Intercultural Communication: An Introduction

Kiani Laigo

July 19, 2020

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This article is the first part of a series on Intercultural Communication

At some point in life, you will engage in intercultural communication, defined as communication between people with different cultural identities. School, work, dating, friendships are all examples of areas in which people will partake in intercultural communication. As common as it is, many of us know little to nothing about it.

In anthropology (the study of mankind), culture is defined as a shared set of beliefs and values for a group of humans. We all belong to a culture, and within each culture there are subcultures. Culture includes the way you dress, the way you speak, what religion you practice, your views on marriage, and even the food you eat. It makes you what you are. There are three things that one should keep in mind when learning about intercultural communication.

First, know that culture is not set in stone; the culture of Indonesia in 1980 is different from the culture of 2020. Second, while most of us have a bit of ethnocentrism, keep in mind that all cultures are at least partly designed to serve a purpose. For example, style of dress -- depending on where you live in the world you will dress according to the climate and that becomes culture. There is no wrong way to dress, for different ways of dressing serve different purposes.

The third thing is that there are layers of culture. A commonly referenced theory is the iceberg theory. In this theory, an individual's culture is like an iceberg. The tip of an iceberg is easily visible, and this represents surface-level culture. Things like clothing, preference of music, favorite foods, or the language you speak are all surface level. Other people can find out this information about you from a glance or small talk.

Below the water is a much larger part, harder to see and find. This is associated with deep-level culture. Religion, political views, holidays you celebrate, things that are non-materialistic tend to fall under the deep level of culture. These things can usually not be determined from small talk or a casual glance, but they are a key part of peoples' identities and play a role in how they interact with the world.

Whether it's verbal (speech) or nonverbal (body language, facial expressions, gestures), intercultural communication is a vital part of all areas of life, and is especially important in the workplace, where the exchange of ideas between people of various cultures is essential.

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