Today one of the major issues in our society is how to deal with difference? How should we recognize and valorize cultural differences and, at the same time, promote the authentic cultural integration and integral development of young people?
The European Commission and the Council of Europe provide a definition of “intercultural learning”, according to which the term can be understood on different levels. On one hand, it refers to” an individual process of acquiring knowledge, attitudes, or behaviour that is connected with the interaction of different cultures”. On the other hand, “intercultural learning is seen in a larger context to denote a concept of how people with different backgrounds can live together peacefully”.
According to Dr. Milton Bennett (1993) so called “differentiation”, lies at the core of intercultural learning or intercultural sensitivity as he calls it. On one hand people see one and the same thing in different ways. On the other hand cultures differ from one another in a way that they maintain patterns of differentiation. According to this second aspect each culture offers a different way of perceiving reality. Thus, to develop intercultural sensitivity means to “learn to recognize and deal with the fundamental difference between cultures in perceiving the world.” Dr. Bennett is the author of the so called Bennett scale which describes the different ways in which people can react to cultural differences. It includes six “stages” where sensitivity to difference increases with every next stage. The stages are: denial of difference, defense against difference, minimization of difference, acceptance of difference, adaptation to difference, and integration of difference.
This presents part of the theoretical background to intercultural learning. It is important to consider such philosophical and psychological aspects when organizing youth training activities on intercultural learning in order to be able to rationalize the often confusing behavior and attitudes of young people towards cultural differences. Sometimes it is enough to simply accept that young people are not ready to understand or tolerate certain differences. What is important in such cases is not to force them to understand, but engage them in discussions, games, debates, training activities where they can participate and learn without being pressed to accept certain facts.
The principal aim of intercultural education is to promote and to develop the capacities of interaction and communication between youth and the world that surrounds them.
One of the founding principles of the European Union is respect for its diversity. The upheavals of European history show the importance of protecting national minorities and allowing different religious, cultural, linguistic and ethnic identities to flourish. The peace and stability enjoyed by the EU over the last half century is largely due to this pluralism.
In simpler and more concrete terms, intercultural learning education has to foster: openness to the other, active respect for difference, mutual comprehension, active tolerance, validating the cultures present, providing equality of opportunities, fighting discrimination.
In the context of youth work the following topics are usually considered when organizing trainings. In the “Culture Trip” mobile training game developed within the project we have tried to focus more or less on all of these aspects:
•understanding cultural difference;
•learning about traditions of other cultures;
•interesting and useful information about various nationalities and cultures;
•information about cultural specifics, habits, and non-verbal communication within different countries;
•cultural/folklore and historical traditions in other countries;
•different aspects of cultural identity.