Skills you need to become an Intercultural Trainer

The intercultural profession is a very young profession compared to the traditional one’s like accounting, human resources, marketing etc. This is important to keep in mind, because young professions often are unregulated, and do not have a clear professional standard. Sure, there are attempts to create standards, for example through the development of the Code of Conduct by the Society for Intercultural Education and Research. However, in many countries, there still isn’t a clear pathway which shows you when you are ready to become a qualified intercultural trainer. In Australia, for example, you can just do a certification as a corporate trainer, and then call yourself an ‘Intercultural Trainer’.

When I decided that I wanted to become a intercultural trainer a few years ago, of course the first thing I did was to Google ‘how to become an intercultural trainer’ and a few other search variations. The result was very disappointing. Most of the search results were just courses to become a certified trainer. It’s good that these courses exist, but its not the right information for those who wonder where to start. I would like to fill this gap today.

First: experience in terms of living abroad

Naturally, this is one of the most important aspects in order to become an intercultural trainer. It is only when you are exposed to a different cultural environment, that you begin to develop the necessary self-awareness that allows you to reflect on cross-cultural issues. What you need to keep in mind, though, is that it is dangerous to assume living abroad is enough. Some people manage to live abroad without learning much about themselves, or their host culture. They do not reflect much on their experiences, or approach the whole experience from the view that ‘in my culture everything is better, so why should I learn?’, or live in an ‘expat bubble’, in which they stay within the safety of their own diaspora. So the way I see it, the experience of living abroad is not enough, it is only once you develop the skill of effectively handling interactions with people from diverse cultural backgrounds, that you have reached a good basis for starting an intercultural training career.

Second: knowledge in intercultural theory

We have to see this point as directly related to the skill of handling interactions with people from diverse cultural backgrounds. It is only when we are able to apply the intercultural theory in real world situations that we can say we have actually mastered the theory. As a trainer, this is very important, because we also need to be able to equip our trainees with the necessary skills to apply the theory in real life situations. For instance, we may facilitate a discussion about a real conflict the team we are coaching has faced, and help the team find a possible solution to the problem, as well as training them how they can do so themselves in the future.

Third: culture-specific knowledge

I agree with you when you are saying that we need to develop the skills that allow us to quickly learn on how to adapt to a new culture, and that this is what we should provide training in. Nonetheless, we will always have more expertise is one culture, than we will have in others which we have never experienced ourselves. We should thus aim at choosing a particular culture, or more than one, and getting an in-depth knowledge of this particular culture. Over time, intercultural trainers specialize in certain cultural environments.


Fourth: process-related skills

This is something that you will hardly come across when you first decide to become an intercultural trainer. But what we as intercultural trainers often forget is that we need to display to our clients what the benefits of intercultural training are. When we focus on the corporate sector, hardly any client will look for intercultural training just for the sake of it. It is therefore important to become skilled at a process such as conflict resolution, team building, diversity management, or project management. When we have these skills, we can then solve real problems of our clients. Assume, your client is struggling with building a diverse team, and many conflicts evolve within that particular team. It is then our job as an intercultural trainer to solve that problem for them, by equipping their staff members with the necessary skills to solve their conflicts.

Fifth: business-related knowledge

Again, business-related knowledge is something that is rarely emphasized in intercultural communication curricula. That’s not really surprising, since intercultural training is still predominantly focused on the education, and the higher education sectors, which 41.5% and 28.9% of all intercultural trainers serve respectively according to the Status Report of the Intercultural Profession. Businesses haven’t yet understood the value of intercultural training and how it contributes to achieving organizational goals. But why don’t they see the benefits yet? Because we haven’t been able to show them what the benefits are! Part of this is because we lack the business-related knowledge, which we need to understand what problems businesses are facing and how we can contribute to solving them.

Sixth: ability to develop effective trainings

Lastly, we need to be able to develop a training that is designed to solve the problems our clients face. This requires us to assess our clients current situation, and then to develop the right methodology to address these needs. Changing our trainee’s behaviour on the long run is, of course, much more difficult to achieve than simply providing them with the knowledge of a few intercultural concepts. However, if we want to demonstrate the true value of intercultural training to corporate clients, then we need to develop our trainees’ skills in such a way that they are able to perform well in an intercultural team.

As you can see, the skills you need to become an intercultural trainer are extremely diverse and difficult to obtain. This, combined with the fact that only a minority of those working in the intercultural profession make most of their income through intercultural-related work, makes it not surprising that the development of the profession has been quite slow, despite the fact that the demand for intercultural work is increasing and will continue to increase over the years. But I personally believe that this shouldn’t discourage us from taking on this challenging, and exciting profession. If we as individuals are able to develop ourselves in all five of these skills, then we have a unique competitive advantage and should be able to establish ourselves as market leaders in our own local markets.


2 thoughts on “Skills you need to become an Intercultural Trainer

  1. Dear Tim,
    Is there a specific area of Masters study that you would say is more advantageous than others to position myself for a career in Intercultural Training?

    1. Hi Jena,

      In terms of a master degree, I suppose the most obvious solution is to study either intercultural communication or cross-cultural psychology. Other than that, there is also the option of studying specific regional studies (Persian studies, Japanese studies etc.).

      It might also be interesting for you to study something completely different and then later on to do an additional certification course in order to qualify as an intercultural trainer. One example for that could be something like an MBA. Intercultural trainers might lack the knowledge about business and therefore struggle to make their content relevant to the needs of the business. But that depends of course on what area of intercultural training you would like to specialize on.

      I recommend reading the Status Report of the Intercultural Profession in order to get an overview of what areas of intercultural training exist which you could focus on.

      I think perhaps even more important than deciding what to study is where to study as the course of the master degree should provide you with as many opportunities for intercultural learning as possible.


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