Zhanna Korotkikh

Training For Effective Intercultural Communication

    Globalization creates a world in which an increasing number of people are moving between countries for overseas work or studies. A major challenge that expatriate workers and international students face is how to function successfully in a new cultural environment, in a country with different values, sociocultural rules and norms of behavior.
    A survey of contemporary research reveals that success or effectiveness in intercultural interaction depends to a large extent on the degree of intercultural competence a person possesses. To function effectively in intercultural context one must have sufficient skills and knowledge to accomplish his job, must be able to adjust properly in a new culture or multicultural environment, and be able to establish interpersonal relations with co-workers and within the culturally differing community. Thus, intercultural competence helps not only to survive but achieve success in an increasingly interdependent global society.
    Intercultural communication competence is a complex notion and may be viewed as comprising three interrelated components: 1) intercultural sensitivity (affective aspect, which refers to the development of a readiness to understand and appreciate cultural differences in intercultural communication); 2) intercultural awareness (cognitive aspect that refers to the understanding of cultural conventions that affect thinking and behavior); 3) intercultural adroitness (behavioral aspect that stresses these skills that are needed to act effectively in intercultural interactions) (Chen & Starosta, 2003 : 344).
    The understanding of the importance of intercultural competence has lead to the development of numerous intercultural training programs all over the world. Russia was not an exception, and during the last decade we have witnessed attempts aimed at developing new courses and training programs that tried to address three variables that most likely contribute to intercultural effective outcomes: task performance, ability to adapt to new cultures, and ability to establish healthy interpersonal relations. Many programs are interdisciplinary in nature and are based on various intercultural training models: cognitive (intellectual, classroom) model, self-awareness and cultural awareness models, simulation model, and interactional model.
    The cognitive (intellectual, classroom) training promotes understanding of cultural differences and similarities. It helps participants to get more information about a culture. This model is most commonly used by Russian educators in various intercultural training programs. As the emphasis is laid on cognitive understanding of customs, values, people, geography, and habits of a specific culture, the normally applied methods of teaching are lectures, films, readings, and different kinds of presentations.
    This model, however, has its limitations. It only teaches participants "what to learn" but not "how to learn", teaches them to gain knowledge of a culture without knowing how to perform and adapt behaviorally to it (Chen & Starosta, 1998 : 263). This model cannot guarantee success at living or working in a new culture.
    The self-awareness training helps participants identify attitudes, opinions and biases embeded in their own culture that influence the way they communicate. The emphasis in this model is laid on understanding oneself as a cultural being. Working in groups the participants learn how their own behaviors influence others and what psychological forces operate in groups.
    The limitation of this model is its ethnocentric orientation. Although self-awareness is important for being effective in intercultural communication, its focus on the internalized processes of an individual cannot adequately teach participants about factors involved in cultural interaction (Chen & Starosta, 1998 : 265).
    The cultural awareness training requires participants to understand the aspects of culture that are universal and specific. It assumes that in order to successfully interact with people from other cultures we have to understand our own and others" cultural norms, customs and social systems. The cultural awareness model aims to teach participants to overcome ethnocentrism, to help them understand that our own cultural identity is only one possibility among numerous others. This training model is very popular among Russian educators as it is built on a strong theoretical base. Another strong point of this model is that the participants can reach not only intellectual understanding but also an affective tolerance of cultural differences in the process of intercultural communication (Bennett, 1986).
    This training model also has its limitations. First, it may be difficult for the trainees to apply general knowledge in dealing with a specific cultural task; second, in comparing their own culture to others the participants may neglect similarities and exaggerate differences; third, to become thouroughly aware of one's own culture as the base for understanding others is a complex process and may take a long time.
    The simulation training focuses on the affective and experiential processes of training participants by involving them in an environment that closely resembles a specific culture. (Chen & Starosta, 1998 : 264). The basic assumption of this model is that it is very important for trainees to gain a personal experience in living in a place resembling the host culture, to develop a set of new behaviors and attitudes that will enable them to better adjust to the foreign culture. The main advantage of this model is a strong focus on the participant rather than on the trainer. It is a trial-and-error process, through which participants acquire intercultural communiaction skills.
    However, the simulation model is not widely used in Russia for several reasons. First, it is difficult to simulate overseas environment; second, it is impossible to gain extensive cultural knowledge through personal experience in a limited time. Commonly, if possible, the simulation model is used as a complementary part of the classroom (cognitive) model.
    The interactional training presupposes face-to-face interaction with the host/foreign nationals. Through the experiential learning process participants are supposed to figure out the value systems and appropriate behavioral patterns of the host culture. The model is commonly applied to the intercultural workshop programs held on college campuses. As any other model, interactional model also has its advantages and disadvantages.
    Many scholars and trainers argue that applying a single model of intercultural training may not sufficiently prepare participants to function properly and effectively in a new cultural environment (Chen & Starosta, 1998 : 267). Better results may be achieved through a combination of several training models. For example, the pre-program orientation sessions organized by the American Councils for International Education: ACTR/ACCELS for JFDP fellows show that an integrated approach incorporating two or more models into the training program can maximize and maintain the desired results. Moreover, a more effective outcome may be achieved by devising specific training techniques: case studies, critical-incident case studies based on real-life experience of the learners, cultural assimilators, simulations, role playing, team projects, experiential learning, etc.
    In sum, an effective intercultural training can increase the learner's capacity for intercultural awareness, intercultural sensitivity, and intercultural competence, thus enabling him or her to function effectively in intercultural context.