Friends not Strangers

Intercultural Perspective

Intercultural Perspective is one of the Graduate Attributes identified by VIU and is included in the section: Civic Engagement:

"Intercultural perspectives comprise awareness and appreciation of different ways of knowing and being which encompass diverse peoples, cultures and lifestyles."

Graduate Attributes

While this attribute speaks to attitudes and knowledge, additional graduate attributes speak to the related skills and behaviour a student is expected to have developed as a result of their time at VIU: Capacity to engage in respectful relationships, ethical reasoning, foundations for lifelong learning and integrative learning.  

The information contained within this website has been included in the belief that intercultural learning and teaching involves not only increased awareness and knowledge of culturally conditioned ways of knowing and being but also the development of skills and behaviour that lead to an individual engage with the world with positive regard, openess, curiosity, reflexivity and resilience.

See: VIU Graduate Attributes


If we are going to talk about intercultural learning & teaching we also need to talk about internationalization in higher education.  Many associate internationalization with study abroad, however the term internationalization is used to describe the much larger phenomenon of the flow of students and knowledge between world regions.  The idea of travelling outside of one's country to study can be traced back as far as the 6th century AD when Buddhist students from around the world would travel to Nalanda University in India (Altbach, de Wit; 2015).  Since then, the motivation of students to study internationally and  for universities to attract international students has been driven by various combinations of political, colonial, economic and social interests and policies. 

In Canada, internationalization in higher education has surged since the 1980's.  The Canadian Bureau of International Education (2018) reports that in 2017 there were 494,525 International Students studying in Canada, a 119% increase since 2010.  Interestingly, CBIE (2018) also reports that in the 2016-2017 academic year only 2.3% of Canadian students studied abroad.

It must be acknowledged that today the internationalization of higher education in Canada is being driven largely by an economic rationale.  However, many faculty, staff and students are fully engaged in the process of balancing economic outcomes with social and academic outcomes that prepare faculty, staff and students for life and citizenship in the 21st century.

Intercultural learning & teaching is critical if the internationalization of higher education in Canada is to be a mechanism for the development of a more ethical, inclusive and equitable society (Garson, 2016).

Intercultural Learning & Teaching

We have purposefully put learning before teaching because we are making the assumption that to facilitate or teach intercultural learning we must experience it first ourselves.

Grounded in empathy, intercultural learning and teaching allows us to consider the educational experience from the perspective of someone with cultural identities different to our own.  In this consideration we may discover both what makes us that same as well as what makes us different and then adapt our behaviour (e.g. communication strategies or teaching approaches) in order to interact effectively.

In the book Building Cultural Competence, Darla Deardorff (2012) shares the "sunglasses story" (p.153).  It is a story about two groups of people who live on opposite sides of a river.  The people on one side of the river wear blue sunglasses and the people on the other side of the river wear red sunglasses.  The two groups have never  met each other.  One day, a person from the blue sunglasses side of the river decides to visit the red sunglasses people.  The person discovers there is much about the red sunglasses people that is a lot like the blue sunglasses people,  including the fact that they were also born with sunglasses!  Curious to get to know them better the blue sunglasses person asks one of the red sunglasses people to try on their sunglasses to see what it is like to see the world through red sunglasses.  However, with their blue sunglasses still on,  the blue sunglasses person does not see red,  nor do they see blue...they see purple.

Similarly when we invite our cultural identities into our learning experiences, we can try our hardest to see things from another person's perspective but our own identities will always prevent us from being able to truly know what it is like to be that person (and vice versa).  As a result it would be unrealistic to expect either party to completely adapt to the other.  Rather, intercultural learning and teaching should aspire to meeting in the middle. 

For more on what intercultural learning & teaching looks like please visit the Promising Practices section. 


Altbach, P. G., & de Wit, H. (2015). Internationalization and global tension: Lessons from history. Journal of    Studies in International Education, 19(1), 4-10. doi:10.1177/1028315314564734

Berardo, K., & Deardorff, D. K. (2012). Building cultural competence: Innovative activities and models (1st ed.). Sterling, Va: Stylus Pub.

CBIE (2018). Canada's Performance and Potential in International Education 2018. Retrieved from: BCIE Facts and Figures

Garson, K. (2016). Reframing internationalization. The Canadian Journal of Higher Education, 46(2), 19.