As part of the series on the Summer Term Programme, in this week’s MicroCPD, Jane Sjoberg (BIA) discusses the Birmingham International Academy's ‘Intercultural Awareness’ workshops, designed for both home and international students.

If you would like to discuss how this workshop could fit into your Summer Term Programme, please contact Ian Martin (Academic English Insessional Programme Manager) for further details and to discuss your departmental needs.

Intercultural awareness is one the University of Birmingham’s graduate attributes in that, to become ‘natural collaborators’, students are expected to be able to work collaboratively, communicate with diverse audiences and remove barriers for people who are different from themselves. The full list of graduate attributes is available online.

For international students, especially those who speak English as a second or additional language, living and learning in a different culture can be both exciting and stressful. Building intercultural awareness can be an important way to deal with culture shock and the effects this might have on learning. It can also be part of a broader toolkit that prepares students for professional life in our globalised and increasingly interconnected world.

UKCISA (2018) Facing culture shock [Online] Available at: https://www.ukcisa.org.uk/information--advice/preparation-and-arrival/facing-culture-shock [Accessed 18 January, 2024].

As staff, whether teaching, assessing or supporting students in other ways we no doubt all would like to enhance learners’ intercultural skillset, encouraging them to embrace and celebrate diversity in all its forms. This micro CPD mentions just a few key ideas that may be useful to bear in mind when attempting to do so in our everyday practice. The BIA can provide more structured forms of support for students in workshops that are detailed below.

Our interactive workshops have already been enthusiastically attended by students studying a range of disciplines at PG and UG level (e.g. Social Policy, Investments, Management, Public Health, Digital Media & Medical Sciences). In these sessions (which can be tailored to departmental needs or adapted to align with a specific group-based assessment), we aim first of all to help students understand the benefits of working with people from other backgrounds. We examine different aspects of intercultural group working, including group assignments, discussions, and everyday conversations. We help students to reflect on their own backgrounds and ways of communicating, and think about the reasons behind some of the different approaches people can experience when working across cultures. Students come away from our sessions with practical language, strategies, and ways of thinking that they can apply to get the most out of group-based activities, particularly those that require students with different degrees of oral and written English confidence to collaborate and work effectively together, for example on a group project or presentation. Topics covered in a session might include: dealing with misunderstandings, expressing disagreement, and politeness strategies as well as tips on how to de-escalate situations when communication breaks down. We also typically explore ways in which different cultures are accepting or disapproving of overlapping voices in a discussion; cultural attitudes to physical space or conventions about taking turns in a discussion.

Further reading/ further resources

  • Arslan, S. (2023). Intercultural Awareness and International Identities: Necessary Support and Preparation for Academic Staff. In T. Mammadova (ed.) Academic Mobility through the Lens of Language and Identity, Global Pandemics, and Distance Internationalization, London, Routledge, pp.107-117.
  • Baker, W. (2012). From cultural awareness to intercultural awareness: Culture in ELT. ELT Journal, 66(1), pp.62-70.
  • Barany, L. K. (2016). Language awareness, intercultural awareness and communicative language teaching: Towards language education. International Journal of Humanities and Cultural Studies, 2(4), pp.257-282.
  • de Hei, M., Tabacaru, C., Sjoer, E., Rippe, R., & Walenkamp, J. (2020). Developing intercultural competence through collaborative learning in international higher education. Journal of Studies in International Education, 24(2), pp. 190-211.
  • Ippolito, K. (2007). Promoting intercultural learning in a multicultural university: Ideals and realities. Teaching in Higher Education, 12(5-6), pp.749-763.
  • Salih, A. A., & Omar, L. I. (2021). Globalized English and users’ intercultural awareness: Implications for internationalization of higher education. Citizenship, Social and Economics Education, 20(3), pp.181-196.