Promoting mutual understanding and cultural dialogue

Theory: Understanding Intercultural communication

Intercultural training has much to do with understanding the role and the position that oneself and that other individuals play in the society. For that matter it is important to understand how culture affects several aspects of interactions and behaviors, as well as to be able to distinguish the dimensions that define cultural differences among societies or groups. Culture can be defined as:

the shared values, understandings, assumptions, and goals that are learned from earlier generations, imposed by present members of a society, and passed on to succeeding generations. This shared outlook results, in large part, in common attitudes, codes of conduct, and expectations that subconsciously guide and control certain norms of behavior” (Inun Jariya 2012: 62)[1].

After being transmitted for the descendants of a certain social group, culture will be internalized by those individuals, constituting part of the socialization process. Being multidimensional, culture is comprised of several common elements and shared values that are interdependent.

Image 2 The visible and invisible parts of culture

Understanding Intercultural communication

It is in this context of apparent mutual identity between cultural Sections that the image of the other is constructed. In simple terms, the other is the individual that has cultural differences, being considered as an external element.

Othering is the simultaneous construction of the self or in-group and the other or out-group in mutual and unequal opposition through identification of some desirable characteristic that the self/in-group has and the other/out-group lacks and/or some undesirable characteristic that the other/out-group has and the self/in-group lacks. Othering thus sets up a superior self/in-group in contrast to an inferior other/out-group, but this superiority/inferiority is nearly always left implicit[2].

By being represented through stereotypes, the existence of the other is defined as opposed to us. The other would possess characteristics that put him/her in a condition of inferiority vis-à-vis us. The process of othering arises from the fact that a culture is not perceived only in terms of its singularity and differences. It is identified as elements that could be compared, so that in the aftermath, one can judge to have a superior culture.

It is then in this sense that immigrants can be exposed to the process of othering at the host societies, because:

To immigrate is to immigrate with its history, with its traditions, its ways of living, of feeling, of acting and of thinking, with its language, its religion as well as with all the other social, political, mental structures of the society, the first being only the incorporation of the seconds, in short with its culture (Sayad 2014: 19)

Because one does not migrate “unpunished” (Sayad 2014: 19), one will always carry its own culture when crossing borders, and, by arriving at the host country, both cultures – from the migrant, as well as from the host community – will be in contact. What we witness today in several European countries is the fear of migrants and their cultures, in a clear movement of othering. With this fear comes often the discourse that those migrants have several aspects of their culture that differ from our culture, endangering the sole existence of our culture if many more migrants arrive.

In order to combat this irrational fear, it is essential to create empathy, by getting to know and making an effort to understand the culture of the other.