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Intercultural Communication

In: Business and Management

Submitted By poodleface
Words 750
Pages 3
1. Introduction

In 2001 a group of eight faculty members from four American universities entered into a partnership with the goal of finding ways to better prepare American business students for intercultural communication in the global economy. This consortium was formed and funded on the assumption1 that business students, while receiving excellent training in the business component of international business, are woefully under-prepared for face to face communication with members of other cultures, and thus could potentially compromise American ventures abroad. The group, calling itself the Alliance for the Promotion for Cross-cultural Skills for Business Students, was financed by the Fund for the Improvement of Post-secondary Education (FIPSE) and was charged with the creation of programs requiring business student participation in study abroad programs and in innovative intercultural communication curricula setup precisely for this target group.

In their effort to create this cross-cultural skills curricula for business students, Alliance members initially faced three tasks: defining the problem in theoretical rather than anecdotal terms; developing a set of pedagogical practices grounded in that theoretical framework, and which could be deployed in the study abroad context; and gathering empirical data in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the practices. The decision to use the study abroad experience as a primary vehicle for teaching intercultural communication was also based on a widely held assumption: "one of the most frequently articulated assumptions of study abroad programs is that study in a foreign country for an extended period of time will bring about enhanced levels of international understanding and concern." (Carlson and Widamen, 2) However, as Carlson and Widamen note, there is little empirical evidence supporting this assumption. The lack of empirical evidence is due, at least in part, to the difficulty in defining and assessing the goals of study abroad programs. A number of constructs have been deployed in an attempt to conceptualize these goals: "worldmindedness" (Samson and Smith,1957); "globalcentrism" (McCabe, 1994); "global understanding" (Kitsantas, 2004); "global competence" (Sindt and Pachmayer, 2007) to name a few. A unified conceptualization of study abroad goals remains elusive. Assessment within these various frameworks is problematic as well because it has relied on student selfassessment, usually after the study abroad experience has been completed.

Alliance team members turned to the field of intercultural communication for answers to problems of conceptualizing study abroad goals and defining intercultural communicative competence. While a growing body of knowledge, both theoretical and practical, in intercultural communication exists, its integration in foreign language and international business curricula has been minimal.

Milton Bennett's (1993) "Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity" (the DMIS) was adopted as the theoretical paradigm for cross-cultural skills for a number of reasons relevant to our needs. First, the DMIS elaborates a theory of stages through which individuals pass as they develop intercultural competence. Second, these stages can be readily identified by a psychometric instrument which Bennett and Mitchell Hammer have developed for that purpose. The "Intercultural Development Inventory" or "IDI" is a scientifically valid, theorybased, psychometric instrument which consists of fifty statements about culture and cultural difference.2 Respondents indicate, on a scale of one to five, to what extent they agree or disagree with each statement. When the results are entered, a computer program produces a graph showing which stage the individual is in. The development of this instrument is particularly fortunate because it eliminates concerns around student self-assessment. Students are not asked if they have made progress. Rather a psychometric instrument reveals if their psychological state with respect to cultural difference has changed. Another advantage is that because this instrument measures intercultural competence and identifies that measure with a developmental stage, Alliance members could create a curriculum uniquely tailored to the needs of students. This curriculum consisted of an independent study course to be taken by students while abroad. A post-test was given to students upon their return in order to evaluate the effectiveness of the program. The following pages provide an overview of Bennett's theoretical model, summarize initial IDI test results of the business students of participating universities, describe the independent study course developed by the Alliance, and provide the final IDI test results. The implementation of the independent study course and the IDI test results summarized here constitute a pilot study. The main objective here is to generate awareness of the problem and to spark discussion and debate. More extensive training and testing will be required in order to more reliably assess the strengths and weaknesses of the program.

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