since, Hall's work inspired many researchers, academics and expanded various areas of social sciences, such as anthropology, sociology, psychology, political science and many others. Here are some other examples of definitions of interculturality.
Interculturality refers to the existence and equitable interaction of diverse cultures and the possibility of generating shared cultural expressions through dialogue and mutual respect. ~ UNESCO 2
Interculturality is defined as the umbrella term for all intercultural phenomena. ~ Encyclopaedia of Critical Psychology 3
...refers to the relations that exist within society between diverse majority and minority constellations that are defined in terms not only of culture but also of ethnicity, language, religious denomination, and/or nationality. ~ Gunther Dietz 4
In essence, interculturality is the intentional interactions and relationships between individuals from different cultural backgrounds. Cultural backgrounds can go beyond ethnicity and consider other cultural groups such as nationality, religion, gender, etc.
When people embrace interculturality, they understand that no culture is better than the other. No one culture is more civilised, advanced, or superior than others. All cultures are equally worthy and deserve respect.
Also, those who immerse themselves in interculturality recognise that cultures evolve and become enriched when in contact with other cultures. Examples of these can be seen across the centuries in various regions. For instance, remnants of the Ottoman Empire and the Austro-Hungarian can still be seen today in Balkan countries. Local coffee is enjoyed Turkish-style. Local pastries use Greek ingredients. The dreary yet romantic buildings of the Austro-Hungarian style stands tall and mighty over the centuries.
What can we learn from Interculturality?
Interculturality is inescapable, and there is hardly a place on earth that is entirely homogenous. Cultural diversity has slipped into our lives more and more each day with the help of the internet and globalisation. Embracing interculturality helps promote open dialogue, teach each other mutual respect and increase awareness of individual and group's needs and right to cultural preservation.
As such, it is significantly beneficial for people to learn intercultural skills and leverage the strengths of cultural diversity. Skills gained from intercultural exchanges include adaptability, inclusion and a sense of shared humanity.
Adaptability is the ability to change mindset or behaviours according to the environment or situation. Becoming an adaptable person is no easy task. Adaptability is complex because a person needs to have various skills and flexibility of mindset.
To become adaptable, a person needs to be open to differences, withhold judgements, and learn different ways of thinking and behaving. On top of that, there is the need for perspective-taking and adjusting behaviours. For example, learning to greet others with kisses on both cheeks when you're used to only nodding. Or having walk on the streets in the city centre, when you're used to only driving in the countryside. Or even the simplest things, such as having sugar on your tea when you're used to having your tea without sugar.
Admittedly, adapting is not easy. Adaptability is complex, but it is a skill that everyone is born with. Humanity has survived millions of years because of its ability to adapt to changing environments.
Though, in an intercultural world, the opportunities to explore, learn and experiment with different behaviours is boundless. Immerse yourself in various sights, sounds, smells, savouries and sensations. It might not all make sense. Though your brain will imprint the memory of this, it will no longer feel alien the next time you encounter something similar. Plunge into interculturality, and your adaptability skills will improve dramatically.
Along with adaptability, interculturality helps to foster an inclusive environment. The intermingling of different cultures in a harmonious and respectful way shows that the world is big enough for all cultures to thrive and flexible enough to learn from each other. According to Jansen et al.(2014) 5 ,
Inclusion is how an individual perceives that the group provides them with a sense of belongingness and authenticity.
People feel included when they feel belonging and are encouraged to be their authentic selves. In an intercultural world, the authentic selves of each person can vary significantly. For example, a group of flatmates arranged a birthday celebration for one of the flatmates. However, due to varying diets, one is vegan, another is on a gluten-free diet, another practices intermittent fasting, another doesn't drink alcohol, and the other is a meat-eater. In the spirit of inclusion, everyone brought their own food, shared food and drinks where possible and celebrated the birthday of their beloved flatmate.
People thrive in belongingness. Studies have shown that the sense of belonging that comes from inclusion increases self-esteem 5. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) Dictionary of Psychology 6, self-esteem is
the degree to which the qualities and characteristics contained in one's self-concept are perceived to be positive.
A person with high self-esteem believes in their own capability to learn, achieve, love, participate and contribute to society. They value, respect and love themselves. They believe they are worthy. Most importantly, they treat themselves and others with dignity.
With interculturality, you learn that despite differences, there is a space for everyone, without the need to change each other unless one chooses to. Also, embracing differences helps everyone grow and thrive in their own way.
Being human is a universal experience for all people. What does being human mean? Take a moment to reflect on this. Your answer might be - humans breathe, eat, sleep, and have sex. Or, humans fear and hate, rejoice and love.
When you burrow into the intercultural world, you may begin to realise that despite our cultural differences, people are similar in one way or another. Differences and similarities come together. You will not realise differences in others if there are no similarities. Likewise, you will not realise similarities if there are no differences.
For example, two friends who are football fans support opposing teams. Every time there is a match between the teams, these two friends get into heated debates. When a third friend, who is not a football fan, joins them in conversation, the two friends acknowledge their shared love for football. The difference is supporting opposing teams; the similarity is the love of football.
You can find examples of this in many different places, academia, corporations, sports, and even book clubs. The trick is that both differences and similarities come together. Being exposed to the greater diversity of the world, we can start to embrace our shared humanity.
Peace, love and beauty are goals shared by every human heart. The question is whether our minds recognize them as such. — Raheel Farooq 7
Where is Interculturality today?
Interculturality is deeply rooted in our everyday experience, and it is taken for granted. Here are some examples of interculturality in various areas.
Interculturality in Education
The experience of studying abroad is increasingly expected of young adults in many nations. Based on the OECD's annual report Education at a Glance 2021 8, there were 6.1 million international students in 2019. In addition, 67% of all international students in OECD areas come from developing countries.
Intercultural contact, interactions and relationships are unavoidable with the annual increase of students mobility across continents, an average of 4.9% per year for OECD nations. Net exporters of students may view this phenomenon as a brain drain, where talents choose to participate and contribute to other nations rather than their home nations. At the same time, students who choose to stay after graduation will significantly benefit the country of study in terms of economy, innovation, and, most importantly, culture.
Intercultural experiences of international students are sought after in their country of origin. Not only do they bring home technology, but they also bring with them different perspectives and ways of living and working.
Interculturality in Business
Despite the COVID19 pandemic, globalisation has not collapsed. According to the DHL Global Connectedness Index 9,
Trade-in goods have surged well above pre-pandemic levels, powerfully supporting the global recovery even as capacity 2 challenges and trade tensions persist.
Yet, people flow remain restricted to contain the spread of the virus, where
The pandemic hit international people flows the hardest, and they are on track to recover the slowest. International travel 5 remained down more than 80% in the first half of 2021.
While people cannot go on their dream vacation, globalisation shows that people still connect with each other across the world and from the comforts of their homes. The geographically-dispersed workforce will need to find ways to communicate and collaborate with existing technological tools and not rely on meeting in person. Thus, international companies will need to upskill their workforce with intercultural skills to adjust to this new way of working.
Interculturality in Humanitarianism
Despite COVID19, 2020 saw the highest number of forcibly displaced people. According to OCHA's Global Humanitarian Overview 2022 10,
By the end of 2020, 82.4 million people were forcibly displaced, including 48 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) and 26.4 million refugees, because of persecution, conflict, violence, human rights violations, or events seriously disturbing public order. More than 1 per cent of the world's population is now displaced, about 42 per cent of whom are children.
A population of 48 million is equal to the population of Spain or South Korea. Forcibly displaced people come from many different countries. They are forced to travel great distances to other countries, searching for safety and security. Their journeys are not only physically and mentally challenging. They face indescribable cultural struggles, such as discrimination, neglect, abuse, trafficking, and much more, because they are from a different culture.
Not only, but humanitarian workers themselves also come from diverse backgrounds. Working with forcibly displaced people means humanitarians need to find ways to overcome language and cultural barriers to provide much-needed support. The melting-pot of cultures in humanitarianism means that significant effort is required to ensure the help provided is respectful and dignified for the beneficiaries. Likewise, forcibly displaced people need to quickly adapt to dangerous and ambiguous environments and people to survive.
Can Interculturality Save the World?
Societies globally have been shaped by the dynamics of interculturalism for centuries. Interculturality, the interaction between different cultural groups, has its benefits and challenges. It is vast and complex. Yet, interculturality is here to stay. The most important question you should ask is
What are you going to do about it?
1. Hall, E. T. (1990). The Silent Language. Anchor Books.
2. Diversity of Cultural Expressions Section. (2015). The 2005 Convention for the Protection and Promotion of the Diversity of Cultural Expressions. UNESCO. https://en.unesco.org/creativity/convention/texts
3. Allolio-Näcke, L. (2014). Interculturality. In T. Teo (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Critical Psychology (pp. 974–977). Springer, New York. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-1-4614-5583-7_155
4. Dietz, G. (2018). Interculturality. The International Encyclopedia of Anthropology, 1–19. https://doi.org/10.1002/9781118924396.wbiea1629
5. Jansen, W., Otten, S., van der Zee, K., & Jans, L. (2014). Inclusion: Conceptualization and measurement. European Journal of Social Psychology, 44. https://doi.org/10.1002/ejsp.2011
6. Self-Esteem. (n.d.). APA Dictionary of Psychology. Retrieved from https://dictionary.apa.org/self-esteem
7. Raheel Farooq. (2010). Zaar by Raheel Farooq http://archive.org/details/ZaarRaheelFarooq
8. OECD. (2021). Education at a Glance 2021: OECD Indicators. Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/education-at-a-glance-2021_b35a14e5-en
9. DHL Global Connectedness Index. (2021). DHL Spotlight. Retrieved from https://www.dhl.com/global-en/spotlight/globalization/global-connectedness-index.html
10. OHCA. (2021). Global Humanitarian Overview 2022. United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. https://gho.unocha.org/