|3. INTERCULTURAL COMPETENCE|
Intercultural competence is a way of ensuring that the methods used to reach a pre-determined set of goals are effective and operate within good practice guidelines. The goals set will be influenced by the social and political climate operating in each country and the traditional atti-tudes towards receiving migrants. Here, the debate between integration, assimilation or segregation is of interest. Normally when speaking of intercultural competence one refers to the intercultural competence of individuals. But this notion is not sufficient, if we talk about advice and guidance for the labour market integration of refugees and migrants. Here intercultural competence can be observed and is required on three levels:
These three levels will be discussed separately in the following chapters. But before doing so in order to arrive at an understanding of intercultural competence, we need to have a working definition of culture.
There is a plethora of scientific answers to the definition of culture. Since our focus is on practice, it will be useful to have an overview of what cultural differences are made of and what the problems and obstacles might be when dealing with migrants and refugees from very different cultural backgrounds. A very attractive example of how to illustrate the problem of cultural differences has been designed by Gibson in his model of the "cultural iceberg". It looks like this:
The idea of this model is quite clear: It shows that culture can be initially defined by those characteristics seen "above the water", with the more subtle aspects lying "under the water". For practitioners working in a cross-cultural environment, it is this subtle area that is most problematic, and which this training package wants to draw attention to.
(1) Individual intercultural competence
Despite the fact that intercultural competence of individuals has always been emphasised as a necessary skill for dealing with migrant's problems, there is no common agreement over the components parts inherit in it. Scheitza has assembled various "ingredients" of intercultural competence from various sources. These are categorised under the personal attributes of attitude, knowledge, communication, self-confidence and social relationships. These components of individual intercultural competence are not only attributed to the migrant living in a host society, they are also needed for those dealing with migrants and refugees in their everyday life. These skills have to be learned by both sides.
For our purposes we can state that individual intercultural competence is the result of the development of interpersonal skills that arise from the following:
Intercultural competence of institutions
Mono-cultural communication is based on common behaviour, language and values. This means that the day to day interaction between members of the same culture are based on roughly common definitions. These similarities allow the members of the same cultural back-ground to be able to predict the behaviour of others and assume a common perception of reality (Bannett 1998). Mono-cultural communication therefore is based on similarities.
Intercultural communication does not allow for assumptions of similarity to be made that easily. If we define cultures by their difference of language, behaviour, and values, these differences have to be recognised. Intercultural communication therefore, is based on differences.
The issue of stereotypes and generalisations has to be tackled within this context. It is often a matter of expediency to work with generalisations and stereotypes, especially when working with migrants and refugees from not just one, but many different cultures. More important factors are, whether the stereotypes are based on respect for the other culture (positive stereotypes) or by disrespect (negative stereotypes). While the former can open the door to communication, the latter will inevitably impose sanctions and barriers to effective intercultural exchanges.
A related aspect is the assimilationist approach to intercultural communication. This is commonly connected to the notion that everyone is an individual and can only be dealt with as such. It normally implies that the individual should change to enable mono-cultural communication and that the host society should avoid the dangers, pitfalls and the hard work required by intercultural communication. Or, as LaRay Barna puts it:
"Another reason many people are lured into thinking that 'people are people' is that it reduces the discomfort of dealing with difference, of not knowing. The thought that everyone is the same, deep down, is comforting. If someone acts or looks 'strange' (different from them), it is then possible to evaluate this as wrong and treat everyone ethnocentrically." (Barna in Bennett 1998)
There are four underlying assumptions that ensure the success of individual intercultural communication:
3.4.3 HOW TO GAIN INDIVIDUAL INTERCULTURAL COMPETENCE
To answer the question how to gain intercultural competence, we have to differentiate between the intercultural competence of migrants and refugees and the intercultural competence of any practitioner working with that target group.
(1) Migrants and refugees
Gaining intercultural competence is for most migrants and refugees, generally an informal process. It emerges through the challenges of daily life and is a necessary precondition for a successful integration in the host society. The introduction of formal ways and means to improve intercultural communication can help migrants and refugees to improve their skills to deal with their problems.
Very often, some of the individual intercultural competence is gained by attending a language-course. Many language books are designed to give information on cultural and especially behavioural aspects of day-to-day-life in the host country. In the Netherlands for example, migrants and refugees are normally subject to an integration programme which includes also courses on Dutch culture and society. Because of the special emphasis on integration this programme is quite outstanding within the European context. It is one of the few centrally organised attempts to develop intercultural awareness in a European country.
For migrants and refugees also, intercultural competence is indispensable for integration into the labour-market. They often get initial information on their host-culture through contacts with compatriots living in the country. Compatriots offer an informal system of advice and counsel and often direct migrants and refugees to institutions that can help. This method of attaining intercultural competence can be positive in that it is based on trust and is often more relevant to the migrant newly arrived. A negative aspect is that the advise given by fellow compatriots might be biased and they might not be in possession of all the relevant and up-to-date information regarding migrants and refugees.
Many organisations specialising in the field of migration and refugees have developed translated information materials to counteract this kind of misinformation.
Migrants and refugees acquiring intercultural competence through their own organisations can face difficulties when the political activities of the organisation overshadow the benefits to be gained from their advice.
(2) Advisors, counsellors
For the practitioner working with migrants and refugees to gain intercultural competence is a question of professionalism and quality of the work (s)he is doing.
In the description of intercultural competence, one can separate aspects of knowledge about the cultural background of the client from aspects of development of the bicultural situation.
To know something about the country the client comes from can often be helpful in the contact with migrants and refugees. Sometimes that information can be used like a kind of "door-opener" in the conversation, sometimes it's just necessary to understand a special problem somebody faces (e.g. if (s)he in her/his home-country has worked in a profession, that does not exist in the host country).
Of course it's not possible for a single person to have detailed information about each and every country of the world, but many organisations that deal with special groups of migrants gain a lot of specific knowledge about the cultural background of their clientele.
But only relying on knowledge can also be a trap. It is useful to know about the role of women in a Muslim country, but this knowledge might not be relevant, if the woman sitting in front of you is trying to follow a different career for herself. That leads us to the next aspect of intercultural competence, which has to do with the development of the bicultural situation.
The overarching goal of anyone in contact with anybody else should be the interest on that special individual, in his or her specific situation, that means, not to stay in a stage of explaining people by stereotypes, but being able to analyse and abandon prejudices that influence the contact.
In the area of intercultural education Nieke (1995) mentions ten fundamental aspects for a successful development of cultural competence:
It should be clear from the above list, that gaining intercultural
competence is not a one-way-process, but an interactive development,
that requires both the ability to stress the common aspects of human
life and the will to solve conflicts that emerge from the differences
between people of different cultural background.
In addition to these measures to develop the personal competence of individuals also alternatives for the organisation of work are more and more taken into consideration (like forming bi- or multi-cultural teams).
In order to give migrants and refugees a chance for integration into the labour market the individual intercultural competence of migrants and the one of advisers or counsellors is a necessary, but not a sufficient precondition. Access to the labour market is in most European countries subject to a number of regulations which are governing the actions of all institutions (public - private), who have for instance to decide on:
According to the organisation of government services and the extent of participation of actors of the civic society, we might have a broad range of institutions working in this field. In Germany, for instance, we can distinguish the following
Their capacity to assist in the labour market integration process of a migrant is dependent on their flexibility in changing the rules and regulations governing their work and the composition of their work force. The administrative regulations normally refer to average Germans and their conditions and way of acting. To interpret these regulations in favour of a minority group requires some knowledge about this group, its characteristics and its way of perceiving the situation at hand. One can argue that the "German" regulations have not only verbally, but also from their meaning and contextual framing be translated for minorities. This "transla-tion process" can be fostered by
Normally non-government institutions show a higher extent of flexibility, especially those institutions which have been specifically established to assist in the integration process of migrants. In the UK it is standard requirement now for NGOs to have an Equal Opportunities Policy describing their commitment to the processes outlined above.
An analysis of the host society, would indicate that the greatest lack of intercultural competence is found in those that subscribe to the idea that new comers to a country should adapt to the ways of the majority in a country and that there is no need for themselves to change their attitude. This expression of ethnocentrism is hard to overcome in day-to-day-life. For practitioners in this field, it may be necessary to encourage their own organisation to develop institutional intercultural competence. This can be done in a number of ways. The "Charter on positive action for employment of refugees in the Non Governmental Sector" can, with some modifications, be applied to all institutions regardless to their legal status. By activating it, staff members may be able to encourage their superiors to implement different methods of recruitment. The outlined measures can be applied according to the situation of the respective organisation.
migrants or refugees are besides being perceived as Mr. X or Mrs. Y
also seen as members of their respective minority group. Different characteristics
can lead to the definition of a minority group be it nationality (Turk),
ethnic origin (Kurd), geographic origin (African), religious affiliation
(Muslim) or other. Being affiliated with one of these groups will change
the perception and the evaluation of the migrant by members of the dominant
culture to the better or the worse. He might feel embraced or rejected
by the host society regardless of the fact, whether he or she wants
to be affiliated with this minority group. The interaction between the
dominant culture and minority groups and their influence on integration
tendencies has attracted the interests of many psychologists. Here the
work of a Canadian working group around Berry can be cited. They were
interested how in a country, which has for long followed an immigration
policy, the integration of different cultural groups in the Canadian
society can be achieved. Their results can also serve for the European
context as an orientation.
Based on these two dimensions one out of four modes of adaptation between the minority and the dominant culture might emerge:
For a minority group the mode of ...
The importance of this model lies in the fact, that it can account for differences in the adaptation process of individuals but also the differences in the interaction process between minorities and the respective dominant culture depending on the one hand on the policy of the respective country and on the other hand on the tendencies of the respective minorities for adaptation.
These adaptation modes are not static, but are subject to changes according to the political climate and economic conditions within the dominate and the minority culture. Following a wave of hostility against foreigners in Germany large parts of the young generation of Turks felt separated or marginalised and those who had to counsel them had quite some difficulties in bridging the gap.
Because of the dynamic nature of the intercultural relations between dominant culture and the cultures of minorities, it is important to pay attention to changes in the perception which these groups have from each other. The afore mentioned working group around Berry had developed instruments to measure the state of the adaptation modes in given minorities at a given time.
The same group of psychologists gave recommendations on a sustainable intercultural relationship between the dominant culture and minority groups. They made an important differentiation between public and private life. For the requirements of public life all citizens are asked to master the official language of the country, to follow the procedures which have been established for the world of work and the administration of state and community. On the other hand everybody should be free in his private life to talk the language he likes, to cook the dishes he prefers, to meet with friends and neighbours the way he likes.
This notion of intercultural encounter in a multi-cultural society provides for the necessary integration skills of minorities in the official world of work and administration, but gives room for the continuation of cultural characteristics of minorities which might be important for the identity of the group and its members.
Within the EU this notion could serve as an orientation for the further shaping of multi-cultural societies.
Proposed reading for this chapter:
Atkinson, D.R./ Morten, G./ Sue,. D.W. (eds.) (1993): Counselling American Minorities: A Cross-Cultural Perspective, Dubuque, IA.
Bennett, Milton J.: Basic concepts of Intercultural Communication, Yarmouthe 1998.
Berry, J.W. (1990): Psychology of acculturation. In: Berman, J.J. (ed.): Cross-Cultural Perspectives. Nebraska Symposium on Motivation 1989, Lincoln, p. 201-234.
Bochner, Stephen: Cultures in Contact. Studies in Cross-Cultural Interaction, Oxford et al. 1982.
Brislin, Richard W. (ed.): Applied Cross-Cultural Psychology, Newbury Park et al. 1990.