Global Initiatives

Intercultural Competence Toolkit

Wondering how to engage students of vastly different economic, social, racial, and cultural backgrounds in the classroom? Interested in becoming more skilled at communicating across cultures? This collaborative webpage offers activity ideas and resources to develop intercultural competence.

To get started, check out this visual representation of differences between German and Chinese cultures. Source:

What is Intercultural Competence?

A set of cognitive, affective and behavioral skills and characteristics that support effective and appropriate interaction in a variety of cultural contexts*.

Cognitive Affective Behavioral
Cultural self-awareness Curiosity Relationship building
Culture-general knowledge Cognitive flexibility Listening, problem solving
Culture-specific knowledge Motivation Empathy
Interaction analysis Open mindedness Information gathering

Cultural Iceberg

Like an iceberg, only a fraction of culture is visible, manifested through customs, language, physical appearance. The majority of culture is hidden from view and expressed implicitly, through deep-held values and preferences.

The iceberg analogy was first proposed by Edward T. Hall in his 1976 book, Beyond Culture.



Activities and Strategies to Develop Intercultural Competence

Cultural Awareness Self-Assessment

To begin to assess your cultural self-awareness, ask yourself several questions**:

  • What are some of my core beliefs and how have they been culturally influenced?
  • How would I describe my worldview?
  • How would I describe some of the students’ worldviews?
  • How might these differ from the ways in which I see the world?
  • How much do I know about my students’ cultural backgrounds?
  • What information am I missing and how can I get that information?
  • How can I incorporate my students’ worldviews into my course materials?
  • What worldviews are demonstrated through the course materials I currently use?
  • How can I enhance those materials so that other worldviews are represented?

Activity: Mapping Your Cultural Orientation

This simple activity is a great way to engage participants in a conversation about cultural values and appreciate how these relate to others. It can be done as an individual, written reflection, or be “acted out” by participants lining up along imaginary continuums.

Increasing Classroom Engagement with Culturally Diverse Students

While mainstream American culture prizes individual accomplishments and promotes an egalitarian treatment of others, individuals from many other cultures find it highly awkward to be singled out in front of a group or call their superior by his/her first name.

Try these specific strategies:

  1. Set the expectation, via your syllabus and modeling in front of students, that sharing their cultural perspectives enhances everyone’s learning.
  2. Vary forms of classroom participation, including working in dyads, small groups, and reporting out to large group, using writing, speaking, kinesthetic learning (if appropriate).
  3. Walk around the room to engage with students or student groups on a more individual basis.
  4. Require students (or give them specific incentives) to sign up for office hours during the first 2-3 weeks

Working with Non-Native Speakers of English

Resources compiled by Young-Kyung Min, PhD, Lecturer in the UW Bothell Education Program, highlight culturally diverse approaches to writing, organizing ideas, and issues such as plagiarism. They are intended to help instructors better understand the non-native speakers of English in their classrooms and provide tools to address their specific needs.


  • Developing Intercultural Competence for International Education Faculty and Staff
    Bennett, Janet, PhD. 2011. AIEA Conference Workshop.
    Also found in: Bennett, Janet. 2008. Transformative training: Designing programs for cultural learning in Contemporary leadership and intercultural competence: Understanding and utilizing cultural diversity to build successful organizations, ed. M.A. Moodian, 95-110. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

If you have resources that you would like to see added to this toolkit, please send to: Natalia Dyba, Director of Global Initiatives