Pilot Projects


In the framework of the INCOSO project, we worked with our learners,on the theme of the greater depth of knowledge and understanding regarding the issue of intercultural competences. Also we worked on and reflect about interculturel stress as an issue in social work and how social workers looked up to their own behavior The difference in the group of students, by age, ethnic background and experience of intercultural work was the ideal learning environment for this theme and was very effective. There were heated and exciting discussions during the lessons. In preparation for the second year, the subject of this discussion was centered around intercultural stress and we decided to create a training module on this theme.


Intercultural contacts are stressful: stress is the result of the patterns of communication: evidences ‘take it for granted’ assumptions are questioned.

People who end up in an intercultural meeting are challenged by the situation, and are more or less forced to change at least some of their cultural ways of thinking, feeling, and behavior. The strength of this challenge is particularly dependent on the cultural distance between the communication partners. The greater the distance, the greater will be the meeting intercultural and the stronger the nature of the challenge.

This challenge can be (eventually) lead to a distortion of the inner balance of the individual, with stress as a result. Stress in this theory is considered as the result of the human resistance against the required and necessary change. Or as the internal resistance of the individual against his own cultural evolution.

Such stress, this approach is not seen as problematic or negative but as something inevitable.

1.1 What are the effects of intercultural stress?

Many of the effects of intercultural stress are the same as other types of stress.
• Feelings of anxiety, confusion, desorientation, uncertainty, insecurity and helplessness
• Fatigue, exhaustion, lack of motivation, a lack of joy
• Disease (stress suppresses the immune system), for fear of germs, fear for poisoned food …
• Disappointment, lack of satisfaction, discouragement, feel offended, incompetent, have the feeling that you are no longer in the running.
• Anger, irritation, contempt of the ' other ' culture, ill feelings of superiority or indignity
• etc.


Although everyone is subject to intercultural stress, in the group discussion it was clearly that we should make a distinction between minority and majority stress.

2.1 Minority stress

Minority stress is a term for stress to which individuals in a social stigmatized category (holebis , immigrants, people with disabilities, etc.) become exposed and that in addition to general forms of stress. They are for the sake of their minority identity rejected by the dominant groups of the society.

The consequence of this is subtle discrimination, is minority stress. This stress arises through “chronic external stressing factors”. People with another country of origine, live constantly with negative expectations about how people are going to deal with them and try to be alert for this sake. They should be accountable for their difference, their outsiderbehavior,…

2.2 Majority stress

Although there is nothing in the literature on “majority stress“, we have discussed in the lessons that the person from the dominant culture, in our situation, the locals, also can experience specific forms of stress.

In particular:

1. Fear to losing (identity, territory, power, etc.)
2. Fear to hurt the feelings of the other (the allochtoon): fear to unwillingly discriminate, fear to be seen as a racist (and abusing for this),…

In the drawing-up of the lessons we could take account on different ways with this 2 points:
• To become aware of your own (minority or majority) stress;
• Be aware that the other can have another form of intercultural stress ,and try to develop skills for this type of stress.


In learning to deal with intercultural stress it is important to gain knowledge and understanding in acculturation processes. These are processes that people go through as they come into contact with people of other cultures; situations that lead to intercultural stress.

3.1 Hofstede

The process of acculturation, the process to adapt to the "other" culture, consists of four stages. This is shown in Figure 1.1 (Hofstede, 1991, p. 259). In this figure are feelings (positive or negative) plotted along the vertical axis, and time is plotted along the horizontal axis.

>> The acculturation curve of Hofstede

The process of acculturisation – the process to adapt to the "other" culture – consists of four stages.

The first stage is often short and is characterised by euphoria. One is curious to know about the’ strange other’.

Then comes the stage of the culture shock: a state of unrest that arises when an individual is functioning in an unknown environment. We are faced with different standards and values. In a psychological point of view, once again, we become as a child, and have to learn the most simple things. This often leads to feelings of fear, helplessness and hostility against the new environment.

In the third stage we climb up This starts at the moment one can work well, and is part of a new social network. This is used by the Cieri, Dowling & Taylor (1991), also known as the turning point.

The final stage is the mental balance that at some point is reached.

The outcome of this acculturatieproces, the mental balance, is also known as psychological adjustment .

3.2 The four stages of SHURINGA

Phase 1: survival
At this stage there is the protection of its own identity, the creation of a basic security and the control of the basic conditions of life. At this stage, the persons react, depending on their positions by means of majority stress or minority stress.

Phase 2: recognizing
At this stage people will see that others have similar experiences and there is communication which the others about these experiences (recognizing).

Phase 3: exploration
In this phase, one learns about the differences, there is a curiosity to other ideas and actions. The confrontation can sometimes be poor …

Phase 4: accepting
In the fourth stage, people learn to deal with the diversity of others, and they have respect for the identity of everyone.

In the disscussions during the lessons, learners usually noted that mostly before phase two phase three already is present. And that phase two can help to make the transition to stage four.

Above all, minorities want to receive recognition of the community (recognition as a member of the majority) and then they want to speak about differences. Excessive emphasis on differences confirms indirectly the supposed superiority of the dominant culture.

The challenge in dealing with diversity is cross through the agreements to see the differences.

"The First thing you do, is to forget that I'am black. Second, you must never forget that I'am black "!
n phase four, it is important to note that recognizing rather leads to acceptance than to tolerance. Tolerance feeds not necessarily respect for each other.

Tolerance implies power of the person who legitimate the idea of tolerance. The idea of torelance legitimate the distinction between those who belongs to the in group and those who do not belong there (the outgroup).

Minorities ask the right to a satisfactory existence in the society. Acceptance opens the way to equivalent discussion and negotiation on the conditions for a more just society.


Bettina Killinger (2009) Leonardo da Vinci Partnership: InCoso – Intercultural Competence for employees in the social field. Recommendations for intercultural competence training. Kolping Bildingscentre Stuttgart.

Shuringa Leida (2001) Omgaan met diversiteit, Een uitdaging.Uitgeverij Nelissen, NL.

Hofstede, G. (1991) Allemaal andersdenkenden. Omgaan met cultuurverschillen. Contact, Amsterdam.

Luis Amorim (2001) Intercultural Learning. A few awareness tips for US and European Fellows & Host Community Foundations. European Foundation Centre, Washington D.C. page_revision: 6.

Internet information

NASW Standards for Cultural Competence in Social Work Practice.
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INCOSO: Good Practices pagina 9 van 10
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Exercises made by learners

The big test (William De Cock)

Intercultural test (Dries Delissen - Jacobs)

World Monopoly (Nadia De Peuter)

Time to change (Amy Mcgee)

Mission Cultura (Liesbeth Scheurs)

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