Written By Abby Langenkamp, Account Executive
On my first day of college, I was terrified entering my German class. Even though I was in beginner German, I was sure that other students would already be ahead of me. Prior to coming to Elon, my only experience with the language was traveling to Germany with my family.
Four semesters later, my language skills have improved tremendously, but that’s not what I’m most proud of.
Through learning a second language, I have become more aware of other cultures and how we interact with them. While a large portion of this was because my professor placed an emphasis on intercultural competency, my realizations were done on my own.
The Elon German program (and language department) has spent a lot of time and effort researching the best way to teach a culture alongside a language. All Elon language classes cover three key foundations: critical thinking, language proficiency, and intercultural competency.
Intercultural competency has many definitions, but the Elon German faculty holds Darla Deardorff’s from Duke University in high regard. For Deardorff, intercultural competence involves "improving human interactions across differences." It’s not about accepting people who do horrible things; it’s about understanding why they are driven to do such things.
Particularly in my German classes, we talk a lot about ‘suspending bias.’ For example, the Neo-Nazi movement in Germany is bad. There are no positives to it. It aims to create a resurgence of one of the most destructive genocides in global history. You can look at this one of two ways: this is a horrible movement that promotes violence and discrimination, or this is a horrible movement that promotes violence and discrimination, but why do these people think this way? Asking the ‘why’ is integral in beginning to understand other cultures.
Germans understand that they have a lot to apologize for, more so than Americans. One thing that makes Germany different from other countries is how they handle failures. For example, Germany has a strong “erinnerungskultur”, or memory culture. In short, it is how they have come to talk about the Holocaust and WWII. This is an important aspect of their culture that I only learned by asking why.
To me, intercultural competency is asking myself, “Why? Can you prove it?” Everyone has preconceived notions and biases; it's what makes us human. But if you can step back to examine why you have those biases, that’s where the real growth happens. During that time you can research the topic to see if your initial opinion is still relevant.
Most, if not all of my intercultural competency knowledge, comes from my German professor, Dr. Windham. We talk a lot about how what we are learning impacts our cultural awareness. Learning a new language is intimidating. It forces you to start over, and you cannot be afraid to fail. That also applies to learning about other cultures. You start from scratch, and there are times when you won’t know the answer. You grow the most when you are outside your comfort zone, and learning a new language has definitely taught me that.
Intercultural competency is an important skill to have when entering the communications field. By understanding different cultures, you can better market products and campaigns towards your client.