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Intercultural competencies: narrative, myths, and reality

VU International News and Reviews No. 17 November 11 2013

November 2013


As shown i.a. at the VU International Day on October 29th, there is broad agreement that the  development of intercultural competencies a key objective of internationalisation:
VU Alumni need intercultural competencies to live and work in the globalised network society: in the Netherlands as well as abroad; in academic as well as professional careers.


Contrary to implicit assumptions, simply teaching degree programmes – or minors –in English in an international classroom will not bring about intercultural competency development per se.

Similarly, a study abroad (or internship abroad) experience doesn’t automatically increase intercultural competence or sensitivity.
Research is still inconclusive, but tends to indicate no statically significant increase in these competencies for study abroad programmes which lack proper pre-departure and post-departure briefing/counselling. Anecdotal evidence of the life changing experience of unsupported study abroad schemes is exactly that: anecdotal.


Yes, most academics agree that lawyers, businessmen, psychologists, physicians and other university trained professionals need intercultural competence. But most academics – and many university leaders – feel that such a personal development goal is not the responsibility of the faculty. Faculty need to focus on subject/discipline related knowledge and skills. Thus, degree programmes allow for little or no space for development of these intercultural competencies, regardless of the wide agreement on the narrative.

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