Overcoming 'cultural' barriers in a non-confrontational way
15 Mar 2022 - 11:00
Source: Canva

Luca de Cicco participated in the course on Intercultural Communication at Clingendael. We are curious to find out how he has been able to put his newly acquired knowledge into practice.


luca description


Can you tell us something about your tasks at the organisation?

During the course, I was employed in Italy as Project Support Officer at the Scuola Superiore Sant’Anna of Pisa, specifically in the sector of learning and training for adults. I tutored and coordinated many different courses, often HEAT (Hostile Environment Awareness Training) courses that are addressed to specific groups and EU institutions. My tasks ranged from administrative tasks, developing the content and structure, to programming and analysis of data.

What were challenges for you regarding intercultural communication?

I have observed how approaches to courses can differ based on different cultural backgrounds. How can courses be organised, but also how you can give feedback to participants. Being aware of intercultural differences can help one be more aware of specific culture-related factors when elaborating data and evaluating a specific course. It also helps managing the class and dealing with a diverse group with different national or organisational cultures. It also points out how to re-orient and re-adjust specific training activities in the future.

What triggered you to look for a course on this topic?

Intercultural awareness is a core element in security trainings, which are addressed to EU staff deployed to high-risk countries across the globe. The lack of this awareness may pose severe risks to the person and have a negative impact on their life. I looked at the course at Clingendael as an opportunity to see as a trainee and as a project officer how this topic can be handled and eventually presented within a broader training strategy at Scuola Sant’Anna.

What did you take away from the course in terms of personal development?

My main take away is that culture is a complex multidimensional concept which has strong links to reality, and so is intercultural communication. However, it is something that can be spoken of and taught in a more uniform way relying on a well-codified theoretical basis. These bases are the foundation of a theoretical as well as a practical framework to relate to in order to deliver structured modules on intercultural communication. During the training, I also observed how one can translate something very theoretical into practical examples or exercises.

What are the most important lessons learned from the course?

I think that the most challenging aspect of intercultural communication is self-awareness. Sometimes this concept can be little confusing as it is not clear where and what the starting point of intercultural communication is. If I want to understand someone else and someone’s culture, I have to understand myself and my specific culture in order to avoid misunderstanding and pitfalls. Based on my experience, what I took away with me has been the importance of  understanding and looking into oneself in order to develop specific methods of observation and using them to observe and understand someone else – having a different cultural background and a specific personal story. Another fundamental element we explored during the training was the question “what is and what is not culture?”.

Another fundamental element we explored during the training was the question “what is and what is not culture?”

The course helped me find the best way to balance out these two aspects to understand – to understand a person from a wider perspective which – not only – includes their cultural environment.

How do you use your new skills in your day to day work? 

Something that I did right after the training was to share part of the lessons learnt with my colleagues in light of some new theoretical framework to understand pitfalls and identify prejudices. I had definitely found new inspiration thanks to the course programme at Clingendael.

Was there a specific moment in the course that you still remember vividly? A theory, example, explanation, video, exercise.

I really valued the fluidity of the communication flow among the participants throughout the training. I think the trainers were very good at creating a friendly and thriving atmosphere which allowed everybody to contribute to the course by sharing things from their specific background, expectations and perspectives. I already had some background and practical examples of intercultural awareness because of my work experience in the migration field, so I was more into finding new, updated theoretical approaches to the topic. I really enjoyed the group exercises because they gave us the chance to get to know each other better and to discuss specific topics in depth.

I especially remember the exercise ‘In Despair’ where we were asked to rank the characters of a complex story based on their behaviours.  We really struggled to negotiate our own perspectives and values in order to find a way out of a situation like that - Who is better than whom and based on what? It was very useful because it showed how the same things are perceived so differently by different people and how values are very subjective and influenced by culture.

In the Intercultural InterVision exercise, the topic of gender emerged and we had a very interesting discussion on a specific event that happened to one of our colleagues. The whole story was about different ways of understanding gender sensitivity between people of different backgrounds and nationality during a mission abroad. The main conclusion was that mutual understanding springs from self-awareness and active listening. In order to make changes, we firstly need to overcome 'cultural' barriers in a non-confrontational way.

In order to make changes, we firstly need to overcome 'cultural' barriers in a non-confrontational way.

Why would you recommend this course to others?

The curriculum is very comprehensive despite the limited time. We touched upon the main concepts in a very easy and accessible way. It focused on skills and competences which provided us with a sound framework of reference to build our own knowledge on the topic. I would say that the course offers a good balance between theory and practice. Everything was very well designed. A very good experience indeed! Highly recommended!


Does this Course on Intercultural Communication sound interesting to you?

Find more information on the training page and watch the introductory video above. Interested in a tailor-made training for your team? Download the online brochure. You can read more participants' experiences in 'Related news' below. Do you have questions, doubts or would you first like to meet the trainers? Please contact Maaike Aans or Isabel Albers.