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It’s not just words

München, 07/25/2017

When communicating in international groups, it can be hard to discern whether consensus has been reached or ‘covfefe’. To prepare students for work in cross-cultural environments, LMU now offers a certificate course in Intercultural Communications.

Intercultural communications students Truc Phan (left) and Christina Bacher (right)

Everyone has heard of the real (and the apocryphal) pitfalls of intercultural communication. In some Asian cultures, it is customary to refuse food offered to one at least three times (before accepting it). In India, a shake of the head signals assent. The repertoire of gestures used by Italians is impenetrable for outsiders. But how much does one need to know about another culture in order to really understand it? And where can one learn how to behave appropriately in situations that require particular sensitivity, whether in a multinational research or business team, or in a refugee shelter?

International and interdisciplinary
The new course illuminates the subject of intercultural communications from a variety of perspectives, drawing on insights from psychology, neurosciences, communications science and ethnology, for example.

Dr. Ivett Guntersdorfer, who directs the program at LMU’s Institute for Intercultural Communications, also supervises the accompanying seminar. She places considerable emphasis on role-playing – asking her students to act out various types of conflict situations and come up with ways of defusing them. “When they, as a group, have had the opportunity to tease out and reflect on all the ways in which a person can react to a given situation, the result is often a shared aha-reaction,” she says. According to student Christina Bacher, this kind of experience has led her to question her own assumptions. “Many of the things I take for granted are culturally specific – and this realization has opened my eyes to the extent to which one is unconsciously molded by one’s own culture,” she says. Of course, these differences are not defined by international borders alone: “One of my students is now designing an app with which supporters of opposing political views can invite one another to lunch,” Dr. Guntersdorfer delightedly tells me, pointing out that “intercultural communication teaches one that cultures – one‘s own and all the others – are themselves never homogeneous.”

A multipurpose toolkit
“Intercultural communication skills are much sought after,” says Ivett Guntersdorfer. “As our society becomes more heterogeneous and more international, so the ability to adapt to unfamiliar modes of thinking becomes more important – in both personal and professional life.” That explains why the two-semester program is open to Master’s students in all fields and is designed as a supplemental course. “The program provides students with a toolkit that enables them to comprehend and resolve intercultural misunderstandings,” Guntersdorfer says. "And you can use it anywhere and everywhere.”

For information on how to register for the program, see


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