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Intercultural peer tutoring competences as a part of learning development in an international Higher Education context

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Abstract

In the framework of the internationalisation of Higher Education (HE), this case study exposes the innovative concept of training intercultural peer tutors, and its implications. We will argue which skills are considered as specific intercultural peer tutoring competences and why these are important for the learning development in internationalised learning contexts. After a short description of the intercultural peer tutoring training at the European University Viadrina (EUV) and its theoretical basis, we will present the findings of a study accompanying the beginning phase of the training, which will demonstrate what kind of competences intercultural peer tutors develop in addition to those associated to classical peer tutoring. The paper will show that this specific training, focusing on intercultural peer tutoring, has a considerable impact on studentsââ¬â¢ own intercultural learning progress and also substantially prepares them to support the learning development of fellow international students.
Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education ISSN: 1759-667X
Special Edition: Academic Peer Learning, Part Two, April 2016
Intercultural peer tutoring competences as a part of learning
development in an international higher education context
Jannike Hille
European University Viadrina, Germany
Gundula Gwenn Hiller
European University Viadrina, Germany
Stefanie Vogler-Lipp
European University Viadrina, Germany
Abstract
In the framework of the internationalisation of Higher Education (HE), this case study
exposes the innovative concept of training intercultural peer tutors, and its implications.
We will argue which skills are considered as specific intercultural peer tutoring
competences and why these are important for the learning development in
internationalised learning contexts. After a short description of the intercultural peer
tutoring training at the European University Viadrina (EUV) and its theoretical basis, we will
present the findings of a study accompanying the beginning phase of the training, which
will demonstrate what kind of competences intercultural peer tutors develop in addition to
those associated to classical peer tutoring. The paper will show that this specific training,
focusing on intercultural peer tutoring, has a considerable impact on students’ own
intercultural learning progress and also substantially prepares them to support the learning
development of fellow international students.
Keywords: international students; intercultural peer tutoring; intercultural competences;
learning support.
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Introduction
Peer tutoring is not a new concept but has particularly gained traction in Germany since
2011 with the 200 million euro funded ‘Teaching Quality Pact’ programme of the Federal
Government: this programme aims to improve study conditions and the quality of teaching
and mentoring for students in HE. Within this framework, a peer tutoring training has been
initiated by EUV, exceptional in its dimensions and differentiation. In this paper we will
present one training specialisation of the peer-tutoring programme at the EUV relating to
intercultural peer tutoring, which, as far as we know, is unique and innovative in Germany.
We will explain why we focused on intercultural peer tutoring competences, what
competences students developed, how we defined these competences and how we
trained peer tutors.
With the internationalisation of HE comes a strong increase in student and teacher
mobility, but this also brings new diversity, which has its own set of challenges for teaching
and learning. Recent research has shown that there are significant differences in
academic practices in general (Ryan, 2013) and that studying in Germany is especially
complex for international students because of the very specific German academic system,
particularly in the humanities (e.g. Hiller, 2013; Schumann, 2012; Ricken, 2011).
With 25% of its student body comprised of international students, the EUV is one of the
most multicultural universities in Germany. It has therefore been very concerned with the
questions related to diversity in learning (Hiller, 2007). The EUV is situated at the German-
Polish border and students find themselves in an international surrounding, with many
challenges including: different learning practices, teaching styles and academic
communication (both oral and written), language barriers, unknown roles and hierarchy
patterns, the different grading system, etc. (Hiller, 2014; Knapp and Schumann, 2008).
Study programmes with significant international orientation and student composition have
resulted in a highly intercultural internal structure of the university. This has resulted in all
parties having to develop specific competences to deal with this diversity. The training of
students in intercultural competences has been recommended by both practitioners and
researchers (Hiller, 2007; Knapp and Schumann, 2008; Bosse, 2010).
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Otten et al. (2013, p.243) argue that the international teaching context requires a new
dimension of intercultural understanding which includes the reflection of one’s own and
others’ teaching and learning practices.
The Viadrina Centre for Intercultural Learning has therefore been developing various
programmes with the aim of enhancing intercultural awareness within the institution. The
Viadrina PeerTutoring training enabled EUV to establish a specific intercultural training
specialisation for peer tutors, which augments students’ intercultural competence and
trains them to support their fellow students in intercultural learning development.
In the following, we will point to the potential and importance of development and training
of intercultural competence within Viadrina PeerTutoring and, in this context, will argue
which competences are included and why they are extremely supportive for learning
development in an international institution.
We consider the multi-layered Viadrina PeerTutoring programme to be a classical activity
of learning development, as it involves students by teaching them how to deal with the
multiple challenges found in teaching and learning and by training them how to tutor their
peers in the beginning phase of their studies. The training programme aims to improve
study conditions within the context of internationalisation and the quality of teaching and
mentoring for students in HE. Students learn to reflect on their practices and how to
professionally accompany and support fellow students’ learning processes and how to
manage peer-facilitated learning arrangements.
We will particularly focus on the intercultural peer tutoring specialisation, its training
programme, its learning targets and its developed intercultural peer tutoring competences
which have not yet been, in our opinion, clearly demonstrated before. Thus, the study
explains what specific intercultural peer tutoring competences are meant to be
accomplished and how students evaluate their skill acquisition.
Background
In 2012, the Viadrina PeerTutoring training programme was established to operate across
disciplines and spread into different areas of key competences, such as intercultural
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competence, writing, learning and presentational skills. It is integrated in the curriculum of
all faculties at the EUV (including Business Administration and Economics, Faculty of Law
as well as Social and Cultural Science), therefore all Bachelor and Masters students may
voluntarily attend the training. Students receive credit points as well as an official
certificate that documents the personal as well as the professional development gained in
the programme. The training programme consists of four modules which may be attended
independently from each other.
Figure 1. Viadrina PeerTutoring training at the European University Viadrina
Students participating on the ‘Viadrina PeerTutoring’ training will need at least one
semester either summer (April-July) or winter (October-February) to complete the training.
It is also possible to complete it in two separate semesters, e.g. summer and winter. The
training programme is based on peer learning theory. Boud defines the basic concept of
peer learning as:
Students learning from and with each other in both formal and informal ways.
(Boud, 2001, p.4).
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Peers learn, interact and create new knowledge with and from each other. They also work
on an eye-to-eye-level with hardly any hierarchy (Boud, 2001; Falchikov, 2001; Bruffee,
1984). As far as we know, there is no established model of intercultural peer tutoring. That
being said, we were convinced from the very beginning that peer tutoring and intercultural
learning would operate very well and could be established at the EUV, as it is such an
international university. We believed the existence of intercultural peer tutors to be
important as they actively create and contribute to a welcoming culture within this
university.
It is our opinion that the high percentage of international students coupled with the EUV’s
close location to Poland, as well as the overall internationalisation process of universities,
makes the training of intercultural peer tutors highly relevant and necessary. Furthermore,
we believe that particularly within an international university, the exchange between
students and peer tutors may be productive for both sides. On the one hand, international
students are accompanied by peer tutors who are experts in intercultural learning and
intercultural methods with the aim of supporting them and their studies and, on the other
hand, intercultural peer tutors learn from their peer tutoring activities to take responsibility
for their own actions, reflect and organise their own learning process, and learn from other
cultures.
Within Viadrina PeerTutoring, intercultural peer tutors are trained in intercultural
awareness, knowledge of different teaching and learning cultures, and how to sensitise
international students to develop their intercultural competence to be prepared for studying
in the German academic system. Furthermore, intercultural peer tutors learn how to
interpret and react in difficult and challenging interactions, how to cope with the cultural
specificities of the German university system and how to analyse and use intercultural
training methods and tools. They learn how to design and conduct workshops, for example
one-day workshops or two-day excursions with eight to twenty participants. They also offer
counselling hours and summer school programmes or support faculty seminars through
the delivery of short practical intercultural units. During their employment peer tutors attend
methodological and intercultural supervision training. There are also team meetings with
other peer tutors, to consult and discuss specific challenges or to talk through and reflect
upon critical incidents that they may have experienced.
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We train intercultural peer tutors to develop and strengthen their intercultural competence,
seen as:
…the ability to interact effectively and appropriately in intercultural situations; it is
supported by specific attitudes and affective features, (inter)cultural knowledge,
skills and reflection. (Boecker and Ulama, 2008, p.4).
We are convinced that these areas may be used within the Viadrina PeerTutoring with the
appropriate tools and methods. We are confident that these skills can be developed
through the ‘Viadrina PeerTutoring’ programme, with the appropriate tools and methods.
Within the training programme the most important tool is reflection, based on an ePortfolio.
According to DeSeCo (2005) reflection during academic studies is the core of the key
competences and needs to be considered very carefully. During their training, students
reflect on their theoretical knowledge as well as their practices. Through Fink's (2013)
learning taxonomy we determined the learning outcome of the ePortfolios as follows:
Students know how and why they reflect.
They know how they may apply reflection as a learning device in and outside the
classroom.
They are aware of what media competence they have developed.
They know how to design their individual ePortfolio.
They know how to give peer feedback.
One best practice example, showcasing that ePortfolios are appropriate to use in a HE
learning context especially in the area of intercultural competence, is a field report by
Kilian-Yasin (2013). In this report, ePortfolios were used to improve the integration of
foreign as well as international students and the internationalisation in everyday study life.
Kilian-Yasin’s field report encouraged us to use ePortfolios within the intercultural peer
tutoring training, which may be used to help intercultural peer tutors to learn and reflect on
their learning process. The above mentioned and listed learning outcomes may strengthen
the frame for learning development and make learning in an international context more
transparent and effective.
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In order to improve and show the relevance of the concept of intercultural peer tutoring at
the Viadrina and strengthen its existence the following study was conducted.
Evaluation of the training programme
One of the authors of this article examined the intercultural peer tutoring specialisation
within her Master’s thesis: this survey identified which aspects of intercultural competence
the peer tutors achieved during their training. The study and its results will be outlined in
the following.
Participants
In total, eight ePortfolios written by EUV students who took part in the Viadrina
PeerTutoring training programme were examined. The participating students were from all
faculties of the EUV. They consisted of first-year students and undergraduates. Each
participant signed a consent form to allow the academic team to use his or her ePortfolio
for research and evaluation purposes. The programme creators guaranteed that the
ePortfolio was anonymised. The participants were asked to sign the consent form
voluntarily.
Data
The training programme participants conducted ePortfolios, which reveal their learning
development of intercultural peer competence in a highly reflective way. These ePortfolios
served as a basis for the evaluation. The study therefore analyses and examines the
students’ self-evaluation. (For purposes of simplification the term ‘ePortfolio ‘covers both
electronic portfolios and non-electronic portfolios. The numbering system refers to the
original numbering assigned within the Master’s thesis.)
The data includes a total of eight ePortfolios (including four paper portfolios: P1-P4; and
four electronic portfolios: EP1-EP4), presented to some extent on the eLearning platform
mahara by participants in the Viadrina PeerTutoring training programme.
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Method
The theoretical frame and research method is built on a combined method, i.e. the data
was analysed with qualitative content analysis (Schreier, 2012) by using an encoding
technique. The codes refer to the categories of the intercultural competence model defined
by the ‘Intercultural Competence Assessment (INCA) Project’ (Prechtl and Davidson-Lund,
2007) as well as on categories referring to specific learning targets defined by the
programme creators. The qualitative content analysis requires a coding grid, in order to
find codes corresponding to the pre-defined categories. This grid was developed on the
basis of:
Five intercultural competences, according to the INCA project.
Four specific intercultural peer tutoring competences which, according to Viadrina
PeerTutoring (based on the learning targets of the intercultural peer tutoring
specialisation), have been shown to be relevant (see Table 1).
Table 1 below shows the categories that served as a grid for the encoding process.
Table 1. Definitions of intercultural (peer tutoring) competences.
Intercultural competences (based on Prechtl and Davidson-Lund, 2007)
Knowledge discovery
Intellectual curiosity about other cultures and motivation to gather
information to discover culture related-knowledge, in order to
interact better with people.
Behavioural flexibility
Adapting behaviour to a specific situation and presenting a broad
knowledge of one’s repertoire.
Communicative awareness
Willingness to modify existing conventions and having appropriate
negotiation conventions for intercultural communication.
Respect for others
Equal treatment of different behaviour, value and convention
systems, due to the willingness to respect diversity and coherence.
Empathy
Willingness to take the other’s perspective and awareness of
diverse perspectives.
Intercultural peer tutoring competences (based on peer learning targets)
Methodological expert
knowledge
Competence to understand and analyse features of intercultural
encounters and to apply learned expertise, e.g. essential theories
and concepts.
Cooperation
Willingness for collaborative learning and working with peers.
Peer learning support
Ability to support and accompany peers in intercultural learning
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settings. The application of methodological knowledge to empower
peers in order to improve their intercultural competence.
Intercultural peer
awareness
Awareness that helps to handle and be responsive in situations of
intercultural interaction and understanding how to support peers to
develop intercultural competence.
The overall aim of the survey was to analyse ePortfolios with regard to the gain of
intercultural competence perceived by peer tutors during their training. All of the above
codes (definitions) were analysed in-depth in the participants’ ePortfolios. Incisive points
concerning intercultural development were observed, highlighted, categorised and
allocated in accordance with the specific intercultural categories outlined in Table 1. In
addition, the intercultural competence categories were quantified (i.e. it was noted which
categories were mentioned very often, if they could be put together in a possible
correlation, or if they were only rarely or once mentioned). The definitions of intercultural
competence categories were based on those identified within the INCA model and those
identified by EUV: these collectively formed the basis for this altered empirical method of
evaluation. Thus a detailed picture of students’ individually experienced acquirement of
intercultural peer tutoring competences within the Viadrina PeerTutoring programme and
their learning development could be drawn.
Results
The evaluation of the ePortfolios (regarding intercultural competence in the field of peer
tutoring in HE) indicates that, on the one hand, all competences considered by the
programme developers were mentioned but, on the other hand, a huge variety in
viewpoints concerning the students’ learning process were revealed. Due to limited space,
we have summarised representative statements in the following table. They are sorted
according to the pre-defined codes (definitions) previously outlined in Table 1 as
intercultural (peer tutoring) competences. The following exemplary statements expose the
student’s reflection of their own development within the learning process of intercultural
competence. (All citations are taken from the original data and were translated by the
authors from German into English.)
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Table 2. Statements presenting intercultural competences in the ePortfolios by
participants in the ‘Viadrina PeerTutoring’ training programme.
Intercultural competences
Knowledge
discovery
I generally see my intercultural learning process as a spiral because the
theoretical and practical examination with a topic stimulates again and again new
influences and new thinking processes, and through changes and dynamics of
cultures never develops a permanent picture. […] the conscious and written
examination with a newly learned topic motivates continued thought and the
learning process is by no means stagnated. (P4: p.3)
Behavioural
flexibility
For my learning process I definitely also take along flexibility which is connected
to teamwork. (P2: p.2)
Communicative
awareness
Inquiry practices in particular as well as active listening and paraphrasing are
aspects I would like to further practice and develop. I am convinced that a
successful consultation depends on conversation techniques [...] In the future I
would like to give more attention to ask my counterpart where the problem or
issue lies. In case of misunderstandings there cannot occur a good consultation.
(P4: p.7)
Respect for
otherness
Peer learning [...] indeed facilitates the personality development, because you
learn to respond to other team colleagues and to debate with them [...]. (P1: p.2)
Empathy
During the analysis the participants are invited to put themselves into all involved
person’s (or parties) positions. Through looking at a conflict from different
perspectives, they can learn to develop appreciation and empathy for diverse
ways of thinking and acting. Furthermore, a change of perspectives can lead to
visualising the reason behind a conflict which can be attributed for instance to
the different cultural norms and values of the participants [...]. (EP4.1)
Intercultural peer tutoring competences
Methodological
expert
knowledge
[...] triggered me to be engaged with the theory of peer tutoring within the
intercultural context. The interaction with my colleagues motivated me to test a
new dimension for peer tutoring work, bringing me new knowledge and leaving
enough space for creativity and fantasy. (P2: p.5)
Cooperation
More and more it showed that we interact very thoughtfully, although we did not
necessarily consort with each other outside the lecture/ small group or have the
same interests. I’m tracing it back to the fact that we all engaged with the peer
learning situation, that we experienced the tension and dissymmetry with respect
and benefit from it. We encourage, broaden and mutually support each other. (P3:
p.16)
Peer learning
support
Through our collective experiences and shared thirst for knowledge, we grew
together as a group during the time of the lecture. Therefore it has been
established that a huge mutual trust would not have been possible without such a
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successful learning. (P1: p.16)
Intercultural
peer awareness
The participants shall be alerted to their own ‘cultural spectacles’ and perception
structures. This sensitisation generates awareness of ‘other’ interpretation
possibilities and explanatory approaches of actions, which are seemingly
suggested, due to one’s own cultural imprint. At best the participants
experience/learn a certain competence and how to interact in future intercultural
situations. (P3: p.9)
These examples are representative of the students’ reflections and self-evaluation. Each
statement (Table 2) presents the diverse ways in which the participating students
experienced and reflected upon their intercultural learning development led by the
Viadrina PeerTutoring. The findings give the programme developers important insights
into the demands, notions, conclusions and conditions of intercultural learning in HE.
Being aware that these results reflect only students’ self-evaluation, which is subjective,
we can nevertheless conclude the strengths and potential for improvement of our
programme.
One important result of the study was that empathy and respect for others are frequently
mentioned competences in the ePortfolios and have a visible correlation. Through this we
see that these two competences have been especially crucial for the students’ learning
experience. Other competences such as communicative awareness, which we also
consider to be highly important in this context, should have more emphasis put on them in
the future.
The study identified which intercultural peer tutoring competences can be developed within
our training programme, with empathy and respect for others being highlighted by the peer
tutors themselves. Yet, the findings of our study give only a glimpse into the students'
learning process. Students’ ePortfolios are written reflections of their own learning
development and lack assessment by others. All reflection processes point to self-
evaluation and self-centred motivation. Further studies should be broader and include, for
example, empirical examinations of students’ peer guidance work.
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Conclusion
The study showed that Viadrina PeerTutoring is a precious contribution to learning
development in international contexts: the university’s institutional setting, the proximity to
the Polish border, the amount of international students and the increasing process of
internationalisation in universities overall, justifies and demands the action of intercultural
peer tutors supporting their international fellow students in learning development.
Viadrina PeerTutoring is unique in Germany with its interplay between quality, length, and
supervision of the intercultural peer tutors. The intercultural peer tutors have a wide range
of duties: they conduct intercultural workshops, counselling hours and summer school
programmes and contribute to faculty seminars through the delivery of short practical
intercultural units targeting new international students, to prepare and support them for
their study in Germany. To do this, they require specific training which raises their own
intercultural competence. Moreover, they must be trained to design and conduct
workshops, which help fellow international students accommodate themselves to the
German academic culture. We therefore established an important contribution to learning
development in interculturalism and diversity, by developing and implementing a training
programme, the success of which has been demonstrated in the here-presented study.
There has been a benefit and advancement of intercultural competence within the duration
of the Viadrina PeerTutoring training programme as observed in the ePortfolios. The
participants valued a positive and impressive development success during the training
programme. Thus, this first evaluation confirms what our experience has shown so far, that
the existence of intercultural peer tutors is important, because they may actively create
and contribute to a welcoming culture within the German university, and that the training
programme is a win-win-situation, since both tutors as well as the supported students learn
and increase their intercultural and learning competences. Finally, we consider that
intercultural competences are an important aspect of peer tutoring in the international
context, and the specific competences of peer learning support have an exceptional role to
play in the frame of learning development.
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Author details
Jannike Hille is a family assistant and care supervisor for people with learning difficulties
and works in the field of accompanied parenthood. In 2014 Jannike graduated from the
European University Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder) in Intercultural Communication Studies.
Her master’s thesis, entitled ‘About the purchase of intercultural competence at the
university: can intercultural competence be obtained from peer tutoring? Based on the
peer tutoring training at the European University Viadrina, Frankfurt (Oder), investigates
the Viadrina PeerTutoring programme initiated by the Centre for Intercultural Learning. In
her empirical study she was interested in analysing the student’s learning development
and self-assessed acquirement of intercultural competences within this peer programme.
Gundula Gwenn Hiller, PhD, is the director of the Centre for Intercultural Learning at the
European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder), where she has designed different
programmes concerned with the students’ development of intercultural competence. Her
research and teaching area is intercultural communication and competence acquisition in
the context of internationalisation of Higher Education and cultural divergences in teaching
and learning practices. Due to her knowledge of different languages and her interest in
other cultures, she has a wide experience in teaching in international contexts and abroad
(e.g. USA, Poland, Turkey, Italy, France).
Stefanie Vogler-Lipp is a scientific researcher at the Centre for Intercultural Learning at the
European University Viadrina in Frankfurt (Oder). She is currently working in the Viadrina
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PeerTutoring programme. She is teaching and supervising the intercultural peer tutors.
She is working on her dissertation on the improvement and development of the reflection
competence concerning the individual learning process within the intercultural peer
tutoring training. Her teaching and research focus is on intercultural competence in Higher
Education, peer learning and diversity.
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Chapter
Spätestens im Zuge der Internationalisierung der Hochschule ist interkulturelle Handlungskompetenz auch dort zu einer Schlüsselqualifikation geworden. Dieser Band präsentiert Ergebnisse eines Forschungsprojektes zur Analyse interkultureller Missverständnisse und zur Förderung interkultureller Kompetenzen in der Hochschule. Die Beiträge stellen Critical Incidents und eine Typologie studiumsbezogener Missverständnisse ebenso vor wie Konzepte und Materialien zur praktischen Arbeit im Rahmen von Interkulturellen Trainings. Das Buch eignet sich damit sowohl für die Reflexion als auch für die praktische Entwicklung hochschulspezifischer Förderprogramme zur Interkulturellen Kommunikation.
Chapter
Betrachtet man kulturelle Vielfalt als Lernchance für alle Akteure einer Hochschule, dann kann Integration nicht als Leistung gelten, die einseitig von internationalen Studierenden in Form von Anpassung an das deutsche Hochschulsystem zu erbringen ist. Vielmehr bedarf es einer auf interkulturelle Organisationsentwicklung ausgerichteten Internationalisierungsstrategie (Otten 2006; Leenen / Groß 2007), mit der sich ein Wandel im Sinne von internationalisation at home (Crowther et al. 2000) einleiten lässt. Dazu gehört, Internationalisierung nicht nur auf internationale Mobilität zu gründen, sondern Fähigkeiten zum Umgang mit kultureller Vielfalt umfassend und gezielt zu fördern.
Article
Introduction 1. What is peer tutoring? 2. Beneficial effects: why teachers use peer tutoring 3. Theoretical frameworks for peer tutoring 4. How theory can inform practice 5. Planning and promoting peer tutoring 6. Helping students become peer tutors 7. Evaluation of peer tutoring schemes 8. Problems associated with peer tutoring 9. Technology-supported collaborative learning 10. Benefiting from hindsight: practitioners reflect on peer tutoring 11. Reflections and prospects
Intercultural competence -the key competence in the 21 st century?
  • M C Boecker
  • L Ulama
Boecker, M.C. and Ulama, L. (2008) Intercultural competence -the key competence in the 21 st century?, Theses by the Bertelsmann Stiftung and the Fondazione Cariplo (based on the models of intercultural competence by Dr. D. K. Deardorff). Available at: http://www.ngobg.info/bg/documents/49/726bertelsmanninterculturalcompetences.p df (Accessed: 5 July 2015).
Interkulturelle Kommunikation zwischen Deutschen und Polen an der Europa-Universität Viadrina. Eine empirische Analyse von Critical Incidents
  • G G Hiller
Hiller, G.G. (2007) Interkulturelle Kommunikation zwischen Deutschen und Polen an der Europa-Universität Viadrina. Eine empirische Analyse von Critical Incidents. Frankfurt: IKO-Verlag