Intercultural Communication has been a popular course at the University of Costa Rica (UCR) since its inception more than 15 years ago. Its objective is to teach Costa Rican students about communicating with people from other cultures. And nowadays, cross-cultural understanding is more important than ever, said UCR English teacher Alvaro Salas.
“The influence of North American enterprise is strong, and there might be an international opening of the market soon, with CAFTA (Central American Free-Trade Agreement with the United States),” Salas told The Tico Times. “There is already a huge demand for English, especially in international companies.
This course gives students the skills to work in intercultural teams.”
Foreign students are encouraged to attend the course, thereby giving Tico students first hand contact with foreign students, and vice versa. The foreign students learn how to deal with Costa Rican culture, minimizing culture shock.
“We all know how easily we can misunderstand and be misunderstood, even in our own language,” said Kari Meyers, founder of the course.
Originally from the U.S. state of Minnesota, Meyers moved to Costa Rica 36 years ago and started teaching English at the UCR in the early 1970s. She is therefore familiar with the challenges of cross-cultural communication.
“It’s crucial to understand the social aspects of language when communicating across cultures and languages,” said Meyers, who is now retired from teaching.
On a recent visit to a class in progress, students talked about their opinions on the subject of international communication. The class had five students from the United States, which is the average number of international students in each class, according to Salas. Most of the foreign students come from the United States, but occasionally classes have students from other nations.
“I like sharing experiences with other people,” said Sissi Calvo, a Costa Rican student.
“When I was in England for the first time, I felt bad because I didn’t know anything about the culture. It’s good to be aware of the differences between cultures. One learns to be more mature. Also, knowing English is going to make your life easier.”
Her classmate Sandra Mongomery, also from Costa Rica, agrees.
“The theory we learn here is useful when we travel abroad,” she said. “Then we will have an idea about what to expect. For me, the Latin American culture is very different from other cultures.”
The North American students said they were happy to be in a class where they could speak English while meeting Costa Rican students.
“I am taking this class to get the entire cultural aspect,” said student Betsy Copeland, from the U.S. state of California. “I live with a host family, but here we learn more directly about cultural differences. We were also told that it’s easy to make Tico friends in this class.”
Observing the class, it was obvious that the students were friendly with each other, and could say what they wanted without being afraid of insulting anyone. This is an important function of the course, according to Salas.
“We try to create a good atmosphere,” Salas said. “Here you have firsthand contact with people from other cultures, and it goes both ways. They have real interaction, and that is important for learning.”
The Intercultural Communication course is open to all students enrolled at the UCR. For more information, contact the university at 207-4000.