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date: 14 October 2019

Reflection and Intercultural Competence Development

Summary and Keywords

Increasing levels of cultural diversity requires a system of higher education structured to facilitate intercultural learning and develop individuals who are prepared to work in a culturally diverse environment, and can make decisions and manage people cognizant of cultural differences. Three main approaches to facilitate intercultural learning in the classroom have emerged: transfer of cultural knowledge, cultural experiences, and reflection on experience. Each of these approaches has a role to play at different stages of intercultural development. Three stages of intercultural development are proposed: (1) Monocultural stage, referring to a stage in which individuals are unaware of cultural differences; (2) Cross-cultural stage, in which individuals recognize and understand cultural differences but lack behavioral skills to deal with them; and (3) Intercultural stage, in which individuals can draw on a repertoire of behaviors to influence and shape intercultural interactions in ways that facilitate understanding and create opportunities for cooperation. Reflection on experience is proposed to be particularly useful to support the development of intercultural competence. Reflection is a thinking process focusing on examining a thought, event, or situation to make it more comprehensible and to learn from it. A four-step reflection process is proposed: (1) Describe experience; (2) Reflect on experience; (3) Learn from experience; and (4) Apply learning. Suggestions on using reflection in the classroom are proposed.

Keywords: cross-cultural, intercultural, intercultural learning, intercultural competence, reflection

Societies and organizations are becoming increasingly culturally diverse due to domestic and international migration and an increase in international work assignments of various types. In addition to integrating immigrants into the workforce, organizations are relying on various types of international work assignments such as virtual teams, short-term assignments, international commuting, and increased business travel to compete in an increasingly globalized economy (Meyskens, Von Glinow, Werther, William, & Clarke, 2009; Steers, Nardon, & Sanchez-Runde, 2016; Teagarden, 2010). This proliferation of new modes of global movement is changing the fabric of society and organizations, and poses important challenges: societies need to integrate newcomers into the workforce, organizations must manage a diverse workforce at home and abroad, and individuals need the capacity to engage and collaborate with people from different socio-cultural backgrounds in order to thrive in an increasingly diverse workplace.

While a diverse workforce can bring many benefits because individuals have access to diverse information, knowledge, and perspectives, cultural diversity also increases opportunities for conflict, disagreements, and misunderstandings (Pieterse, Van Knippenberg, & Van Dierendonck, 2013). Thus, realizing the potential of cultural diversity in society and the workplace requires a system of higher education structured to develop individuals prepared to work in a culturally diverse environment and who can make decisions and manage people cognizant of cultural differences.

This article draws on extant research to address the need to facilitate intercultural learning in the classroom environment. In this article, the term “cross-cultural” is used to refer to comparisons between cultural groups (e.g., how Japanese and French cultures differ) and the term “intercultural” to refer to interactions between individuals from different cultural groups (e.g., what happens when a French and Japanese interact). The purpose of this article is twofold: first, it aims to help instructors identify the best method to facilitate intercultural learning in the classroom depending on the stages on intercultural development of students. Second, it elaborates on the role of reflection on experience in facilitating intercultural learning by proposing a process of guided reflection.

This article is organized as follows. First, a discussion of common approaches to intercultural learning is presented, followed by a discussion of the stages of intercultural development and its implications for learning. Then a process of reflection is proposed to facilitate intercultural learning and discuss how this process can be used in the classroom.

Approaches to Intercultural Learning

Approaches for the development of cross-cultural and intercultural knowledge and skills are receiving unprecedented attention from scholars, educators, and practitioners across various disciplines (Eisenberg, Härtel, & Stahl, 2013). Multiple terms and definitions have been used in the literature to address the capacity to thrive in intercultural and multicultural situations. To name a few, researchers have referred to the set of skills required to work with people of other cultures as intercultural competence (e.g., Deardorff, 2006), cultural intelligence (e.g., Earley & Peterson, 2004), global mindset (e.g., Levy, Beechler, Taylor, & Boyacigiller, 2007), cultural competence (Johnson, Lenartowicz, & Apud, 2006), intercultural communication competence (e.g., Arasaratnam, Banerjee, & Dembek, 2010), global competence (Quezada, 2010; Zhao, 2010), and international mindedness (Cushner, 2007). A detailed discussion of their varying definitions is beyond the scope of this article. For parsimony, the term “intercultural competence” is used to refer to the set of skills that allows individuals to shape the process of intercultural interactions in a way that facilitates understanding and creates opportunities for cooperative problem solving (Rathje, 2007; Thomas, 2006).

Researchers from different disciplines have conceptualized intercultural skills differently, relied on different evidence in support of their relevance, and derived different practical implications. For instance, while some scholars consider knowledge a key foundation for the development of intercultural skills (Javidan & Walker, 2013), others suggest that intercultural skills are best developed through experience (Erez et al., 2013; Taras et al., 2013; Thomas & Inskon, 2004; Thomas, Lazarova, & Inkson, 2005; Ng, Van Dyne, & Ang, 2009). While yet others argue that experience alone is insufficient (Caligiuri, 2013), and suggest that intercultural experience leads to competence only when learners are able to make sense of their experiences through reflection (Deardorff, 2006, 2011; Ng et al., 2009; Cseh, Davis, & Khilji, 2013). Further, some call attention to the emotional aspect of intercultural competence (Chang, 2007), suggesting that individuals need to be prepared to acknowledge reluctance and fear, work through confusion, and grapple with complexity (Holmes & O’Neill, 2012).

Each of these approaches highlights important elements of intercultural learning, but also have limitations. For instance, while cultural knowledge transfer has its role in education, traditional educational models based solely on the transfer of knowledge about cultural differences are insufficient as they do not accurately represent the reality of multicultural societies and organizations and may lead to stereotypical thinking (Osland & Bird, 2000; Eisenberg et al., 2013; Erez et al., 2013). Models of education based on the transfer of cultural knowledge were developed primarily to prepare expatriates in a largely bi-cultural environment. However, the current global reality suggests that many work situations are highly multicultural, and work assignments vary widely in terms of time and exposure to the host culture.

In addition, a dominant focus on transfer of cultural knowledge tends to obscure the relevance of other variables such as individual, organizational, and situational characteristics in influencing behavior (Cray & Mallory, 1998; Leung, Bhagat, Buchan, Erez, & Gibson, 2005; Nardon & Steers, 2014; Shenkar, Luo, & Yeheskel, 2008; Taras, Steel, & Kirkman, 2011). For example, Adler and colleagues (1987) demonstrated that Japanese, American, and Canadian businesspeople behave differently in intercultural negotiations and intra-cultural negotiations, suggesting that how individuals behave within their culture offers limited guidance for how they may behave in a different cultural context such as those presented by multicultural situations. In summary, there is a growing recognition among scholars that models of intercultural education based on the transfer of cultural knowledge downplay the fact that each intercultural encounter is unique, involves different people, contexts, and dynamics, and requires different actions and reactions.

Experience has long been recognized as an important component in learning in general and in intercultural learning in particular, and is widely regarded a critical complement to knowledge-based learning (Erez et al., 2013; Taras et al., 2013; Thomas & Inskon, 2004; Thomas, Lazarova, & Inkson, 2005; Ng et al., 2009). Sending people abroad is a well-known strategy employed by organizations and academic institutions with the aim of developing employees’ and students’ intercultural competence. Despite the critical role of experience in developing intercultural skills, recent studies show that international or intercultural experiences do not always result in learning (Rosenblatt, Worthley, & MacNab, 2013) and suggest that just sending people abroad is insufficient for the development of intercultural competence (Caligiuri, 2013) as individuals may become more attached to their own cultural views after experiencing another culture, regarding their own culture as superior and developing stronger ethnocentric views than they may have had before the experience.

Recent perspectives suggest that intercultural experience leads to intercultural competence only when learners are able to make sense of their experiences through reflection and transform them into learning (Deardorff, 2006; Deardorff, 2011; Ng et al., 2009; Cseh et al., 2013). In this article, this view is elaborated by proposing a framework for intercultural reflection and learning, but argues that each of these learning approaches (knowledge transfer, experience, and reflection) are valuable and have a different role to play at different stages of the learning process. The next section discusses the different stages of intercultural development and how knowledge transfer, experience, and reflection may be applied in each of these stages.

Stages of Intercultural Development

Transformative learning theory suggests that learning is a process of revising our mental models, which results in changes in our interpretation of experience and action (Mezirow, 1990; Taylor, 1994). A mental model is a picture in our mind of how the world works (Hill, 1996). We reason by constructing mental models of a situation (Johnson-Laird, 1983). These mental models allow the derivation of tentative conclusions, which we test by trying to build counter-examples in which the conclusion might be false. The conclusion is assumed to be correct if no counter-examples can be found (Devetag, 1999). Mental models are developed through experiences and, consequently, are culturally bound.

Thus, intercultural learning requires developing new intercultural mental models, which requires that individuals become “aware of specific assumptions (schemata, criteria, rules, or repressions) on which a distorted or incomplete meaning scheme is based and, through a reorganization of meaning, transforming it” (Mezirow, 1985, p. 23, cited in Kitchenham, 2008). This transformation is expected to be difficult as it “involves a comprehensive and critical reevaluation of oneself” (Kitchenham, 2008, p. 112). Thus, intercultural learning, to be useful, needs to be transformative because it involves a critical reassessment of assumptions, beliefs, and premises embedded in individuals’ mental models.

Research suggests that people’s mental models evolve over time in three stages. At first, individuals employ naive models that are simplified and draw primarily on hunches and common sense. As they gain familiarity with a domain, they develop some explicit models and become more careful observers, eventually developing a sophisticated mental model that is significantly more complex and nuanced (Lundberg, 2004). Drawing on this body of work, this article extrapolates a model of intercultural development (Nardon, 2017) suggesting three stages of development: monocultural, cross-cultural, and intercultural stages. These stages of intercultural development are discussed below in a linear progression. However, learning and development is a dynamic and complex process. One individual may be intercultural in one domain (e.g., work peer interactions) but monocultural in others (e.g., family dynamics) or have gaps of understanding, leading to limited competence with specific cultural groups. In addition, individuals may regress through these stages due to personal experiences or limited exposure to other cultures over a long period of time.

Monocultural Stage

Individuals with a monocultural mental model are largely unaware of cross-cultural differences. Their own cultural assumptions, values, and beliefs are taken for granted. They may hold a few general stereotypes about other cultures and rely on their own cultural knowledge and skills to deal with intercultural interactions. When facing a problem, they will attempt to fix the symptoms but may not understand the causes of the problem. A monocultural mental model is often the result of a monocultural life experience, due to lack of exposure to or lack of engagement with other cultures. That is, individuals may maintain a monocultural mental model even if they live or work in highly diverse environments and travel to other countries regularly, if they do not integrate cultural diversity into how they think and see the world.

The first step in the development of intercultural competence is to acquire basic cross-cultural knowledge. A classroom in which most of the students fall into the monocultural stage of development will benefit from cross-cultural training that emphasizes the transfer of cultural knowledge as long as this exposure is guided by an experienced instructor able to minimize the risks of inappropriate stereotyping and simplistic conclusions regarding intercultural behavior. Guided experiential activities are also helpful at this stage to help students understand that they are a product of their cultural upbringing, explore the role of culture in their thinking, and question taken for granted cultural assumptions.

Exposing students to intercultural situations can potentially elicit strong feelings. A prerequisite for the development of intercultural competence is the ability to recognize, acknowledge, and process feelings (Taylor, 1994). As students are guided to challenge their long-established belief systems, perspectives, and assumptions about right and wrong, they will need to grapple with challenges to their competence, worth, and character. In a business classroom, students (and many instructors) are often more comfortable focusing on “business,” and prefer to avoid the emotional component of intercultural interactions favoring an over-rational analysis of the cultural elements present in a situation. However, this focus on the “objective” and the “rational” is misplaced, given that people’s interpretations of issues and solutions are influenced by their emotions and self-image. Hodgkinson and Healey (2014) suggest that the transformation of mindsets and behaviors required not only for intercultural competence but also for innovative activities, and other change processes cannot be understood through a focus on “cold-cognition.” Rather, emotional management is a critical and often overlooked aspect of organizational life (Hodgkinson & Healey, 2014). Thus, emotional management should become an essential component of cross-cultural and intercultural education, not only in the monocultural stage but throughout students’ intercultural development. Instructors may focus on increasing students’ levels of emotional literacy (Goleman, 1995). Emotional literacy involves emotional self-awareness, which is the ability to recognize feelings when they emerge; being able to separate feelings from actions; working with feelings, including tolerating feelings of frustration and fostering positive feelings; and empathizing with others, reading their emotions, and responding appropriately.

Cross-Cultural Stage

Individuals with a cross-cultural mental model understand cultural differences through observation, study, or travel experiences. They recognize that cultures are different and influence behavior, and they may follow some simple, explicit cultural rules (e.g., do not challenge the boss in hierarchical cultures). When facing an intercultural interaction, these individuals can identify the presence of cultural discrepancies and problems (e.g., we disagree about punctuality) but may lack behavioral skills beyond adapting to fit the other culture or expecting that the other will adapt.

Individuals with a cross-cultural mental model do not necessarily need more cultural information to increase their intercultural competence. Rather, they need the ability to make sense of cultural information and to develop the skills to draw on the information that is available for more effective action. Nowadays, students have access to abundant cultural information from diverse online sources. However, when searching for information, students may access outdated information (such as posts written in the past about events or situations that are no longer relevant), decontextualized information (such as information that applies to a very specific context but is presented as generalizable), biased information (such as points of view that are based on a one-sided perspective), conflicting information (contradictory versions of the same event), and plain wrong or false information. In addition, students may confuse salience with importance. Some issues are highly salient in the media and may seem more important than they really are, while other important issues may be ignored.

When consuming cultural information, students need to learn to be critical and evaluate the degree to which the information is reliable and relevant to their context. Intercultural competence in the digital age requires the ability to probe for details and assess the validity of cultural information, seeking multiple sources of information and being open to disconfirming evidence before accepting cultural depictions as given. In other words, students must be able to separate facts from interpretations and assess whether those facts and interpretations are relevant for their needs. In a classroom in which most students are at the cross-cultural stage of development, instructors may design information-based assignments such as traditional research papers on a country of interest, but shift the focus to a critical evaluation of cultural information as opposed to cultural descriptions. Students may be encouraged to check their findings with nationals of the culture under study to identify the boundaries of the information collected and its applicability to the context in question.

Instructors may also facilitate further intercultural learning by exposing students to intercultural experience through field trips, virtual teamwork, and exchange programs and provide students with opportunities for guided self-reflection, as we will see later on. While these experiences may be useful at any stage of development, students will be better prepared to reflect and learn from experience once they have a minimum understanding of cultural influences on behavior. At this stage of intercultural development, it is important to continue fostering students’ cultural self-awareness. Cultural self-awareness is critical for developing intercultural competence, for two reasons. First, it allows individuals to compensate for a lack of cultural knowledge when trying to understand others. Second, it helps individuals identify their cultural boundaries and provides them with guidelines for how to behave in intercultural situations. Cultural self-awareness means knowing one’s own values, beliefs, styles, and patterns of behavior and being able to explain them to others or recognize when they are not having the desired effect.

When individuals become aware of their culturally imposed limitations (e.g., belief that meetings should start promptly), they are better able to look for information to help them deal with situations as they arise. While learning enough about other cultures may be daunting, knowing about oneself is considerably easier and accounts for at least half of the problems in intercultural interactions.

Intercultural Stage

A sophisticated intercultural mental model is more complex than a cross-cultural mental model and includes self- and situational awareness. Individuals with high levels of intercultural competence understand that there is a potentially wide range of norms and behaviors across situations and are acutely aware of the situation unfolding in front of them. Individuals holding an intercultural mental model are not only able to identify the dynamics of an unfolding interaction—the demands and constraints imposed on the situation by culture and other situational factors—but are also highly aware of their own role in shaping their situations. Individuals with an intercultural mental model are critically aware of how and why their assumptions constrain what they perceive, understand, and feel. They can use this awareness to draw on a repertoire of behaviors to influence and shape the interaction to facilitate understanding and create opportunities for cooperation.

Mental models are constantly evolving. As individuals become aware of their repertoire of behaviors and experiment with different ways of selecting and combining behavioral skills, they are better able to meet the demands of specific intercultural situations and inform future intercultural interactions (Friedman & Berthoin Antal, 2005). In a classroom in which students have a high level of intercultural literacy, reflection on various types of intercultural experience provides students with the ability to critically assess their skills, deepen their cultural self-awareness, and identify areas for future development. In the next section, a process of reflection for the development of intercultural competence is discussed.

The strategies for intercultural development discussed above are illustrated in Figure 1. Darker shades suggest a prioritization across the stages.

Reflection and Intercultural Competence DevelopmentClick to view larger

Figure 1. Strategies for intercultural development (adapted from Nardon, 2017, p. 27).

Reflection and Intercultural Competence

Reflection is a thinking process in which one focuses on examining a thought, event, or situation in an attempt to make it more comprehensible and to learn from it (Bolton, 2010; Lin & Schwartz, 2003). Reflection can facilitate a sense of coherence through organizing, clarifying, and sequencing thoughts (Bolton, 2010; Gray, 2007) and act as a bridge between experience and learning (Gray, 2007). Reflection is a process of dialogue with ourselves, with the narratives we create, with our own insights, and with others, as we explore the validity of our ideas and behaviors (Johns, 2013). Reflection involves both cognition and feelings (Boud et al., 1985), and helps individuals rethink their assumptions (Kayes, 2002), organize their experiences, understand what they think, and predict future events and outcomes (Glanz, Williams, & Hoeksema, 2001; Weick, 1995). Reflection facilitates the integration of concepts in one’s personal knowledge structures and the relating of that concept with things previously known (Gray, 2007).

Intercultural learning requires not only the rethinking of assumptions and restructuring of mental models, but also dealing with deep feelings that accompanied the original mental model, or transformation cannot occur (Kitchenham, 2008). The process of becoming proficient in another culture is by nature emotional and a focus on the cold cognition aspects of intercultural competence development, such as open mindedness and acceptance, obscure the significance of working through emotional issues of confusion, conflict, and frustration (Chang, 2007). In an investigation of the process of developing intercultural competence, Holmes and O’Neill (2012, p. 711) found that developing intercultural competence involved “acknowledging reluctance and fear, foreground stereotypes, monitoring feelings, working through confusion, and moving from complacency to complexity and acknowledging boundaries around competence.”

Taken together, extant literature suggests that reflection on intercultural experience is beneficial if it facilitates the absorption of a concept into personal knowledge structures or schemas, help individuals to then relate the new concept to their extant knowledge and experience (Leung & Kember, 2003; Gray, 2007), and address the emotions that emerge as a result (Kitchneham, 2008).

A proposed reflection process is illustrated in Figure 2 and explained below.

Reflection and Intercultural Competence DevelopmentClick to view larger

Figure 2. Reflective process (adapted from Nardon, 2017, p. 27).

Step 1: Describe Experience: Tell the Story

The process of reflection starts by writing down a story, or a detailed description of an experience. Stories are a powerful way to make sense of experience (Weick, 1995). Through stories individuals make the unexpected expectable and therefore manageable. Stories help integrate and connect bits of experience, facts, and conjectures, organizing them into a causal order. A reflective story should be rich in details, including the location, the individuals involved, the reasons and goals of the interaction, what happened, the roles of the people involved, the outcomes, and the feelings associated with the interaction. When individuals write their stories, they can identify links and fill in information that was not available at the time the experience took place. As organizational scholar Karl Weick puts it, “Stories posit a history for an outcome. They gather strands of experience into a plot that produces an outcome” (Weick, 1995, p. 128).

For instance, a student may experience cultural differences regarding non-verbal communication and describe a situation along the lines of “During our meeting, I noticed that sometimes my colleague would look somewhere else instead of looking at me . . . I found this behavior annoying and unprofessional . . . We could not agree on how to move forward with the project.” Through the process of writing down the experience, facts and feelings are organized and become available for further scrutiny.

Step 2: Reflect on Experience: Revisit the Story

The power of stories lies in their ability to compress and frame large amounts of thoughts, events, and facts into a simple ordered sequence of events. However, stories often conceal the assumptions and beliefs that led to these connections. In the process of editing out facts and events that do not fit the story, we may hide from awareness details, assumptions, biases and interpretations that, if taken into account, would change our conclusions all together. Revisiting a story involves a dialogue with our own account, by critically reading a previously written story with a curious and open mind. In the reflective stage, individuals need to consider “What is significant in what I have written with regards to becoming more interculturally competent?” “What might I do differently in the future?”

The following questions provide a framework to reevaluate a situation:

  • Are there facts, thoughts, or details not considered in my story that could change the interpretation of the story?

  • How was I feeling, and why did I feel that way?

  • What assumptions were guiding my actions?

  • What knowledge might have influenced me?

  • What was I trying to achieve, and I did I respond effectively?

  • What were others’ feelings, and why did they feel that way?

  • How do others perceive this situation? What may have informed their perspective?

  • How might I reframe this situation to respond more effectively?

  • What were the consequences of my actions for others and myself?

  • How does this situation connect with other experiences?

  • What might have been the consequences if I had responded differently?

  • What factors might prevent me from responding in new ways?

  • How do I feel NOW about this experience?

  • What insights have I gained? What did I learn from this experience?

This reevaluation may prompt the student to explore her beliefs about eye contact (you should look at the person with whom you are talking), the way she reacted when her expectations were not met (I felt annoyed and judged the other as unprofessional), the way she responded to the situation (perhaps being aggressive or dismissive), the way her reactions contributed to how the meeting evolved (we could not agree on how to move forward). This reflection may also prompt the student to explore how others reacted to this colleague’s lack of eye contact and to her reactions to it, and consider whether this experience was similar to other experiences. At this stage, the students may have a more nuanced understanding of the situation, which may lead to important learning outcomes.

Step 3: Learn From Experience: Prepare for the Future

The process of writing and reflecting upon behavior not only helps understand what has happened in the past, but also provides guidelines for future actions. After reflecting on an event and pondering about the root causes of the behaviors and outcomes of a situation, it is important to consider the implications of this insight for the future. At this point one needs to ask two questions: “So what?” and “Now what?” In other words, what should be done differently in the future? Is this learning transferable to other contexts? Is more learning required? How can this learning help in future intercultural situations?

Here the student has an opportunity to re-construct her assumptions and beliefs about eye contact (e.g., in my culture one is expected to look others in the eyes, but that may not the case everywhere), prompting further investigation to understand if there is a cultural explanation to her colleague’s behavior. This stage also invites the individuals to consider implications for the future. For instance, the student may realize that she needs to become more comfortable talking to others when they do not behave the way she expects.

Step 4: Apply Learning: Engage in New Experiences

Reflection can help students develop skills for intercultural interaction. However, after making sense of an intercultural situation through reflection, individuals need to validate the conclusions by testing them out or by engaging in dialogue with others who may challenge their interpretations and help them identify alternative explanations and points of view. The reflective cycle is thus only completed when individuals go back into the world and apply what has been learned. This step is critical in continuous learning, as there is no guarantee that the process of reflection will lead to good or correct conclusions. It is only when the newly developed theories are tested out in the world that the reflective process is completed. At this stage the student may explore her newly developed theory by talking about assumptions around eye contact with individuals from other cultures to finesse her understanding. She may also start monitoring her emotional reactions and behaviors in situations where communication rules do not meet her expectations, becoming more aware of her assumptions around communication as she engages with people from other cultures.

The process of reflection will—most of the time—change the way one thinks about a situation. Reflection allows individuals to reconsider assumptions, develop new theories, and identify new avenues of behavior. However, there is no guarantee that these new conclusions are “right” or “good.” Reflection must be supported by continuous engagement with others and a commitment to continuous learning. In this regard, the role of classroom instructor is critical in providing feedback and coaching students in areas for future development.

Using Reflection in the Classroom

Intercultural learning is a continuous process that is highly emotional (Kitchenham, 2008; Taylor, 2001; Chang, 2007; Holmes & O’Neill, 2012). For this reason, separating the processes of writing a reflection and revisiting it is advised, as it allows for elapsed time between experience and knowledge transformation. In the descriptive stage individuals construct a narrative describing their experience. This process promotes increased awareness of situations and coping with difficult emotions. After some elapsed time, individuals revisit their narratives and benefit from further awareness of self and assessment of knowledge and behaviors, allowing the connection of the focal situation to other situations thus facilitating the consolidation of learning.

When using reflection as an assignment, it can be helpful to provide students with an intercultural experience and require two separate submissions. One immediately after the experience to capture the emotional reactions and a second assignment focused on the revisiting of the reflection a few days later. For instance, students may be provided with weekly or bi-weekly opportunities for intercultural experiences within the university or community. Depending on the makeup of the class, students may be asked to work in multicultural teams or organize intercultural activities outside the classroom. In this case, students may be asked to write their stories immediately after their experience, and revisit their stories at the end of the academic term. Throughout the term, instructors can provide students with detailed feedback, asking questions and encouraging them to deepen their reflection.

Experiences worthy of reflection do not have to involve extensive travel in exotic locations. While these experiences are worth having, they are not necessarily more useful for the development of intercultural competence than other less exotic encounters with other cultures. As interculturalist Joseph Shaules (2015, p. 23) has noted, “It’s not the distance travelled that matters; it is the depth of our experience that counts.” It is possible to provide students with meaningful and developmental intercultural experiences without traveling, by seeking out people from other cultures who have immigrated or are visiting, or by engaging with foreign cultural ideas.


This article explored the role of different approaches to cross-cultural education depending on the stages of intercultural development and proposed a reflective model to support intercultural learning. It is proposed that a separation between description of an event and revisiting the narrative facilitates emotional management and, as a consequence, increases learning. As individuals describe an experience, they create a personal story. Through this story, they integrate and connect bits of experience, facts, and conjectures, organizing them into a causal order. However, these stories conceal the assumptions and beliefs that led to these connections, which may not be apparent in a first reflective attempt but may be recognized as individuals revisit their reflections.

This article contributes to cross-cultural and intercultural education by articulating how different approaches to intercultural learning may be more appropriate to different stages of development and presenting a model of reflection to facilitate intercultural competence. This article contributes to the literature on intercultural learning by elaborating on the role of reflection in intercultural competence development. In line with extant research, this article highlighted the importance of managing feelings for intercultural competence development and the important role of revisiting narratives to uncover assumptions and beliefs used while making sense of cultural experiences.


This article draws on the author’s previous work published in Nardon, L. (2017, pp. 3–40). Reprinted with permission of the publisher.


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