Intercultural competences

Utrecht University has clearly embraced internationalisation: not only to enhance employability skills and provide opportunities to develop global citizenship for students, but also to increase the diversity of the academic community.

A quick calculation shows that the Strategic plan 2016-2020 mentions the word international/internationally 35 times and the word diversity seems a golden thread through-out the different sections of the report. The Strategic plan states that “In order to create a more diverse community, we will invest in intercultural skills for staff and students”. But what are intercultural skills and how can these be developed?

Intercultural competences is about attitudes, knowledge and skills

Intercultural skills are often called Intercultural competencies (ICCs). A nice definition of what these competencies involve is provided in a publication by The Higher Education Academy (Intercultural Competencies, 2013, p.3): “Intercultural competencies are those attitudes, knowledge and skills that comprise a person's ability to get along with, work and learn with people from diverse cultures”.  A well-renowned researcher is this field is Darla Deardorff.

Framework for developing Intercultural competencies

Deardorff developed a framework for developing ICCS. According to this framework the development of ICCs starts with a persons’ attitudes: respect, openness, curiosity and discovery. This also implies a willingness to move beyond one’s comfort zone. The attitudes form the foundation for the further development of knowledge and skills.

Knowledge firstly starts with the realisation of how your own culture has influenced your own identity and your norms and values as a person. Besides this reflection, cultural-specific knowledge, being able to understand someone else’s world view and socio-linguistic awareness determine the extent to which a person can be culturally sensitive. The skills address the acquisition and processing of knowledge: observation, listening, evaluating, analysing, interpreting, and relating. According to Deardorff you are never finished with developing ICCs as you will constantly learn new things, adjust and adapt to new circumstances and situations.

Put developing ICCs in practice

This may sound fine in theory but how can you put developing your own ICCs into practice? In the course Teaching in the International Classroom we ask teachers to make a mind map of all the resources they already have available in their direct environment. You often have more access to information about different cultures than you would think at first. This could be information from your social or professional network, your friends, family or other contacts or your intercultural experiences at conferences or whilst travelling abroad.

Information can also be gained from books, literature, documentaries or organisations like Nuffic. Meeting people from other cultures and exchanging information can be very inspiring and another opportunity to gain more information. International Meetup groups offer a nice way to spend your time and meet people from other cultures, for example Expats in Utrecht.

Alternatively you can perhaps volunteer to organise some trips for the International Neighbour Group of the UU, a group that offers social activities for international staff, Ph.D. students and Master's students at Utrecht University, the Utrecht Medical Centre and related research institutions!


Educational Consultancy & Professional Development offers the courses 'Teaching in the international classroom', 'Intercultural Competences: dealing with cultural perspectives in education', and 'English Pronunciation' for teachers who are interested in the intercultural, language-related and didactic implications of teaching in the international classroom. These courses will provide you with practical tools for teaching in an international context.

Written by: Nathalie Veenendaal (former employee Educational Consultancy & Professional Development)
Published: April 2018