When we interact with people from other cultures (either by visiting, hosting, or offering other kinds of support) we may at times find ourselves uncomfortable. There are certain situations that do not make sense to us. We often are not prepared for certain behavior and when unexpected things happen, we do not always know how to react.

If we seek to learn how and why these things that are hard to explain might be happening, we can start to recognize that we too do things that are hard for others to understand. When we begin to see how our thoughts, our behaviors and our opinions of good and bad are shaped from our cultural upbringing, we can learn to anticipate differences in the way people from other cultures think, behave and evaluate things as good or bad. This process is intercultural learning.

Definition of ICL –

The study and application of knowledge about different cultures, their differences and similarities. On the one hand, ICL is theoretical and academic. On the other hand, it comprises practical applications such as learning to negotiate with people from different cultures, adapting one's communication style to that of a person from another culture, existing within a different culture's patterns of life, and working toward the prospect of peace between cultures.

Some concepts in ICL that can help understand better:

International exposure vs. Intercultural Learning -

In AFS students go on exchange programs. They are exposed to many things: language, dress, lifestyle, living standards, school life, social life and so on. The student is hence exposed to a different national culture. He or she may not become culturally competent. This is different as compared to understanding and learning about the parts of a culture that may be difficult even for a native member of the culture to explain.


AFS believes firmly in the value of experiential learning. Participants on an AFS program have structured orientations and are placed in classrooms, but the principal learning opportunities on the AFS program come from the daily experience of living in another cultural environment. Learning by experience is intrinsically motivating, is better remembered, and the skills learned are retained longer than in a classroom setting. The role of Intercultural Learning is to link the guided structured learning with the active and experiential learning so that participants on an AFS program can make sense of and explain to others the experiences they've had.

The main goal of intercultural learning is seen as the development towards intercultural competence, which is th ability to act and relate appropriately and effectively in various cultural contexts. Intercultural competence is generally thought to require three components on the learner's side: a certain skillset, culturally sensitive knowledge, and a motivated mindset.