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Intercultural Awareness

Photo credit: Steve Snodgrass

Intercultural awareness and empathy are central to calm and inclusive classrooms and whole school approaches that promote learning and a sense of belonging for children with refugee experiences.

Intercultural awareness involves an awareness of one’s own cultural beliefs, values and perceptions as well as those of the people we communicate with (Zhu, 2011). Intercultural awareness is therefore considered critical to effective communication across cultures (WELCOMM, 2020).

Intercultural empathy goes a step further than intercultural communication. When we empathise, we imaginatively step into the world of another person (Broome, 2017). Therefore, intercultural empathy involves engaging with the world through the cultural lens of someone who belongs to a different culture or cultures, to our own. When intercultural empathy is nurtured and practiced in a classroom setting, it can help students and teachers communicate their understanding of each other’s cultural worlds (Barron, 2020) and reach a synthesis of perspectives. These efforts can support classroom group members to overcome differences that might otherwise lead to hostility, division and othering (Broome, 2017).

According to Rettig (2017), intercultural empathy consists of three dimensions:

  • Cognitive empathy: adopting the perspective of the other person and imagining how that person perceives a particular situation,
  • Emotional empathy: imagining the feelings of the other person and also being able to vicariously “feel” these emotions ourselves,
  • Behavioral empathy: acting in a way that shows our understanding of the other person and gives the other person the feeling that we care.

Intercultural understanding is one of the general capabilities outlined under the Australian Curriculum; which has identified expressing empathy, demonstrating respect and taking responsibility as critical to students’ development of intercultural understanding (ACARA, 2020). Therefore, elements of both intercultural awareness and empathy are included in intercultural understanding.

Given the central place of intercultural awareness and empathy in the Australian Curriculum, Hints for Healing seeks to support educators by presenting articles, interviews podcasts and case studies that showcase the many ways in which educators can foster intercultural empathy in their classrooms and in their broader school communities.


ACARA (2020). Intercultural Understanding. Australian Curriculum. Retrieved from: on 14 October 2020.

Barron, J. (18 March 2020). COVID-19: A Teachable Moment for Intercultural Empathy. Globally Grounded. Retrieved from:

Broome, B. J. (2017). Intercultural Empathy. The International Encyclopedia of Intercultural Communication, 1-6.

Rettig, T. (17 November 2017). Intercultural Empathy: A Guide to Real Understanding Across Cultures. Intercultural Mindset. Retrieved from:

WELCOMM (14 October 2020) Retrieved from:

Zhu, H. (2011). From Intercultural Awareness to Intercultural Empathy. English Language Teaching, 4(1), 116-119.

Culturally and Therapeutically Savvy Engagement with Learners and their Families with Refugee Experience

16 October 2020

By Rafik Tanious, School Liaison Counsellor/Project Officer Rural and Regional NSW, STARTTS

How do we make education engage with the life-worlds of learners and families with refugee experience?

One of the primary challenges of our educational systems is related to how we can best connect schools with the communities that access education and include the rich ‘life worlds’ that communities bring into the learning environment so we can all be enriched by each individual’s capacity to uniquely participate.

This is not a goal that can be easily legislated or achieved through simple ‘policy’ and practice directives. It requires critical reflection on action practices centred around the needs of learners and an understanding of how our own perceptions are shaped by our life worlds.

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