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developing your intercultural competency in your career search

It’s time to take another step forward in your career, for personal and professional growth. Let’s assume you are open-minded and eager to learn from being immersed in another culture. How do you maximize the opportunities this offers by becoming interculturally competent? And, what is intercultural competence anyway?

Chances are that if you’re interested in teaching abroad, you’ve considered the potential pitfalls and opportunities that intercultural communication can invite. (At least, we hope.) But diving deeper into intercultural competency will help you be more prepared to form relationships in a new environment and do your job at its fullest potential. For a definition of intercultural competence, it seems appropriate to turn to Wikipedia with its ethos of open collaboration, rather than select any one particular dictionary:

(Inter)cultural competence is the ability to communicate effectively and appropriately with people of other cultures. In interactions with people from foreign cultures, a person who is interculturally competent understands the culture-specific concepts of perception, thinking, feeling, and acting.

From this description, it’s obvious that intercultural competence isn’t something that will happen overnight, it’s something to work towards. Whether you’re teaching internationally for the first time, or making a move into a completely different culture, CIS Career & Recruitment Services can help you prepare. Drawing on our many years of experience in advising educators seeking positions and matching candidates to our member schools, we recommend taking the following steps.


Start by becoming aware of your own cultural norms—behavior that you may not even realize is linked specifically to the culture of which you are a part. For example,

  • do you show up to meetings extra-early, on time, or in the general agreed hour?
  • do you engage in small chat when first meeting someone or get straight to business?
  • do you feel comfortable challenging your leaders?
  • when dealing with conflict do you use assertive or diplomatic language?

Your answers to these questions may not be wholly personality-driven, but the result of accepted behavior within your culture. Someone outside your cultural may give completely different answers. Being sensitive to these differences will help you begin to identify and understand the behaviors of people of other cultures.


When looking for positions in various international schools, consider the type of culture the school community values. Will the pervading culture resemble the majority nationality of faculty and students? The host country? Or will it be somewhere in between? Sometimes, international schools create a unique culture—maybe due to their special location or diverse student body population—that doesn’t belong to any one set of norms. Are you prepared to abandon your assumptions about your next school community?

Developing your intercultural competency means that you are prepared to live in a place where cultural norms can constantly shift, depending on the situation and perspectives at play. Especially as an educator, intercultural competency will help you be more prepared to respond to the different cultural norms represented by the children in your classroom or school. Erin Meyer writes in The Culture Map,

What’s new is the requirement for twenty-first century leaders to be prepared to understand a wider, richer array of work styles than ever before and to be able to determine what aspects of an interaction are simply a result of personality and which are a result of differences in cultural perspective…As globalization transforms the way we work, we now need the ability to decode cultural differences in order to work effectively with clients, suppliers, and colleagues from around the world.

With this knowledge of how to develop your intercultural competency, we hope that you keep an open mind during your search for the next position. Limiting yourself to one country or region could rule out some great teaching opportunities that would advance your career.

If you have questions about how we can help you find your next position in a CIS member school, send us an email

Posted by CIS on Monday September, 18, 2017

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