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SARA Learning Activities

Intercultural Incidents 

'Critical incidents' have been used for a long time in intercultural education and training.  Instead of offering a finite set of incidents to work with, the SARA database can be used as a resource on the basis of which students generate intercultural incidents which can be exploited in various ways.  This can open a space for discussion of the multiple possible interpretations of incidents which students report as being problematic.  Students can be introduced to the idea that reflection on problematic incidents can both offer new interpretations, and help them to develop strategies for repair.

1.  Students are introduced to the concept of the 'intercultural incident'.  This is an incident which involves people from different cultures and is experienced as being problematic in some way.  The reasons for the problems are not expressed in the incident, which is written without causal explanations.  Examples of intercultural incidents produced by the project can be found here

2.  Students are split into pairs or groups and asked to find extracts of the data which can be used as the basis for writing new intercultural incidents.  Each group can be given a different topic to research.  These topics could be related to the structure of the database.  For example, searching under the 'What was the culture like? Aspects of society' head in the database generates data on dress, greeting, eating and drinking, time, hygiene, minority groups, religion, gender relations, family, politics, shopping and humour, each of which could be the theme for one or more intercultural incidents.  Each pair or group then writes an incident, based on extracts from the database.

3.  These incidents can then be exploited in various ways.

Discussion of the incident.  What interpretation of the incident could account for the problems?  How could they have been avoided?  How was the incident interpreted by the student(s) involved?  How was it interpreted by the host culture member(s) involved?  What other interpretations are possible?

Dramatisation of the incident.  Students act out the incident, one taking on the role of the student involved, others the role of the host culture member(s), and others the role of a neutral observer.  Each then puts forward their interpretation of the situation, discussing the reasons for the difficulties experienced, ways in which these difficulties could have been avoided, and ways to 

Work with host culture members.  In a situation where students can work together with representatives from the host culture, they can discuss their interpretations of the incident.  How would the host culture members have interpreted the interaction?  Are there disagreements between host culture members?  What can they suggest as strategies for repair in a similar situation?  How could the problems have been avoided?

Work with returnees.  Returnees can offer their own perspective on the interpretations of the incident.  They can also share their experiences of similar incidents, strategies for repair and the longer-term effects (if any) of such incidents on their relationships.

Rewriting the incidents.  Students rewrite the incidents from the point of view and in the voice of the different agents concerned: the student, the host culture member.