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Topic 3

Examples of critical cultural differences and good practices in overcoming problems


“United in Diversity”


Firstly used in 2000, EU motto “United in Diversity” underlines Europeans’ ability to cooperate for peace and prosperity, while preserving a unique combination of many different cultures, traditions and languages. 

Unfortunately, examples of stigmatization or excluding practices remain widespread and for many people, cultural diversity and intercultural learning are inevitably associated with a potential for conflict. If an excess in diversity may lead to a loss of identity, extreme homogeneity may translate into loss of individuality. 

Since teachers and students are often not from the same ethnic, cultural, and social backgrounds, these cultural differences can create serious challenges. Yet, seen through an intercultural lens, conflict can be interpreted as a chance for development, a neutral expression of disaccord between two or more people which can be transformed in a fruitful exchange of opinions, ideas, perspectives.


1 Sandu, O., & Lyamouri-Bajja, N. (2018, 03). T-KIT 4 Intercultural Learning. Retrieved from The Council of Europe and the European Union. COE:


Watch the video to learn more about Topic 3 contents.

Intercultural competences seem to be the real cure to conflicts.

Intercultural competences are the foundation of communication and represent an effective means to bring up active citizens: individuals able to listen, be questioned and eager to reach a common solution to a problem, building bridges across cultural differences. Thus, though some conflicts are somehow unavoidable, it is possible to map potential sources of disagreements and prevent them or find a common solution. To this aim, not only students, but also teachers should be appropriately trained in intercultural awareness and sensitivity. 

The “analysis of critical incidents”, of French anthropologist and social psychologist Margalit Cohen-Emerique, is proposed here as a good practice to help teachers develop their own intercultural competences and learn how to deal with cultural diversity in the classroom. Cohen-Emerique invites us to consider experiences of "culture shock" (or “critical incident”) as the starting point to explore cultural diversity. This methodology can be adapted to many different contexts and specific needs, thus enabling its upscaling. Indeed, though initially destined to social operators working with migrants, the methodology has been transferred to other fields and is suggested here as a useful approach for the school system.  

Based on these premises, Topic 3 provides teachers with different activities aimed to strengthen their students’ ability to embrace and respect cultural and linguistic diversity, educate them on the values of people with a different background, contribute to the creation of culturally sensitive programs. The activities should be implemented keeping in mind the three steps of the analysis of critical incidents (decentration, understanding the other, negotiation) to support the development of students’ intercultural competences. 

In order to test their level of knowledge and competences needed to overcome critical cultural differences, teachers are invited to complete the final test, clicking on “Check your knowledge!”.




Specific objectives


  • To stimulate students’ critical thinking 

  • To effectively manage critical cultural differences 

  • To create a safe and open space for democratic dialogue and active engagement 

  • To pay greater attention to sensitive issues, including gender, body, religion


  • To contribute to the creation of inclusive learning environments 

  • To eliminate widespread prejudices 

  • To respect other perspectives and learn how to overcome conflictual situations

Objectives / Outcome

Learning outcomes


  • Apply Cohen-Emerique’s methodology for the “analysis of critical incidents” 

  • Recognise potential sources of conflicts and possible obstacles to integration 

  • Use different approaches to regulate students’ interactions and overcome problems deriving from cultural differences


  • Recognise personal prejudices and other people’s perspectives  

  • Apply effective behaviours to collaborate and overcome critical cultural differences

  • Use appropriate terms when speaking about other cultures

Good practice


The French psychologist and sociologist Margalit Cohen-Emerique became famous for her innovative approach to cultural diversity: the analysis of “critical incidents”, or “culture shock”. The term, originally used by J.C. Flanagan, refers to a situation in which a misunderstanding, problem or conflict can emerge, due to an encounter with a different cultural background, of which we have scarce knowledge. This event provokes specific intellectual and emotional reactions, mainly linked to incomprehension, fear, surprise, to a feeling of loss. If not recognised, a culture shock may result in defensive behaviours, preventing the opportunity for intercultural encounters².  

On the contrary, culture shocks must be recognised, identified and processed, as important chances for learning, prompting you to analyse your emotional reaction and the real causes at its origin. Margalit Cohen-Emerique identified three main steps to help overcome a culture shock: 

  1. Decentration: during a first stage, it is important to identify your emotional reaction to a culture shock through self-analysis and remaining as much culturally neutral as possible. This process is essential to understand how your cultural reference frame influences your interactions and to identify your sensitive zones. 

  2. Understanding the other: it is time to focus on your interlocutor, investigating his/her values, avoiding simplifications, stereotypes and considering contextual factors. By analysing the other’s reference model, his/her behaviours can become comprehensible, but such efforts require an open mind and curiosity. It is by confrontation with your interlocutor, that you realise the influence of your cultural background in perceiving others. 

  3. Negotiation: in this final step, cultural differences are finally overcome through solutions that consider each participant’s identity. This is the true encounter between two frameworks, where both will try to find a compromise, preserving their individual identity but resisting the need for closure. 

Through this three-step process, Cohen-Emerique methodology aims to detect sensitive areas: potential elements of contrast in the interaction between different cultures.  When the sensitive zones are crossed, you may feel losing your own references, thus experiencing a culture shock. “Sensitive” areas include those elements with a primary role for cultures, e.g.: social rules, physical contacts, space and time, religion, body³.


2  Alessi, A.  et al. (2019). Radicalisation prevention programme. PRACTICE:

3  WELCOMM. (2019). Training Material. WELCOMM:

Good Practice



Cohen-Emerique’s methodology can be adapted to many different contexts. At school, when teachers are faced with cultural diversity, it is fundamental for them to focus on their own identity, feelings and values first, in order to understand what they perceive as different and somehow irritating.

How to implement the critical incidents methodology at school?

Before explaining the importance of cultural diversity to your students, we suggest you to analyse your own cultural background and reference framework⁴.


4 Adapted from DICE Training Manual:


Have a look at the following exercise for self-reflection:

Why don’t you keep a journal where to take notes of any happening making you feel irritated in a multicultural context?

Here are some hints for self-reflection:

1. Don’t be afraid of feeling surprised; rather, let your curiosity emerge!

2. Analyse culture within a wider perspective, considering all elements forming it.

3. Remember: cultures are not static, but constantly changing and exchanging.

4. People are the product of different cultures acquired and integrated throughout their life path.

5. Difference can only emerge from confrontation with others.

5  CESIE. BODI: Teacher’s Handbook. (2017, 06 30). CESIE:

The analysis of scenarios is quite common to apply Cohen-Emerique’s methodology in the educational dimension. Controversial issues may generate strong feelings and tensions in the classroom. Thus, it is important to provide students with the opportunity to explore different perspectives, not necessarily disclosing their personal information, and recognise feelings and emotions in order to be able to control them. Moreover, analysing these real-life scenarios can help you understand where to stand as teacher, learning how to mediate, stimulate students’ critical thinking and expression of their viewpoint. 

The following scenarios can be used to practice your intercultural competences. For each scenario, please reflect on how you would deal with similar situations. Some scenarios are taken from the media, other were created by TEACHmi partnership, other instead are inspired by the Erasmus+ project PRACTICE⁶. The analysis of these scenarios can stimulate discussion with other colleagues from the rest of Europe.


6 PRACTICE - Preventing Radicalism through Critical Thinking Competences: Radicalisation prevention programme (2019):

After reading the scenarios above, think about a situation in which you had to deal with critical cultural differences in the classroom or search in the news for articles focusing on language, migration and education. 

Thus, follow the 6-step process, retrieved from the Erasmus+ project PRACTICE⁷ (inspired by “The kids are alright”, 2018). 

  • Step 1: Do not blame culture or religion as the only cause behind all conflicts. 

  • Step 2: Examine the real reason behind the happening: does it depend on the student’s past experiences?

  • Step 3: Be open and interested in the concern and enable students to express their perspectives. 

  • Step 4: Just intervene if strictly necessary, e.g. when devaluing positions or absolute claims to truth arise. 

  • Step 5: Stimulate discussions, analysing the real wishes of your students on how they want to live. 

  • Step 6: Now check: What do you need to modify in your approach with cultural diversity?



7 PRACTICE - Preventing Radicalism through Critical Thinking Competences: Radicalisation prevention programme (2019):


Check your knowledge!

Assessment tool ★3

References and Useful Links:  

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