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Intercultural Relationships And Communication In School

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Globalization has made nations and cultures interrelated and interconnected with each other. This applies perhaps in every aspect of human life- from regional and governmental treaties, internationalization of business and trade and even education at individual levels. The world has gone virtually smaller and we now experience a sense of global village. With the advancements in information and communication technology and transportation industry, geographical barriers can no longer hinder communication.

This leads to the dramatic increase in intercultural communication opportunities. Whether through computer mediated communication or face to face communication, we can now exchange information and initiate communication with people of other nationalities and culture. In the field of education, diversity has also been observed to increase over the years. However, along with these increased opportunities, are problems caused by clashes of cultural differences.

These conflicts are brought about by barriers to effective intercultural communication. Hence, to overcome these barriers and maximize the learning opportunities from intercultural communication, we need to acquire intercultural communication skills which were derived from the common interpersonal communication with emphasis on the special characteristics of interpersonal communication.

The scope of this study shall include these intercultural communication problems and intercultural communication skills will be observed in the light of education as an institution that fosters cultural diversity and provides opportunities for intercultural communication.

Statement of the Problem

The immediate response of educators in the emerging diversity in the classroom is inclusion. However, inclusion is argued to have been a failure in addressing diversities other than disabilities, gender and religion. In the advent of globalization, diversity in the classroom may also be attributed to cultural differences. It can be assumed that intercultural relationships have also been existing within the classroom setting.

With this, it can be argued that intercultural communication will be a more effective strategy to address cultural diversity within the classroom. Hence, this study aims to address this research question: How can intercultural relationships and communication be described in the classroom setting?

The specific questions that this study will pursue are the following:

What are present conditions of intercultural relationships and communications? ;

What are the existing intercultural communication problems Rodriguez High School students?;

What are cultural barriers and factors leading to these problems?;

What are the implications or results of these problems?;

How skilled are participants in intercultural communication?; and

What effective communication strategy could be recommended for use?

Objectives of the Study

Still within the scope of globalization, internationalization of education is also an emerging trend. This leads to observation of cultural diversity within classroom settings. Oftentimes, cultural differences lead to problems such as bullying, stereotyping and sometimes, cases of school violence. Although inclusion strategies are applied in the recent years, it has not really solved the problems within the student levels.

Hence, to avoid these problems, this study aims to explore intercultural relationships and the intercultural communication within a classroom setting with the use of case study analysis. To achieve this aim, this study proposes to purse the following objectives:

describe the present condition of intercultural relationships and communications;

identify intercultural communication problems among selected high school students of Rodriguez High School students;

determine the cultural barriers and factors leading to these problems;

find out the implications or results of these problems;

measure the intercultural communication skills of the participants;

recommend effective communication strategy.

Postulates of the Study

This study is anchored in the assumption that intercultural relationships and communication can be observed within the classroom setting with the use of case study. The specific postulates for this study are the following:

intercultural relationships and communication exist in the classroom setting;

there are problems in the efficacy of the communication;

there are cultural barriers that hinder efficacy of intercultural communication;

these problems and barriers lead to more serious implications;

intercultural communication skills are factors for more effective communication; and

intercultural communication strategies can help in addressing cultural diversity in a classroom setting.


This section provides a brief literature review of the concepts related to this study including cultural diversity, intercultural relationships, and intercultural communication.

Diversity and Cultural Differences

Corsini (1984) described cultural differences as a product of ways its people work, value of possessions and way of thinking which are influenced by culture's teachings or cultural symbols. The culture's teachings and possessions are then passed over generations to generations. Apart from this collective observation, cultural differences are also observed at the individual level which pertains to personality versus the social systems of characteristics (Hall, 2006).

Cultural differences in education are observed in three types: universal, primary and secondary. Universal cultural differences occur universally as every child needs to adjust to new culture in the classroom that is oftentimes very different from that of the culture at home. Primary cultural differences, on the other hand, happen when people of different and dominant culture teach their culture to people who already have their own culture. This leads to secondary cultural differences wherein the voluntary minorities are willing to accept the dominant culture while the involuntary minorities resist it (Hall, 2006).

More often than not, cultural differences lead to various types of problems and unfavorable conditions. While there is now a thin line separating voluntary and involuntary minorities, conflicts within an institution or organization are oftentimes attributed to clashes between two different cultures. With the advent of globalization and the world becoming virtually smaller, cultural differences become more and more visible. Intercultural relationship nowadays is becoming more and more inevitable.

Intercultural Relationships and Problems

One factor that particularly emphasized intercultural relationship is globalization. Although there are different perceptions and definitions of globalization, the common theme among economical, political and anthropological points of view is connectedness. People of different cultures can no longer live to be mutually exclusive to that of other cultures (Samover, Porter and McDaniel, 2007). This connectedness brings about intercultural relationships in all aspects of human life. Hence, there is a need to eliminate problems related to cultural differences and to establish good intercultural relationships.

Some problem that hinders good intercultural relationship are stereotyping and identity freezing. When a person is viewed to be a member of his own cultural group, he is forced into the predefined category and his unique characteristics and capabilities are oftentimes neglected. This threatens the individual whether the stereotyping is positive or negative (Gudykunst, 2005).

However, Adler and Gunderson (2008) argued that favorable intercultural relationship is best achieved by making cultural diversity and differences more visible. Although recognition of cultural differences may be viewed to be simplistic, primitive, racist, sexist, or stereotyping it should be kept in mind that recognition is different from judging. Recognition goes with respect of the differences and similarities as well. Judging, on the other hand, include prejudice that limits the perception of one's full potential. Diversity can be favorable to intercultural relationship when cultural differences are recognized without prejudice.

One of the best ways to achieve cultural synergy and good intercultural relationship is by adhering to principles of effective communication and intercultural communication.

Intercultural Communication

In this paper, we adopt the definition of communication as an exchange of ideas between two entities- the basic component of interpersonal communication. Communication then, is a two-way process of give and take. While the first theories of communication analyzed to be one way as having an origin (source) and destination (receiver), it has been now widely accepted that source and receiver is replaced as participants of the interacting flow of ideas.

Intercultural communication is a type of communication occurring between people with different cultures. This communication oftentimes makes participants anxious and tense because they may find it hard to understand each other's way of thinking. They may also be using different verbal and non-verbal codes within the course of the communication. Hence, the result of this type of communication is less predictable so meanings of such codes should be negotiated carefully (Fielding, 2006).

Communication is intercultural when differences in cultural perspectives hinder the formation of a single and shared culture. Absence of shared culture may lead to contradictions and conflicts on meanings of shared symbols (Baraldi, 2006). Some researches argue that the globalization trend increases the opportunity for intercultural communication (Samovar et al., 2000). On the other hand, some states that it is the intercultural relationships and communication that paved the way for globalization and its increasing trend (Baraldi, 2006).

Either way, what is more important is to identify means on how to achieve better intercultural relationship and to identify and prevent cultural barriers that hinder effective intercultural communication.

Cultural Barriers to Effective Communication

Fielding (2009) enumerated the following cultural barriers that hinder efficacy of intercultural communication: stereotyping, ethnocentrism, defensiveness or unwillingness to accept other people's ideas, language barriers, differences in interpreting non-verbal code, differences in beliefs and values, prejudice and assumptions, differences in world view, and unequal power. Hence, these should be avoided in order to achieve good intercultural relationship and effective intercultural communication. Respect in spite of differences is of outmost importance.

However, Baraldi (2006) argued that intercultural communication's modernist view have evolved from respectful conversation to creation of a new culture. He called this phenomenon as contamination being brought about by cultural hybridization and intercultural communication. The new culture is composed of the previous participating cultures and the newly shared cultural symbolic form.

Intercultural Communication Skills

Intercultural communication skills are essential towards effective communication. These skills may be different from the usual interpersonal communication that we use with others within the same culture. Based on various researches, Williams (2005) summarized four general categories of intercultural communication skills: 1) flexibility and open mindedness, 2) cultural empathy and non-judgmental, 3) personal autonomy composed of personal strength and stability, and 4) ability to deal with stressors in the course of the intercultural communication. These skills can also be grouped based on the following dimensions: cognitive (the mind), affective (the emotions) and behavioral (the psychomotor) dimensions. In general, effective intercultural communication can be achieved by willingness to overcome the barriers and obtain these skills.

Theories of Intercultural Communication

To better understand the concept of intercultural communication, theories and models of the process are also devised. While intercultural communication may not be entirely different from the usual communication processes, it is imperative to include the special characteristics of intercultural communication in its respective models.

The convergence model of communication of Kincaid (1981), communication is defined as a process wherein two participants exchange information to reach a level of mutual understanding. Cultural convergence theory is based on the convergence model of communication devised by Kincaid (1981). This was used to devise a mathematical theory of the effects brought about by communication within cultural differences. In the laws of thermodynamics, it can be predicted that all participants' communication in a closed system may converge over time. Cultural divergence theory predicts the convergence of two collective cognitive states if the members of the two cultures converge (Gudykunst, 2005).

Another relevant intercultural communication theory is the identity management theory of Cupach and Imahori (1993). This is based on the interpersonal communication competence theory. Interpersonal competence is one's ability to negotiate mutually the acceptable identities of interaction (Gudykunst, 2005). This can be extended to intercultural communication skills summarized from Williams (2005) mentioned in the previous section.

In this study, these theories will be used. With the cultural convergence theory, it can be predicted that there will be convergence and achievement of mutual understanding within a closed system or the classroom over time. Moreover, the intercultural communication skills can be utilized towards the achievement of mutual understanding.


This chapter introduces the theoretical and conceptual frameworks of the study. Moreover, the operational definitions of terms used in the study are outlined. This study shall explore the cross-cultural problems among high school students in Rodriguez High School.

Theoretical Framework

The theoretical framework of this study is centered on two theories explaining the process of intercultural communication: the cultural convergence theory and the identity management theory.

With the cultural convergence theory, it is predicted that mutual understanding can be achieved through exchange or sharing of information over time within a closed system. Mutual understanding is assumed to be favorable in any relationships including intercultural relationship for that matter. Identity management theory, on the other hand, emphasizes intercultural capabilities or competency of the participants to determine the barriers towards effective intercultural communication and to be able to suppress these barriers.

Conceptual Framework

Based on these theories, the researcher intends to integrate and customize the theories into the setting of education as an institution that fosters cultural diversity. In the cultural divergence theory, the exchange of information can be observed within the closed system of the classroom through time. We can assume that within the classroom setting wherein there is a high incidence of cultural diversity, intercultural relationships and communication exist. The identity management theory, on the other hand, can be translated to the intercultural communication skills of the students/participants so that they can deal with cultural diversity in their classroom, and achieve mutual understanding- an impetus for a harmonious learning environment.

Operational Definition of Terms

Intercultural communication- a type of communication occurring between people with

different cultures. This communication oftentimes makes participants anxious and tense because they may find it hard to understand each other's way of thinking (Fielding, 2006).

Intercultural relationship- occurs when two individuals with different culture exchanged/

Shared ideas with each other within a period of time (Samovar et al., 2009).

Globalization- interrelatedness or interconnectedness of the nations regardless of

geographical barriers.

Inclusion- technique used in the education as a response to cultural diversity

Cultural diversity- differences in culture or the ways and means of living and thinking.

Mutual understanding- the convergence of the culture based on the cultural convergence

theory. This may also be called cultural synergy.

Intercultural communication skills- skills are essential towards effective communication.

These skills may be different from the usual interpersonal communication that we

use with others within the same culture. Based on various researches,

Cultural convergence theory- predicts the convergence of two collective cognitive

states if the members of the two cultures converge (Gudykunst, 2005).

Identity management theory- Interpersonal competence is one's ability to negotiate

mutually the acceptable identities of interaction (Gudykunst, 2005).


This section details the research plan along with research methodology, data gathering procedures, and data analysis techniques.

Research Design

This study proposes to explore with the use of case study, the intercultural relationships and communication in a classroom setting. This includes the intercultural communication problems, cultural barriers towards effective intercultural communication, and the intercultural communication skills of the selected students in Rodriguez High School in Fairfield, California. This school is noted to have a very high student diversity rate. This is an attempt to address cultural diversity in the classroom setting that may lead to conflicts, bullying, cultural stereotyping and other forms of school violence. Effective intercultural communication, if properly inculcated among the students may lessen the occurrence of the mentioned problems. This will be a qualitative account describing the intercultural relationship and communication in a high school classroom which fosters high cultural diversity. However, due to time constraints, only the observable traits of the intercultural relationships may be observed deeply. Demographical characteristics of the participants may only be used as supporting data.

With this, the tradition of Inquiry this research is intended to utilize is ethnography. One of the most commonly used inquiries to assess intercultural communication competence is ethnography (Asante et al., 2008). In this study, ethnography shall include description of the intercultural relationships and communication, identification of problem, barriers and their implications, and the intercultural communication skills of the participants. Hence, the researcher should also act as an active participant in the conduct of the research (Scollon and Scollon, 2001).

Data Generation Method

The sampling method that will be used to select the participants of this study is purposive sampling. The researcher shall inquire with the administration of Rodriguez High School about which class has the highest incidence of cultural diversity. However, the age level of the students under this class should be identified to be mature enough to understand the concept of cultural diversity and intercultural relationships and communication, for that matter. Nevertheless, the participating class should be noted with a high incidence of cultural diversity.

Since the setting of the study is a classroom setting, the participants for the study will include all of the students and the homeroom teacher. In the case that the class is too big for a focused group discussion, random sampling will be applied and only statistically significant number of participants will be included.

Focused group discussion will be data gathering method for the students/participants. The topic shall be cultural diversity in a classroom setting. The flow of the discussion should be deductive in nature. First, the perceptions of the students about cultural diversity will be identified. Later on, intercultural communication will be the main focus of the discussion. Again, the concept should be identified in a general point of view and can later on be applied to their own classroom setting. This will surface their intercultural communication skills, and the existing intercultural communication relationships among the students/participants. The researcher should be an observer and participant. The locust of control should be centered on the researcher to limit the scope of the discussion within the scope of the study only. The homeroom teacher can also act as the third person/observer in the case study.

For the in depth interview, the homeroom teacher will be the participant. He/she will be the key informant regarding the problems, barriers, and intercultural communication strategy within the classroom setting. The interview may also be used to confirm information gathered from the focus group discussion with the students. Additional activity such as team building may also conducted with the teacher so as to observe the efficacy of the intercultural communication strategy that will be recommend.

The instruments that will be used for this study include: self-administered questionnaire for the demographic characteristics of the students/participants; observation guide and if possible, audio or video recorder for more accurate documentation of the focus-group discussion; and interview schedule for the in depth interview with the homeroom teacher. Additional materials may also be needed to document the team building activity with the teacher and the students.

The data analysis and presentation for the demographical characteristics of the participants will be frequency counts and percentages. This will be used to describe the heterogeneity of the participants. On the focus group discussion, data analysis and presentation will be complete enumeration of the intercultural relationships existing and intercultural communication skills that students/participants possess. Video clips or pictures may also be shown. Lastly, for the in depth interview qualitative analysis and complete enumeration of the problems and cultural barriers that he/she will identify. For the team building activity, narrative presentation, pictures, and video clips may be used to present and emphasize the observations. All information generated from these activities should be summarized and carefully analyzed to come up with an extensive and comprehensive ethnography report.

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