What does ‘Intercultural Understanding’ actually mean?

With the on-going feedback of the UBC community, we have recently updated the working definition of intercultural understanding to make it clearer for those who are new to the concept:

Intercultural understanding refers to the profound sociocultural difference understood by individuals or by groups that reflect

(1.) social positions and statuses (including, but not limited to ethnicity, race, religion, age, gender identity and expression, physical or mental disability, sexual orientation, socio-economic class, immigration as well as academic, employment or professional status);

(2.) the cultural histories, creative practices and faith perspectives of various social groups; and

(3.) the dynamic power relations that shape the interactions between dominant and non-dominant cultures, including the undercurrents of difference found within these interrelations.

As summarized in the following:

An understanding of the social positions, practices and power relations of sociocultural difference understood by individuals or groups within a society.

Having intercultural understanding implies having the appropriate aptitudes needed to appreciate, and be open and flexible to various forms of social and cultural diversity.
This includes an acute sense of self-awareness, or “the ability to be aware of those values, attitudes, and assumptions” that inform one’s perspectives and behaviours; some degree of cultural knowledge in a variety of cultural environments; the capacity to communicate across cultural difference; and the ability to cultivate meaningful social relationships across culturally different groups.

This combination of awareness, attitudes and interpersonal capacity (cultural knowledge, intercultural communication skills and relationship building skills) is what we are referring to as having “intercultural fluency.”

As academic cultures remain the most dominant form of culture in a university, interdisciplinarity also requires intercultural understanding across disciplines.


Adapted from the definition used by Penn State, University Faculty Senate Curriculum Resources, Glossary: http://www.psu.edu/ufs/curriculum_resources/guide/glossary.html (Dec 2011).

Pope, R. L., Reynolds, A. L., & Mueller, J. A. (2004). Multicultural competence in student affairs. (pp. 15). San Francisco: Jossey- Bass.

3 thoughts on “What does ‘Intercultural Understanding’ actually mean?

  1. Please, let me know any ‘cultural diversity’ programs, couses, and institutes or centres for undergraduate students at UBC. Thank you for your concern.

  2. I am taking an IB online course. I have to search definitions outside IB for global engagement, intercultural understanding, and multilingualism.
    Thank You!


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