Globalisation is a powerful force comprised of various dimensions including the economic, the political, the sociocultural, the technological, and the environmental. Globalisation has helped expand international production and trade, facilitated advances in technology and brought people of diverse societies into contact with each other.  Globalisation has increased dramatically in its scope and reach in the last several decades and sparked a heated debate about the pros and cons. One area of interest to psychologists is the impact of globalisation on human interaction.

As reported in Psychology Today, Wolff and Borzikowsky (2018) recently published the findings of a study investigating intercultural competence—the ability to interact effectively with people who are culturally different.

Wolff and Borzikowsky selected a sample of 273 German adults who generally had never lived abroad and never received intercultural training. The study involved the completion of an online questionnaire to assess the international competence (ICC) of the participants and a situational judgment task. Participants were asked to imagine six different scenarios and choose a way to respond to each scenario. One scenario, for example, concerned new working hours at a company based abroad. Would the participant merely accept the new work schedule, look for a way to get the working hours changed, or think about why the new schedule bothered her? (Choosing the last option is an indication of intercultural competence.)

After the original data was collected, a period of time elapsed during which about 70% of the sample spent at least three months while the remaining 30 percent stayed at home in Germany. The researchers compared the participants’ ICC scores to determine if international experience boosted levels of intercultural competence. As expected, the two groups—those who lived abroad and those who stayed in Germany—didn’t differ from each other initially concerning their intercultural competence. As a group, those who remained in Germany saw no change in their ICC scores across time.

However, most of the participants who lived abroad had significantly higher ICC scores, even if they had lived abroad for as little as three months. The most improvement took place in what the researchers called cultural identity reflection, defined as “intensively and constantly reflecting upon one’s own cultural character.” The study showed that living abroad stimulates people to think about culture.

When we live and work in a different country, we see how others are influenced by their cultural upbringing, which causes us to think about how culture shapes our thoughts and actions. This kind of thinking is a valuable first step to becoming a more perceptive, empathetic person in today’s society.


Wolff, F., & Borzikowsky, C. (2018). Intercultural competence by international experiences? An investigation of the impact of educational stays abroad on intercultural competence and its facets. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 49(3), 488-514.