Travel Handbook

Intercultural competence

International experiences are opportunities to grow in more than just your academic capacity. Traveling abroad offers you the unique opportunity to develop intercultural competence and the skills required to successfully and appropriately interact with people from other cultures. Gaining intercultural knowledge and skills can help you solve everyday problems more easily and develop a deeper understanding and appreciation for the world around you.

Here are a few ways you can begin to develop intercultural competence abroad:

  • Be aware of your own cultural orientation and how it affects your experience of and behavior in your new surroundings. 
  • Pay attention to the people in your host city, and try to recognize how their cultures impact their behaviors, communication styles and reactions.
  • As you get to know people in your new environment, ask them about behaviors and language that are appropriate in various situations.
  • Keep a journal of experiences or interactions with locals, and of your own observations.

Meeting locals

You will meet many types of people in your travels who have different opinions, attitudes and habits. The more you interact with them, the better chance you’ll have of forming relationships and understanding the culture. During these interactions, use common sense, intelligence, grace and a sense of objectivity. Be prepared to discuss your views freely and honestly, and try to listen with an open mind. It is easy to get offended; resist the urge.

You may arrive in-country with some preconceptions about the locals, and may find out that some of them also have preconceptions about you. Try to put aside stereotypes and evaluate situations based on real experiences. If you are confronted with what you feel is a false stereotype about the United States, be frank and truthful, yet tactful in your response. Remember that you are an ambassador for the United States and for IU.

Avoid refuting arguments with mean-spirited comparisons. This type of response will only create bad feelings. A positive and serious response from you will help dispel myths about your country. If the conversation takes a turn into a heated argument, courteously end the conversation and walk away.


Contact Eliza Erxleben, director of student services.