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University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Office staff learn to cope with cultural confusion

More than 200 university staff members have signed up to learn how to overcome cultural and language barriers when talking to staff and students from abroad

Over 200 administrative staff (HK) will take part in an internationalisation project during the autumn of 2010.

Danish-speaking office staff at the university experience a number of hurdles when dealing with international staff and students, according to a focus group study conducted by CIP in April 2010.

In order to communicate better with staff and students from abroad, they will now improve their English-language skills and take a course in intercultural understanding.

Language skills lacking on both sides

Some difficulties are due to a lack of English language skills.

Linguistic nuances are often lost in translation when both parties involved have limited English skills.

This can lead to misunderstandings, according to focus group participants.

Cultural expectations vary

Other problems arise from cultural differences. For example, workplace culture varies from country to country and this can lead to confusion in some cases.

One member of the focus group gave an example of this:

»Southern Europeans sometimes ask about things that are usually in the category of ‘things you would ask your Mum’ – for example how long you cook pasta for or how to wash clothes.«

React differently to same message

Ingrid Kryhlmand, clerical officer at the University of Copenagen helped formulate the guidelines for the course. She retells the ‘go ask your mum’ anecdote as happening to a student from Madrid, who was rudely told this when asking a receptionist a question.

»The student from Madrid was used to being able to ask all questions, including, for example, how to cook pasta. While in Denmark staff are only used to responding to questions of a more professional nature,« she says.

The course is about raising awareness about cultural differences and the potential conflicts that this entails, she explains.

»The course will introduce the staff to why and how internationals can react differently to the same message, depending on their cultural background«.

Mix and match modules

The internationalisation project offers HK staff various different combinations of the following modules:

– Basic English for administrative employees
– Nuanced English for administrative employees
– Service English and university terminology for administrative employees
– Intercultural meetings in everyday university life.

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