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What is intercultural competence and why is it important?

intercultural competence
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When was the last time you made a foreign acquaintance feel at home, and we’re not necessarily referring to trying to make him or her a citizen, but to genuinely getting to know who he or she is and giving him or her the space to be free to do so.
Find out in this article what intercultural competence is and why it is important by reading us to the end.

What is intercultural competence?

Intercultural competence refers to the ability we have to communicate with people from different countries, describing the interaction between two or more individuals where none is in a superior link to the other, which favors harmonious coexistence between the people involved.

In many cases intercultural communication is carried out with the intention of improving the social adaptation of many people. It has been evidenced how it represents an increase in professional suitability and, especially, in psychological health, since in some cases these are things that are left in the background.

Intercultural competence has the capacity to generate a sense of well-being and security for those who make the decision to experience it. It is an internal transformation produced when skills are acquired in a new cultural environment with the intention of feeling good and being welcomed by others.

In today’s globalized world, one would think that intercultural competence is everywhere, when the truth is that not many people have it.

This makes it increasingly important to highlight its importance and how to reach this standard.

Why is it important to be interculturally competent?

We live in an interconnected world, so the importance of being interculturally competent is becoming more and more threatening to those people who seem to ignore everything that does not necessarily resemble who they are.

And this is a mistake that can no longer be made.

We know feelings

A brief example is when we know a foreign language, those people who really study it from respect and the desire to learn not only realize that they are learning how intercultural communication works with other people, but how to do it correctly.

For example, there may be certain expressions that don’t mean much to you, but when you say them to other people they can carry enormous weight.

When we understand the language and expressions of others we realize how important it is to have the knowledge skills of intercultural interactions because we understand their feelings and how they approach the same words that to some would not make any difference, but do not always have to mean the same thing.

We create a better coexistence

For example, there are cultures where dress is important and perhaps in others it would not be taken as the most appropriate for some circumstances, as in the case of going to work, for example. And this is something that can bring a lot of problems.

When we understand the culture of others, and not only accept their way of dressing, but also their way of thinking and respect their point of view, no matter how different it may be from ours, we will be making coexistence better. Respect and tolerance is the key to learn, take the positive and give space to what we feel that does not contribute to us.

We send the right message

Today to improve intercultural competence seems more like a statement of acceptance and inclusion. Although it may not seem like it, there are many people who, because of their culture or beliefs, feel inhibited from making great strides.

There are many people who, in some way, feel embarrassed to be who they are because of prejudice.

When we have the ability to understand other cultures, respect them and accept them, we open the way for those who are next to us to do the same, and in this way we lose the stigma towards certain people.

We can elevate our habits

It is no secret that some cultures have much more functional habits than others.

And when we have enough respect to learn them and apply them in our lives then we realize that we have improved the quality of life that we had before with practices that we did not get used to growing up.

For example, many companies are those that are inspired by the professional behavior of other cultures to add them to their values and thus make their work much more optimal.

And there are even many intercultural development programs to strengthen this very point. 

How to develop intercultural competence?

Now that you know what it is and why it is important we will show you how to develop intercultural competence with four points that, if you apply them, will allow you to see the world, and those who inhabit it, in a different way, gaining the opportunity to learn from all that is different:

Learning a new language

Learning a new language fast is always on the list of things to do for those people who want to improve professionally (English, for example, is in great demand in companies nowadays), or who are fans of a culture and find it interesting to learn a little about it by knowing the language spoken.

Either way, you have the opportunity of building intercultural competence. Let’s remember that culture is not only what we see or do, it is also what we say. And when we learn a new language we should not only get to the basic conversations, but also to the roots of the language.

For example, ask yourself what the common sayings are, or how they usually refer to certain things. Find out if they have sayings that refer to specific topics in their culture, or if there are unique words or combinations. Ask yourself why they express themselves that way, and why it hasn’t been a different way.

Traveling to other countries

Many people decide to travel to other countries because of the typical, and when we think of vacations, the most emblematic places in the world come to mind, such as the Eiffel Tower, for example, or the Colosseum in Rome, when there is so much more to see.

If you have the opportunity to visit a country, take the opportunity to increase your intercultural interactions.

Research those places that are a reference for their culture and visit them, talk to someone who lives there, experience crafts, handicrafts, typical songs, classic clothing, the lifestyle that those people lead.

And, in case you are going to iconic places that are a classic among tourists, investigate the real history of those places.

Appreciate them from a historical point of view, not just a visual one.

Know what had to happen, and why it happened that way, for you to be there that day. 

The experience abroad will enrich and help in your intercultural development.

Living with foreigners

Many people refuse to live with foreigners, and it is precisely because some cultures are so different from the one we grew up with that when we are not empathetic, or tolerant, we may want to repel these people and stay in what is safe, with what we know, and this is a serious mistake.

One of the most important points about how to develop intercultural competence has to do not only with what we can read or be told, but with what we can experience.

And sometimes going to a place is not enough, we have to live with people from that place to go into the depths of intercultural interactions.

It is enough to observe a foreigner closely for a week to realize that he will do things differently from you, he will see things from another point of view, and perhaps his way of reacting to certain things will also be different, and that is what is enriching in the matter.

Tolerance and respect for cultural differences

This is a point that, if you want, can be mixed with the previous one.

And it is when we allow all those differences to come to us from tolerance and respect that we will be truly learning about a culture based on another person.

You can’t expect to know how to develop intercultural competence if you don’t have tolerance or respect for the lives of others. It is that even when there is something that you feel goes against your principles, values, or culture, you must be mature enough to accept it and understand that it is someone else’s way of being. 

Many people study other cultures with the intention of being able to take the best from them, and that is a completely good thing. There is always something we can take from others and apply it in our life to improve it, but we must understand that it doesn’t always have to be that way.

Sometimes we just have to observe and study to understand, which is part of important knowledge skills in intercultural communication..

When we are not necessarily going to apply a belief or behavior in our day to day life it is enough that we understand it, respect it and give it its space.

No one is going to like to be judged or condemned for who they learned to be. 

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