Mika Launikari


A few thoughts on intercultural interaction

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Human interaction (www.norden.org)

Among academics and scholars there is currently a critical discourse going on about what is meant by concepts such as intercultural, multicultural, cross-cultural or even international and global-minded. These terms are being strongly debated and some experts in the fields of interculturalism and multicultural education have started questioning the essence of them. Do they mean anything anymore? Does each one of them mean different things or are some of them to be regarded as synonyms? Or have they simply become old and obsolete in the sense that they do not manage to reflect and describe today’s world well enough anymore?

Or is the problem rather that there is such a plethora of different context-bound definitions of these concepts and that we actually lack a one-for-all definition that could be applied universally to practically everything? Or should we simply take it as a fact that our societies have become so international, multicultural and global-oriented by now that these dimensions are actually such an integral part of our everyday life already that therefore there is no need to put a special emphasis on them anymore? Have we not almost all become hybrids by now; hybrids who have blended and merged diverse cultural influences from all over the world into our daily existence?

Sometimes the terms international, multicultural, intercultural, etc. seem to be empty and not meaning anything real. The emptiness can be demonstrated, if we have a look at how educational institutions usually promote themselves these days, for example, by stating: “For our home and foreign students we offer an internationally spirited curriculum and a truly multicultural learning environment”. What does that mean? What if we get a little provocative and say in a science-fiction style as follows: ”For our interstellar students we offer a wonderfully cross-planetary curriculum and a truly intergalactic learning environment.” Hmm … is there any proper content or serious meaning behind such promotional phrases?

Anyway, inter-national and inter-cultural refer to exchanges and interaction between nations and cultures, although the real interactions always take place between individual human beings no matter which country they originate or which walk of life they come from. Nations and cultures do not interact on their own as we well know. Rather we should put the focus on better understanding human-to-human interaction that – as much as possible – should build upon similarities across people instead of pointing out how different we may be from one another. This still means of course that different values, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours between humans are to be honoured as long as they do not threaten or insult anybody.

Photo: www.norden.org