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Monday, April 15, 2024

Intercultural principles: A closer look

By Maxine Russell

Special to CSMS Magazine

“Intercultural communication principles guide the process of exchanging meaningful and unambiguous information across cultural boundaries, in a way that preserves mutual respect and minimizes antagonism” ( Bovee, 2003). From this statement we can conclude that being intercultural means being able to adapt to the beliefs, tendencies, values and norms of another culture. It is not a surrender of ones own culture but an integration of cultures. Individuals must bear in mind that embracing a new culture does not mean “throwing away” or “ being disloyal” to their original cultural heritage but allowing it to be tested, which will result in cultural maturity and enrichment. People from different cultures interpret messages differently and this sometimes increases the chances of conflict through misunderstandings. Therefore an integration of self and other cultural orientation will cause one to become intercultural. Hofstede’s taxonomy presents five levels of intercultural relationships. He speaks about choosing between individualism and collectivism, avoiding situations where there are uncertainties, finding a balance between power and status, masculinity versus femininity and the direction of time.  He indicates that the choice made along this taxonomy will determine how intercultural an individual becomes.

            There are conflicts faced by individuals caught between two cultures. As Tadasu  “Todd” Imahori and Keturah A Dunne discuss their life as they are caught between two cultures Tadasu tried to become familiar with the beliefs, values and practices of both cultures, but he was seen as an “other” in some cases. As they tried to fit in with one culture they were faced with many conflicts. When he acted American his Japanese appearance presented a conflict and as he presented himself as Japanese, the Japanese were puzzled about is ability to act American.

To be intercultural means not staying within cultural boundaries but pushing the limits and adapting to another culture. As one continues to experience and communicate with individuals of different cultures and background, this will bring about a change in the individuals way of thinking which will result in one becoming intercultural.

            Immigrant students are sometimes stressed as they are caught between two cultures, trying to identify with the dominant culture they have an identity shift which creates discomfort. They have to be able to move across cultures, for having multiple identities will allow them to become a facilitator of change. As the student hope to communicate appropriately and effectively across cultures, he will have a desire to fit in. The culture of home is in most cases the culture taught to the individual from birth. This is where one is in his comfort zone. Students then have to learn to switch roles as they go out into society and be faced with a civilization where the dominant culture is the mainstream. This student now has to become intercultural, speaking the language of the day and displaying the appropriate behavior as accepted by the dominant culture. Relating to the culture of the neighborhood and school in which they live means that they have to follow the rules of that dominant culture, trying not to deviate from the norm. They must know how to perceive and adapt to change, avoiding ambiguity and knowing when to take risks. It is incumbent upon immigrant students to strike a balance between showing concern for themselves and concern for others, so they are accepted and not ostracized.

Three main components influence culture

Culture is influenced by three main components namely, the family, The State or community and religion. This helps to shape the facets of ones cultural experience. Of these three, religious views shape our ideas about reality. This worldview is the basic foundation of all issues centered on nature and reality. Worldview is therefore culture’s orientation toward God. This view can be manifested in one’s behavior, codes of ethics as well as in the business arena. Samovar et al. (2007), states that “the foundation of nature’s culture and most important determinant of social and business conduct are the religious and philosophical beliefs of a people (p. 74). Everyone seeks to identify with some form of religion. Homland points out that, “we know of no group of people anywhere on the face of the earth, who at anytime over the past 10,000 years have been without religion.” Religion helps to explain the human existence of a culture, life and death, nature and the creation of the universe. It therefore dictates the values of a particular cultural group.

            As we study intercultural behaviors, religion becomes very important as it dictates how far one would go to integrate or adapt to another culture. Immigrant students, cross boundaries, are also in the confines of their religion. McGuire suggests that, “religion is one of the most powerful, deeply felt and influential forces in human society. It has shaped people’s relationships with each other, influencing family, community, economic and political life.” Although there are similarities in all religious groups as they are all born out of some event with a founder or founders at the forefront, there are many disparities that differentiate one religious group from the rest. There are six main religious traditions that have different origins, leaders, traditions, rituals, ethics, way of worship, emphasis on individualism, distribution of power and balance between genders. These are the differences that are displayed in the behavior patterns of their followers.

            Since both mainstream and immigrant communities in public schools consist of many faiths, not just the dominant one in the United States which is Christianity, an understanding of the religious aspects of a particular co-culture’s lifestyle will help teachers to better communicate with multiethnic students. We must understand religious beliefs are embedded in the very core of one’s character and although the students will attempt to cross cultures there are some things most will not do to fit in and this applies to their religion. Whether or not these students are practicing their religion, the values of said religion are the guidelines to their decision making. If a student’s religion sees women as second class, then that student will display this attitude towards his female classmates. It is therefore essential for immigrant students to familiarize themselves with the many faiths and traditions presented in their classroom and community. This will be an avenue that leads to a greater understanding of each student’s personality, actions and values.

            Each religious tradition—whether Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism or Confucianism—has certain truths that are held dear within itself. There are certain practices and norms that apply to every individual religion. They have their own literature that is accepted as the written word or guide to their existence. Only with an understanding of the culture of each religion that one can accept the complexities of communicating with immigrant students of different faiths. These students can only become intercultural within the confines of their religious beliefs. Their dress, diet and even their daily actions are directed by their values, and thus these students sometimes face discrimination, teasing and stereotyping due to these factors. It is incumbent upon teachers to help students of the dominant culture to appreciate the differences in religious beliefs of the co-culture. This can only be done through education.


Samovar, L., Porter, R., and Mc Daniel, E. (2007).  Communication Between Cultures. (6th ed.). Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadswoth Publishing Co.

Lustig, M. and Koester, J. (2006). Among US: Essay on Identity, Belonging, Intercultural Competence. (2nd ed.). New York, New York: Pearson Education

Bovee, C. L (2003). Business Communication Today. (7th ed.) New York, New York: Pearson Education           

Note: Maxine Russell is an education major at Nova Southeastern University.

Also see Creating culture diversity

Make our society a better place

What we need to teach our ESOL students about Nonverbal communication

Indian Culture: Vibrant and thought-provoking

Role of alternative languages in our society

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