Promoting Cultural Sensitivity in Higher Education: An Educational Approach to Sensitizing Young Travellers for Local Cultures
Authors: Lénia Marques and Mariana Oliveira
Tourists and hosts are increasingly sharing spaces and infrastructures, and the quality of their interactions could be strengthened within formal and non-formal educational contexts. Following a body of research and practices deriving from intercultural communication, cultural tourism, sociology of tourism, and behavioural sciences, the project CultSense – Sensitizing Young Travellers for Local Cultures set out to design tools and resources for fostering sustainable culturally-sensitive practices in Higher Education. By adopting a triple complementary perspective involving students, teaching staff, and industry stakeholders, CultSense strives to develop a more holistic approach towards cultural sensitivity. A theoretical underpinning of the concept goes hand-in-hand with practical educational resources, which include the CultSense Pedagogical toolkit, five learning modules, videos, and a case studies eBook entitled “Creating Cultural Understanding Through Travel”. The article provides an overview of the methodological tools used for researching cultural sensitivity in education (survey, experiment, observation and focus group). Training and exchanges for teachers were central under different formats, such as intensive trainings. The proposed future agenda for cultural sensitivity embraces co-creation of scenarios, as well as transferability and expansion of existing knowledge, tools, and practices.
“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts.” Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a halt in travelling, social contact and cultural consumption, bringing to light our needs, wishes, habits and mobile lifestyles. The thirst for socializing and travelling are also expressed in the amount of travelling. Despite the inflation in 2022-2023 and the war in Ukraine, “Europe reached 90% of pre-pandemic levels in Q1 [first quartile of] 2023, supported by robust intra-regional demand” (UNWTO, 2023). Social interaction and forms of domestic or international mobility seem to go together. At the same time, discourses on sustainable practices in tourism have been gaining increased attention. With all the paradoxes they entail in practice, sustainability concerns are ever greater, in particular among young people. According to the WYSE Travel Confederation, youth between 15-29 years old represent 23% of international tourist arrivals, of which 61% are students (WYSE, 2018).
(Higher) Education plays a primary role in providing young people with tools to address the abovementioned issues, paradoxes, and tensions, in parallel with the knowledge and skills to build stronger and healthier interactions in tourism contexts. Before the pandemic, the discussions in academia and in the media were dominated by the term “overtourism”. It quickly became evident that the term fails to grasp the complexity of issues surrounding mobilities, as well as the relationship between people and space. With these rapidly ever-changing societal and economic complexities, forms of and wishes for mobility are seemingly growing stronger and more diverse. Tourists and hosts are increasingly sharing spaces and infrastructures, and the quality of their interactions in either role could be strengthened within formal and non-formal educational contexts. Following a body of research and practices deriving from intercultural communication, cultural tourism, sociology of tourism and behavioural sciences, a group of scholars together with industry partners set out to design tools and resources for fostering culturally-sensitive practices in Higher Education (HE). Not limited to their HE scope, the co-designed tools and resources envisage working with students who are not only young travellers (i.e. tourists), but also professionals in the fields of Tourism, Leisure and Culture (TLC), meaning that they are hosts both professionally and personally.
In the present article, we provide an overview of the project CultSense – Sensitizing Young Travellers for Local Cultures, which seeks to address the aforementioned complexities by providing tools and resources in open access. The project was funded by the Erasmus+ programme of the European Commission and lasted for three years (September 2020-August 2023). CultSense was led by the Erasmus University Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, and developed together with: University of Girona, Spain; NOVIA University of Applied Sciences, Finland; Instituto Politécnico de Viana do Castelo, Portugal; and Lucian Blaga University of Sibiu, Romania. WYSE Travel Confederation and ATLAS – Association for Tourism and Leisure Education were associate partners.
Building on parallel projects and studies, and with all limitations inherent to such a project and theme, the learning approach in CultSense positions itself as a stepping-stone to a more holistic approach towards cultural sensitivity, where different skills and approaches to intercultural awareness and action are included. More specifically, CultSense’s actions aim at contributing to a specialized educational approach that develops understanding attitudes towards other cultures (domestic and international). To achieve these goals, we have co-created various tools to support young travellers better understanding of local norms, values, beliefs, and cultures of the places they visit, as well as their own.
Our resources include, among others, an eBook entitled Creating Cultural Understanding Through Travel – CultSense Case Collection, five Learning Modules covering different themes, a pedagogical toolkit for teaching staff, a methodological approach and academic articles. All the resources are available in open access, along with further information about our project which can be found on the website www.cultsense.com. The outcomes of the project were shared on the Erasmus+ Project Results Platform, Open Science Framework (OSF), Research Gate, and, specifically for the videos, the YouTube channel.
A Multi-layered Approach to Cultural Sensitivity in Education
Behind the resources and tools of CultSense, there are different conceptual and empirical frameworks. The concepts used in the title “Sensitizing Young Travellers for Local Cultures” are complex and prone to rich debate and prolific discussions, which – the CultSense team hopes – would constitute the building blocks of an ever-more solid body of knowledge and sustainable set of practices. Young travellers are the present and future of the industry in their potential different roles of hosts and visitors. Albeit slow and always difficult to measure in the short term, actions that lead to change can be pro-actively sought, Higher Education Institutions (HEI) have a responsibility to foster them. This willingness for action and change is expressed with the -ing form of the verb – “sensitizing” – which invites to action, and reflects the continuous character of such processes. “Sensitizing” can have many meanings and even be interpreted as a unidirectional action. However, it is considered here as a bridge and invitation to plural dialogues on the subject of local cultures. But what does the expression “local cultures” entail?
From its composition, local cultures is immediately a complex expression – what is local?1 what is culture? and what is the role of local cultures in tourism? In our project, local cultures refers to cultural elements that relate to a given geographical location and the people who live there. This location is a potential tourism destination. CultSense understands the local as an expression of relational space (Jones & Woods, 2013: 35), i.e. it considers the networks and relationships beyond territorial boundaries. With its nuances, political stands and different narratives, policies and experiences, the concept is used in a broad sense while acknowledging that “local culture is always marked and always part of a larger-than-local context” (Shuman, 1993: 345). Hurst at al. (2021: 501) frame it within tourism: a context where “culturally sensitive activities and interactions (…) are interpreted as culturally contingent, place-based and context-specific”, although pinpointing there are fundaments which “transcend the context-specific examples” (Hurst et al., 2021: 501). Education has a role in shedding light on the commonalities that can bring together local cultures as living and organic systems. Cultural sensitivity could be such a common pillar.
Studies in different fields such as intercultural communication or cross-cultural management have investigated communication between individuals of different cultural backgrounds, however the implications in in travel and tourism are yet understudied. Work by Bennett (1986; 1993) and Hammer & Bennett (2003) on intercultural sensitivity or by Chen & Starosta (2000) on cultural sensitivity have set the tone for posterior debates. Drawing on Bennett’s (1986) development model of intercultural sensitivity, Viken et al (2021) suggest six types of relationship to cultural differences according to two orientations: 1) in the ethnocentric orientation, assimilation, stereotyping and appropriation; 2) in the ethnorelative orientation, recognition, respect and reciprocity. The latter orientation, which is when there is openness to value other cultural characteristics different from one’s own (ergo ethnorelative), implies “that sensitivity becomes possible in different kinds of encounters between the self and multiple others” (Viken et al. 2021: 5). Saari et al. (2020) identify five themes in cultural sensitivity: respect, cultural sustainability, cultural carrying capacity, cultural representations, and cultural identity. Although these themes emerged from the Finnish context, they seem to be in line with previous research.
Part of these studies were carried out in the context of the ARCTISEN project (https://sensitivetourism.interreg-npa.eu/). This Interreg project looked into stimulating tourism actors in the Artic regions for culturally-sensitive tourism business development with an indigenous focus. Besides practical tools, such as online courses, their work has contributed significantly to advance scholarly debates on cultural sensitivity in tourism (e.g. Saari et al. 2020; Hurst et al. 2021; Viken et al. 2021).
In the same vein, with its educational approach, CultSense takes cultural sensitivity as a competence that can be tackled also in curricula as a pathway towards sensitized forms of tourism (Marques, 2021), with the aim of contributing to the education of cosmopolitan citizens that have a wider view of the world, understanding their own cultures and being open to and curious about others. Creating learning environments leading to the achievement of such ambitious goal in the scope of the tourism experience involves a reflection on forms of fostering and experiencing cultural sensitivity. These can be represented on the two axis as illustrated in Figure 1: participation (passive to active); and identity space (Self and Other).
The realm of creative tourism, for example, provides fertile ground for the development of culturally-sensitive practices, touching the sweet spot (circle at the centre of the four dimensions).2 Creative tourism is a more embedded form of cultural tourism (Richards, 2021), which connects hosts and visitors and provides a context for close observation, social and cultural exchanges, self-development, and in some cases, active stewardship, as both hosts and visitors value a given culture becoming its ambassadors.
In brief, without leaving unacknowledged theoretical debates, the CultSense project has its mission in Education as a gamechanger for industry practices and societal change leading to a better quality of life. In order for the tourism industry to respond to challenges, including that of increasing awareness of one’s own and Other’s local cultures, formal and informal education are essential for ensuring that tourists appreciate the places they visit and are more appreciated by locals.
Stakeholders and their complementary perspectives
As an educational project, CultSense was designed with a triple complementary perspective:
1) Students – CultSense aimed to create a space for a bottom-up approach to awareness, working from within, with young people, who are both future professionals, as well as current and future tourists. The project brought together an international team of teachers and researchers to develop a common methodological approach and co-create pedagogical tools aimed at young travellers. The CultSense resources were co-created by students in different countries, teachers, and, wherever relevant, other local residents and industry stakeholders.
2) Teachers – CultSense provided training for teachers on how to incorporate cultural sensitivity into their teaching. This approach was embryonically extended to other staff members who have a direct impact on students or are related to international affairs. This benefits not only transversal and horizontal exchange between different roles in HEIs, but it also enriches cultural sensitivity knowledge and skills at personal and professional level.
3) Industry stakeholders – Since its ideation phase, CultSense involved industry stakeholders as associate partners to ensure that the tools and resources were relevant and applicable to the field. Throughout the project, additional industry stakeholders were involved in the workshops and webinars, or as video competition jury members. Communication was also aimed at the industry, in particular the website and the LinkedIn channel.
Over the three years of the project, the CultSense team, students and, to some extent, industry stakeholders have been co-creating for the development, testing, and refinement of tools that can be used in many contexts, particularly within Tourism, Leisure and Culture (TLC) programmes. Although aimed primarily at these fields, the adaptability and versatility of these resources make them transferable to a wide range of subjects. With an emphasis on the importance of knowledge transfer and collaborative learning, all the resources were made available in open access on a series of channels, including the project’s website, different social media, and scholarly sharing platforms, like Research Gate or the Open Science Framework.
The result was a set of interconnected educational tools and resources. Among others, we should highlight the following most relevant tools for educational settings: Pedagogical Toolkit, Learning Modules, Videos, Case Studies, Methodological Tools. We describe them in more detail in the next sections.
CultSense Open Access Resources
3.1 Pedagogical Toolkit
The CultSense Pedagogical Toolkit (Marques, Aulet & Oliveira, 2023) provides a wide selection of materials for teachers to work on cultural sensitivity, in particular in mobility contexts. Although aimed primarily at the fields of Tourism, Leisure and Culture, the tools, suggestions and information included in the toolkit can be adapted to a range of topics, such as Languages, Business and Administration, or Media and Communication. As cultural sensitivity relates to relevant transferable skills, the adoption of the toolkit resources can be pictured in a wide range of distinct contexts, only limited by our imagination and creativity.
The toolkit includes and builds on other resources produced throughout the project, bringing them together in an educational proposition for nurturing cultural sensitivity as a competence in a HE environment. In order to guide teachers in fostering this competence in their classroom, the Pedagogical Toolkit includes different complementary parts which can be used independently.
The CulSense Pedagogical Toolkit begins with a section dedicated to self-reflection aimed, in the first place, at educators as an exercise of self-awareness and self-positioning. It is then followed by a scholarly reflection on cultural sensitivity, positioning the concept in contemporary debates. Another section examines Inclusive Education as an integrant part of cultural sensitivity in education, providing tips and tools for the classroom. The CultSense methodology is described, with details on the CultSense Survey and Experiments, which have been tested by the project and are available for use in open access (for more details on our methodological approach, please see below). In the toolkit, readers can also find an overview with short descriptions and links to many CultSense Learning Tools, such as the Learning Modules, Case Studies and Videos (please see below for more details). The CultSense Pedagogical Tool provides a set of additional educational tools with recommendations for working on Cultural Sensitivity, closing with a set of selected resources to explore further.
3.2 Learning Modules
The CultSense project team has designed five learning modules (see Figure 2) to support teachers working with young travellers on their sensitivity for their own and other cultures. The modules are designed to be easily integrated into the classroom, particularly in TLC programmes. Each module, including tools created within the project, provides materials, activities, and assessments that can be used to explore a specific topic related to cultural sensitivity. Based on teaching interactions, experiences, focus groups, exchanges with students and teachers, as well as knowledge of the current issues in TLC, five themes were chosen:
- A Taste of Culture (on Gastronomy)
- Spirituality: The Everyday Presence of Sacred Places, Rituals and Practices
- Emotions and Encounters in Tourism
- Living like a Local
- Engaging with Local Cultures
Each module is composed by the following sections:
- Learning Goals
- To explore (with different categories of materials)
- Appendices (e.g. assessment rubrics)
The modules are adjustable, as materials and activities can be replaced or supplemented with others. A selection of CultSense resources was made, serving also as a basis for developing one’s own modules. Supplementary support materials were also provided to deepen the subject of each Learning Module.
The team was striving for the highest quality and integration of materials with different HEIs revising and contributing to different modules. In fact, creating the modules is in itself a learning and training tool for staff, and that is the reason why this process was included early on as part of the trainings in the project. Therefore, although the Learning Modules are for students’ development, they can also work as a training, inspiration and guide for teachers.
Many activities and assessment tools of the modules were tested and used in different contexts to allow for a more international scope. The Learning Modules are published online under a Creative Commons license CC-BY and are registered in the Open Science Framework, with a DOI, allowing its extended use.
Part of the resources suggested in the Learning Modules consist of videos. The purpose of the CultSense videos was to use a popular means of communication among youth. By employing a more active approach, these videos seek to create a positive impact on students and travellers alike. The suggested topics are aligned with the themes of the case study collection. Project partners have explored the use of videos in their classes with valuable results. In this context, the use of social media platforms was strategic due to their prevalence among the target audience. The CultSense project produced three types of audiovisual content created by team members, interns, and/or students from affiliated universities. Three video series were born: CultSense Presents, CultSense Talks, and Travel Reels (see table 1).
Table 1. Typology of Videos in the CultSense Project
The “CultSense presents…” series, led by students in conceptualizing and developing video content, aimed to encourage sensitivity towards local cultures among current and prospective (young) tourists. The co-creation process between students and teachers resulted in videos exploring the perspective of hosting young visitors. In this series, there was also place for awareness, valorisation of one’s own culture through the eyes of the Other. The participation of exchange students brought an added layer to an intercultural travel experience.
The “CultSense Talks!” series is a collection of short interviews with different individuals, including students, young travellers, or professionals in the culture and tourism sectors. Students, including interns from affiliated Higher Education institutions, and teachers actively co-created these videos.
The Travel Reels is a collection of short videos covering a variety of topics, posted on Instagram. These are a combination of travelling experiences and cultural heritage valorisation.
From an educational perspective, in particular for the series “CultSense presents…”, the entire process of the video production was primarily centred on students in TLC. The production process engages students, promoting active learning and empowering them to contribute meaningfully to cultural sensitivity, from their perspective while inspiring others. Except for the Instagram reels, learning goals were thoughtfully developed for each video.
The concept of video-making is easily transferable to other local contexts and proved very popular among students, who responded very enthusiastically to this challenge. The video format and cultural sensitivity topics have been used either as an integrant part of the main body of a course or as a possibility among others for an assignment.
A video competition was organised as a way to open the topic to young people (not only limited to students) all over the world. The jury was composed by internal members of the project as well as industry partners. The winner was announced at the final conference and received an award.
The CultSense videos are freely available on the project’s website, the Erasmus Results Platform, and on different social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube and Instagram. The videos in local settings seek to stimulate future visitors to find valuable cultural insights. Furthermore, local tourism offices can benefit from using these videos as a means of effectively communicating cultural specificities to visitors. Teachers and students could build on this body of audiovisual content to expand cultural sensitivity further.
3.4 Case studies
Another co-creation example is the open-access eBook entitled Creating Cultural Understanding Through Travel. CultSense Case Collection (Engberg, Björkroth, & Marques, 2022), presenting eight case studies on cultural sensitivity for education. The cases are a combination of stories, theoretical underpinning, best practices, learning goals, guiding questions for the classroom, and images.
The case studies have a mixed approach of storytelling and case analysis, starting with a short fictional story often inspired by real events. These stories lay the groundwork for a deeper reflection, some of which are based on empirical research. Each case study is written to promote a healthy discussion on sensitive topics, where an intercultural outlook brings out the tensions, issues and need for openness, trust and empathy in various situations.
To create these case studies, the project team collaborated closely with students and teachers from partner institutions specializing in TLC. The focus was on understanding particular examples of interventions and/or initiatives that are fertile ground in raising awareness and sensitizing tourists to local cultures. All partner institutions have actively contributed to the case studies, ensuring a diverse range of topics and experiences. Each case study focused on a specific location or an intervention which can potentially lead to experiencing cultural awareness changes.
The case studies are divided into four sections. The first section – Emotions, Culture and Tourism – deals with various emotions in culture and tourism, considering Auschwitz as an example of a war tourism site; and looking at the liveability of De Wallen, the Amsterdam’s Red Light District, from a female resident perspective. The second section – Tastes of Culture – approaches gastronomy as an essential part of the cultural experience. Looking at the regions of Catalunya (Spain) and Minho (Portugal), the cases explore how gastronomy provides opportunities to improve the tourist attractiveness of the destination through bottom-up approaches to regional development. The third section – Spirituality and Sacred Sites – discusses matters of spirituality and sacredness, discussing the implications of commercializing the tradition of the sauna to suit tourism and modern tourists in Finland, as well as visits to sacred places in Catalunya, considering different tourism offerings and functions as religious places. The fourth and final section – Engaging with Local Cultures – explores how Erasmus mobility can be considered as a culture-led experience, and how tourism generated by the cultural route Via Transilvanica in Romania could impact local communities economically and culturally.
Designed to be used both as a stand-alone educational resource or as part of the Learning Modules and Pedagogical Toolkit, each case study includes reflective points and educational questions, in order to promote independent learning and self-reflection among students.
3.5 Methodological Tools for Researching Cultural Sensitivity in Education
A methodological approach to cultural sensitivity was developed which encompasses a survey, experimental setting, focus group, and observation guidelines (see Figure 4).4 The combination was created for educational settings, but it is adaptable to other contexts.
The survey was carried out to establish indicators on cultural sensitivity for a cross-cultural comparison. The survey includes different aspects of cultural sensitivity, such as intercultural competence, cosmopolitanism, travel benefits and perception of interactions. The original English survey was translated into several other languages: Dutch, Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Finnish, Swedish, Romanian, and French. The CultSense team collected data longitudinally and results are in preparation. The templates of the survey are available online in open access in the CultSense page of the Open Science Framework.
The experimental settings were tailor-made to fit each class and topic. The idea is to use a resource or a tool in class, measuring its impact. The set up was piloted and adjusted to other classes. An instrument was developed which is a short survey, preferably to be applied at the beginning of classes, and then repeated once the tool(s) have been used in class. Results can be shared with students as a point of discussion. This instrument proved more difficult to use. At the moment this paper was written, results were under scrutiny, given that most classes in TLC tend to be small-sized making it more challenging for analysis. Examples of the questionnaire are available in English and Portuguese. The English version has been published in the CultSense Pedagogical Toolkit.
Two types of focus group were held. The first one “aimed to identify the students’ perception regarding (1) the ideal tourist in their HEI region/area/city, and (2) their ideal experience as young travellers they imagine/dream of having abroad” (Silva & Oliveira, 2020). The guidelines included topics such as contact with locals and potential themes for videos relating to cultural sensitivity. The discussions occurred during interesting times as it was in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic and many travel restrictions were in place. The first focus group provided a good start for discussions, stimulating students to engage with the topics of the project. This was taken further in the second focus group. The aim was to discuss cultural sensitivity more in depth, relating it to local and international context. The participation of exchange students provided an excellent opportunity for further international perspectives and experiences.
The CultSense project held a series of meetings and training activities with partners from different cultural backgrounds. These activities took place in locations in Europe and provided a rewarding opportunity for gathering insights on cultural sensitivity from specific shared experiences both from a visitor’s perspective and a host (local) perspective. These activities were a rich source of information for the CultSense project and contributed to understanding better cultural sensitivity in context, as well as provided insights into how more optimal conditions for cultural sensitivity can be facilitated, in particular in the context of HE.
A semi-structured observation protocol was provided beforehand and the observations were shared after the meeting / training. The underlying research question was “How is cultural sensitivity experienced, interpreted and observed in different geographical and cultural settings”?
The observation protocol was composed of the following guiding questions:
- What aspects of cultural sensitivity are lived by the individual and observed in the social context?
- What factors emerge as priority in the context of cultural sensitivity?
- Why are those factors important and how do they shape the experience?
- What patterns of locals and visitors experience can be observed?
- How can these observations be used to inform better practices in fostering culturally-sensitive contexts and experiences?
The format was flexible, and some participants decided to keep (short) travel journals, including writing, pictures, small objects, or drawings. The CultSense observation protocol became part of the intensive trainings for teachers and administrative staff related to international affairs. The protocol can be used in other types of training, in student field trips or intensive programmes. Even more than an object of research, taking a moment to write down one’s observations can be a valuable exercise to engage consciously with the four dimensions of a culturally-sensitive tourism experience (see Figure 1).
- 5. Training and Exchanges for Cultural Sensitivity
Throughout the project, training and exchanges for teachers were central under different formats, such as intensive trainings, conference or webinars. In the guidelines for Culturally Responsive Teaching, Krasnoff (2016) points out six characteristics to preparing teachers to be more culturally responsive: socio-cultural consciousness; attitude; commitment and skills; constructivist views; knowledge of student’s life; culturally responsive teaching. These guidelines aiming at equity in the classroom can be inspiring for considering the importance of training and learning as a way to prepare the ground for teachers to improve their knowledge, skills and competences navigating through the (troubled) waters of such complex cultural matters. When put together with the themes previously identified by Saari et al. (2020), which refer more specifically to the context – respect, cultural sustainability, cultural carrying capacity, cultural representations, and cultural identity –, there is abundant room to develop lifelong learning experiences for cultural sensitivity.
The first step is training the trainers and opening up opportunities for meaningful exchanges. One fundamental part of cultural sensitivity education is therefore the development of teachers knowledge and skills. Without teachers being actively engaged and being culturally-sensitively aware, little can happen. Training in this respect can, on the one hand, create opportunities for being embedded in other cultures, getting a local perspective and insider’s knowledge, stories and explanations. On the other hand, it provides a platform for a polyphonic exchange where locals consider how to be a host for their own culture, reflect on their habits and familiar gestures, and make implicit knowledge into explicit (e.g. explaining how to eat calçots in Catalunya, what the Romanian le means, how the ferryboat trip is lived in Finland). The exchanges are active and in loco.
As the success of the Erasmus+ programmes has demonstrated, the value of first-hand experiences is widely recognised. In the case of cultural sensitivity in tourism and travel, the value of such experiences lies also in the awareness of playing different roles (visitors, hosts, business developers, residents, etc.). Meetings, events, and, in particular, intensive trainings can be platforms to optimise and expand the value of such educational exchanges.
Throughout CultSense, different types of meetings were held. The regular project meetings took place for logistics, updates and decisions. During the pandemic, the meetings were online, paving the way to a very re-energizing first face-to-face meeting, full of exchanges and positive emotional energy (Collins, 2004). In terms of moments for exchange and collaborations, webinars also proved very useful for the team to collaborate and engage others beyond the scope project. The final event, organised jointly with ATLAS, and with the collaboration of WYSE, was composed by a conference, student-workshop, concert and video-competition. The event enabled intercultural exchanges between participants from all over the world. Discussions on cultural sensitivity through different lenses, as well as on projects and educational experiences worldwide enriched the debates and knowledge on the topic.
Besides, the CultSense team developed, tested and fine-tuned a model for intensive training for cultural sensitivity. The training was set up to respond effectively to a need to update knowledge, attitude and skills. As an activity fostering lifelong learning, this intensive training was thought in the first place for teachers in TLC, however its scope can be expanded into other areas. The training model used in the project is structured in five days of training in one location or region. The specific programmes were developed according to each educational and regional context, following the same basic components: project meeting; workshop / seminar; local activity; talks with local stakeholders; exploration time; evaluation. The programme should provide time to reflect, explore, observe and spontaneously come together. Optional activities were proposed (e.g. walk part of the Via Transilvanica, which is one of the case studies in the eBook).
In the overall evaluation of the intensive training, it became transparent that these exchanges were relevant in more than one aspect to most participants, who appreciated the first hands-on experience, discussing a variety of topics which also fed into their education designs and in their contributions on materials such as the Pedagogical Toolkit. In their evaluation of the trainings, a participant pinpointed their impressions:
The LTTA´s [training] permitted a first-hand study of human values in a cross-cultural perspective. Uses and habits of local inhabitants like the sauna culture in Finland, the nature and gastronomy approach for sustainable development in Romania and the religious sites and museum in Cataluña. (participant 2) . The participants unanimously and enthusiastically referred to the benefits of the training for getting to know other participants and, in particular, develop a deeper connection with each other in an intercultural team:
Good way to meet all the team; Teams more engaged; A different and unique way to get to know the regions, in contact with the locals – best way in my opinion to really get to know the culture of a region. (participant 9)
The LTTAs [trainings] have definitely made the CultSense team closer. The CultSense project has been a teamwork process and the LTTAs [trainings] made one ‘see’ the members from that culture in a context. (participant 8)
Team work was definitely a strong point. For example, working with different colleagues to establish indicators turned out to be very efficient. (participant 11)
The benefits for the project and the quality of the outcomes are a result of the team’s motivation. It is important to underline however that the intercultural learnings and collaborations can only occur to the extent that people are open to new learning experiences which might challenge their assumptions. Like in any other learning activity, levels of interest and engagement can differ. Openness, respect, curiosity and willingness to shift own views are conditions sine qua non for a significant intercultural learning experience.
A Future Agenda for Cultural Sensitivity
The CultSense project has officially come to an end in August 2023, however, its purpose, tools and follow-ups will continue with furthering collaborations or expanding the scope of its research, for example, developing research on student exchange mobilities, in the line of what Silva et al. (2022) discuss.
As with any project, CultSense has a limited scope, and its limitations can inspire further work and collaborations, both in teaching and researching cultural sensitivity as they nurture each other and contribute to an optimised body of knowledge and educational designs. Future work should therefore embrace co-creation of scenarios, as well as transferability and expansion of existing knowledge, tools, and practices. In this framework, the points below covering geographical, educational, political entrepreneurial and social dimensions are suggested as a future agenda:
- Research and educational exchange with more countries and in different continents, for cross-comparison of theories and practices
- Further develop a range of learning experiences and trainings for a variety of publics where participants play different roles (e.g. visitor, host)
- Extend the use of tools and empirical research to all levels of education, since infancy till lifelong learning environments, both in formal and non-formal education
- Research into the tools and also more experimentation, including with AI and related critical thinking
- Intensified participation of governance bodies, including in local, regional, European and international policy-making
- Closer collaboration with the industry, more specifically with SME’s and non-profit / social cohesion organisations.
- Practical use of cultural sensitivity tools and related products commercially and socially (e.g. creative tourism, education department of museums).
- Examine cultural sensitivity in different social groups, also in the framework of inclusivity, equity and sustainability in Education
- Explore the field of affect, and empathy tools in the context of travelling and cultural sensitivity
- Investigate potential ripple effects of educational design for cultural sensitivity on future generations.
Studies on (inter)cultural sensitivity, including on education, would therefore benefit to be continuously updated and further developed to include current challenges, motivations, ways of travelling and communicating, and technological advancements. Pursuing these guidelines will certainly not solve all the paradoxes and biases in travelling experiences. However we have a positive outlook on how cultural sensitivity can be addressed for and with young people – (future) tourists, hosts, professionals in tourism, policy-makers. The “utopian sensitized tourist” (Marques, 2021) is still only that – a utopia. One might argue that, after all, travelling is not the magic potion to a better world, because with so many people travelling “the world [would be] kinder and less biased by now” (Stone, 2020). However, although it seems “that travel may not inspire enough empathy to turn tourists into social justice activists, the alternative—not traveling at all—may actually be worse” (Terry, 2020). For this reason, educators need to keep working further on cultural sensitivity towards building bridges between people that might just agree to accept their differences, or ideally, turning those same differences into an opportunity for meaningful learning.
The authors wish to also express their gratitude to all partners. The CultSense project wouldn’t have been possible without the work and the close collaboration of the partner organisations and their teams. The support of ATLAS and WYSE was highly appreciated. There have been other numerous contributions to the project. To all of you who made CultSense happen – thank you.
This work was supported by the Project “CULTSENSE – Sensitizing young tourists for local cultures”, number 2020-1-NL01-KA203-064791, funded by Erasmus+ programme.
The European Commission’s support for the production of this publication does not constitute an endorsement of the contents, which reflect the views only of the authors, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
Erasmus School of History, Culture and Communication, Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. firstname.lastname@example.org (corresponding author)
Erasmus University Rotterdam, The Netherlands. PO Box 1738, 3000 DR Rotterdam, The Netherlands
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- Research Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Lenia_Marques2
Escola Superior de Tecnologia e Gestão, Instituto Politécnico de Viana do Castelo, Portugal. email@example.com
- LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/cmioliveira/
- Research Gate: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Mariana-Oliveira-123
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