[Article by Stellenbosch University Language Centre and Nane Zietsman]
The Faculty of Engineering initiated a new undergraduate module to replace the Professional Communication module that has been compulsory for all first-year engineering students for the past 15 years. Intercultural Communication for Engineers 113 aims to prepare students for a diverse study and work environment by introducing them to effective intercultural communication. The module is presented and facilitated by the Stellenbosch University Language Centre, whose staff members are well acquainted with intercultural communication, both by profession and academic background.
Anchor themes in the module examine the dimensions of culture as an entry point into engaging people from different cultural perspectives. Understanding these concepts and learning how to apply them to different cultures are life-long tools that students can utilise. For assessments, students were tasked with an individually written assignment as well as a group project. For their group project, students had to compare individualistic and collectivist tendencies within societies. They had to create a short video of no longer than two minutes, in which they explained their findings with practical examples.
Intercultural communication skills are vital when communicating and exchanging knowledge in a diverse space. The module does not only help students to understand cultural differences but also empowers them to adapt to these differences. Student feedback collected after the first semester echoes those sentiments. The general feedback included a newfound awareness of cultures outside of the respondent’s own, appreciation for the opportunity to upskill their writing and reading abilities, and fondness of group work.
Goitsemang Nchabeleng, a first-year BEng student, highlights the impact of the module on student communities: “I believe Intercultural Communication promotes togetherness. It helps different individuals interact, get to know each other better, and build relationships.” One student also reflected on the narrow mindset they had at the beginning of the semester and how it has broadened: “I used to look at culture very narrow-mindedly. I now realise that there is great depth to it. Learning about individualism and collectivism, and how to use those concepts to understand different cultures was very interesting and helpful.” Students also praised the module content and the contribution it made to their studies: “The module had so much more detail than what I initially expected. It really deep-dived into the various dimensions of culture. It also developed and improved my writing skills and I am more knowledgeable on how to structure proper essays. The group work also allowed me to bond with new people and form new friendships.”
Language Centre lecturers responsible for the module commended the students for their overall positive attitude, which was evident from the constructive interaction in the face-to-face sessions and the high number of students attending those sessions.
The addition of Intercultural Communication for Engineers highlights the commitment of the Faculty to facilitate a diverse environment that will deliver critical and active graduates, competent to take their place in a multicultural civil society.