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ICP - a brief Introduction
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Residence Abroad Matters

ICP - the project


ICP - a brief introduction

What is ICP?

The Interculture Project is a three-year study (1997-2000), which, within the context of students in higher education in the U.K., is looking at periods of residence spent abroad. It aims to map the obstacles which hinder students' intercultural competence while there and to define how they might best be prepared and supported. Descriptions and examples of findings, with statements on best preparation practice are being disseminated to all relevant U.K. university departments through workshops, newsletters, conferences and e-mail. Effective learning instruments and activities for students are being developed and made available for access on this website. For more details go to 

ICP Project Activities

 ICP Outcomes 

Where is ICP?

The Interculture Project is an inter-university enterprise involving a variety of UK higher education institutions, each of which brings its distinctive expertise to the subject under study. 
The consortium is coordinated by the Department of European Languages and Cultures at Lancaster University under the direction of Robert Crawshaw, and includes the Modern Languages Teaching Centre at the University of Sheffield, the Department of Languages & International Studies at the University of Central Lancashire, the Department of Modern Languages at St. Martin's College, Lancaster and Homerton College, Cambridge , as well as the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research (CiLT) and the Central Bureau for Educational Visits & Exchanges (CBEVE) .

 Meet The ICP Team

 Project contacts: tel: 01524-592670; fax: 01524-843934; 

Aims of ICP

The aims of The Interculture Project are:
  • to identify and categorise examples of intercultural and socio-linguistic experiences undergone by students while studying and working abroad;
  • to describe and evaluate the guidance and support in the intercultural and socio-linguistic spheres provided by a representative sample of HE institutions;
  • to test and select instruments and learning activities designed to raise the level of intercultural competence amongst students prior to periods of residence abroad and to develop teachers' expertise in their application;
  • to disseminate examples and descriptions of the above through reports, workshops and electronic networks. 

How ICP was set up

Over the past few years Departments in British Universities have been vetted for their teaching ability in a government exercise known as Teaching Quality Assessment (TQA). Under the name of the Fund for the Development of Teaching and Learning (FDTL) a tranche of money was subsequently set aside by the Higher Education Funding Council for England/Wales (HEFCE) to better teaching standards in areas where improvement was possible. Teaching Departments which scored highly in the TQA were to be funded for projects that would identify best teaching practices in a given field. Information on these would then be disseminated to all other UK universities. 

In conjunction with its consortium partners named above, Lancaster University successfully bid for an award of £247,000. Within the framework of the value of residence abroad, it aimed to investigate problems, whether cultural or linguistic, which hindered the intercultural progress of U.K. students temporarily resident in France, Germany, Italy or Spain - during what, for many, used to be known as the 'Year Abroad'. A definition of the problems would serve to outline more appropriate and efficient methods of preparation for residence abroad and would ensure better procedures for the monitoring and pastoral care of students while they were there. 

Within the field of Modern Languages two other parallel but diverse projects involving scrutiny of periods of residence abroad were also approved by FDTL, namely the Learnng and Residence Abroad Project LARA led from Oxford Brookes University and the Residence Abroad Project RAPPORT led from Portsmouth University. 

Useful cooperation between the three projects is taking place under the umbrella of the Centre for Information on Language Teaching and Research (CiLT) , the Central Bureau for Educational Visits and Exchanges (CBEVE) and the Co-ordinating Group for Modern Languages (CGML).

Theoretical Framework

The Interculture Project has spent three years researching student experience during residence abroad, by collecting students' own accounts of their experiences. The activities and resources presented on this website have been developed on the basis of this research. These resources and recommendations are intended to support staff in UK Higher Education institutions involved in residence abroad as they help their students to develop intercultural competence, as well as offering a useful and interesting resource for students working alone. 

This section outlines the rationale for the project and the understandings of intercultural awareness and intercultural competence on which the project is based. 

Project rationale

The project has found that provision for residence abroad preparation varies widely across institutions. (See the report Raising Intercultural Awareness in preparation for periods of residence abroad) While many institutions have introduced or developed structured year abroad preparation, particularly following the 1996 HEFCE report on Modern Languages in HE which was critical of haphazard provision in this area, much current practice focuses on developing knowledge about other cultures of a cognitive, declarative nature. Of course, teaching about other cultures in this way is a necessary part of preparation for the year abroad and indeed of the modern languages curriculum more generally. 

This factual component must still be part of residence abroad preparation, since there are things which students need to be aware of before they go away. Issues such as differing attitudes to alcohol consumption or dress code may have an impact not only on students' cultural integration but also on their security and general welfare. However, teaching about other cultures has its disadvantages. It can be over-simplistic, suggesting that all members of the host culture are somehow 'the same', and thereby creating new prejudices and stereotypes. And it can give students a false sense of security - they 'know' the culture now, so they are fully prepared for their time abroad. But the development of this type of declarative knowledge does not necessarily prepare students for interaction with other people once they arrive in the country concerned. In order for residence abroad preparation to be effective, this sort of 'looking at' another culture needs to be supplemented with learning activities designed to develop students' intercultural awareness. The production of such learning activities based on students' actual experiences, has been one of the principal goals of this project. 

Intercultural awareness

Intercultural awareness is very different from cultural awareness. Instead of being a fixed representation of another culture, intercultural awareness is a non-judgmental awareness of the existence of difference which entails a commitment to an ongoing, reflexive process of discovery and acceptance of these differences. This process of discovery must involve both reflection on the host culture and reflection on the self. 

Reflection on the self and on one's own culture plays an important part in developing intercultural awareness, since students who develop a curiosity about the cultural factors which influence themselves and about the cultural differences within their own society can come to realise both that cultural factors are real and affect people's behaviour, and that no culture is homogeneous, nor deserving of blanket evaluations (positive or negative). 

Reflection on the host culture should be encouraged in the spirit of opening up, rather than closing down interpretations, since it is necessary to encourage awareness and acceptance of difference, while avoiding the creation of stereotyped representations. 

One of the key challenges of developing intercultural awareness is to convey to students the multiplicity of potential meanings and interpretations which can be drawn from any cultural interaction, developing 'relativising skills' and moving away from single, absolutist responses. The purpose of using activities like culture quizzes and intercultural incidents is therefore not to say to students "'they' are like this", but rather to open students' minds to cultural difference, and to help them to recognise the fact that different people see things in different ways. 

Intercultural Competence

This 'intercultural awareness', this reflexive attitude and the knowledge and awareness required to attain it, are prerequisites for the development of 'intercultural competence', the ultimate goal of interculture teaching. This term signifies the ability to interact successfully with others across cultural difference, in a potentially infinite range of situations. True intercultural competence therefore involves not only attitudes, including those attitudes associated with intercultural awareness, but also skills and abilities. It requires an awareness of the role of the self in interaction, and an ability to reflect on and learn from one's own intercultural encounters. Where awareness is passive, competence is active, and can only be developed and assessed in action. 

Our role as teachers is therefore firstly to develop students' intercultural awareness, with the ultimate goal of developing their intercultural competence. Of course, the development of intercultural competence does not end when the student goes abroad. In a sense, it only really begins when the student is experiencing and reflecting on intercultural encounter. Most of the activities and resources on this website have the primary goal of developing students' intercultural awareness, in the hope that by developing their ability to learn by reflecting on experience, they can subsequently make the most of their experience of residence abroad in becoming increasingly interculturally competent.

The aims and objectives of teaching intercultural competence are therefore manifold. They include developing students' ability to reflect on themselves and their own cultures and promoting their awareness of difference within cultures as well as between them; developing their ability to interpret the interactions they engage in with an understanding that other participants might be seeing things differently; developing their capacity to reflect on interactions in order to learn from them, while maintaining the flexibility of outlook to resist developing misleading stereotypes; and developing their skills in interaction, through putting into practice the insights gained from their reflection. These skills and sensitivities, once developed, are potentially transferable into other domains of experience, and the interculturally competent graduate will have abilities that support their lives and careers in an increasingly globalised environment. 

See also the project bibliography.