Course Information
WRLD 302 - Communicating Across Cultures

Course Description

NOTE: This ia an abbreviated version of the course syllabus - complete course information and materials are in the Blackboard course Web site.

"Communicating Across Cultures" is designed to help meet the challenges of living in a world in which, increasingly, you will be asked to interact with people who may not be like you in fundamental ways. Its primary goal is to provide you with the knowledge and skills that will help you interact successfully with people from cultures other than your own and in contexts/environments that are different and unfamiliar. The course will introduce standard approaches and methods for analyzing differences among cultures, developed by scholars of communication. These systems will be used to discuss a variety of countries/cultures. But we will also examine theories and practices in intercultural communication from the following perspectives: critical thinking (how universally applicable are the theories and approaches), ethics (how we deal with cultural practices at odds with our own values), and sustainability (how do we help sustain the cultural integrity of less documented cultures in the face of globalization) - all crucial to responsible global citizenship in today's world. Ultimately, the course should provide a means to move beyond superficial, stereotyped assessments of different cultures and their representatives.

Course Topics and Goals/Outcomes

By completing this course, the most successful students will acquire the knowledge, skills, & motivation to...

FOCUS 1: CULTURE [cultural rules & roles, identity construction, demographic changes/trends]

Understand the nature of cultural traditions

  • perceive patterns in cultural traditions/values in behavior and communication
  • appreciate the complexity in the construction of cultural identities
  • gather knowledge in the areas of cultural geography and world demographics

Look at people as individuals

  • be aware of cultural patterns and taxonomies but not use them as a guide in individual interactions
  • learn how personal identities are constructed and how they can change
  • understand the roles of gender, race, families, groups in constructing personal identities

FOCUS 2: COMMUNITY [group characteristics & identities, ethnocentrism, ethics in intercultural communication]

Unlearn certainty

  • value inherited values and traditions but examine received wisdom rationally and with an open mind
  • strive in dealing with new ideas/people/situations to use evidence-based critical thinking over making snap judgments
  • understand that being certain is not always an indicator of being in possession of a truth

Embrace difference

  • recognize how difficult it is to accept fundamental differences in appearances, behaviors, and values
  • accept that the first step in this goal is to understand ones own cultural/personal identity
  • understand/appreciate cultures and traditions different from ones own & from the cultural mainstream

Champion social justice

  • accept the validity of all human cultures, their fundamental human rights and ethical systems
  • come to support cultural sustainability and the importance of preserving cultures & languages
  • understand the perspectives of marginalized groups, migrant communities, indigenous peoples

FOCUS 3: COMMUNICATION [verbal and non-verbal communication, language learning]

Become informed communicators

  • learn the basics of linguistics => what is language, how languages work, variations in use, world language families
  • understand communication styles across cultures & individuals; how communications are shaped by new media
  • learn about non-verbal communication across cultures and its connection to spoken language

Become informed language learners

  • gain insight into language acquisition - what linguists know, what works in general, what might work for you
  • understand the role that technology plays today: social media, language learning tools and services
  • learn how to keep what you've learned (language maintenance) & how to add more (memory techniques, polyglots)

FOCUS 4: CONTEXT [intercultural communication in practice]

Understand the dynamics of intercultural interactions in different contexts, specifically in...

  • environments: how they effect communication
  • conflicts between cultures and individuals: causes and resolution
  • relationships between representatives from different cultures (friendship, dating, marriage
  • professions (business, health care, education, tourism) travel, work, and study abroad (adaptation, culture shock)

Course Structure

The course is being taught in a hybrid or blended learning format, meaning that a substantial part of the course will be conducted on-line. Most weeks we will meet face-to-face once (normally Thursdays). In-person class sessions will be used primarily for discussion (sometimes to introduce conversation topics, other times to extend discussions begun on-line) and for student reports. Quizzes, assignment submission, chapter tutorials/lectures, and discussion forums will be done on-line. Exams will be taken in face-to-face sessions (usually Tuesdays).

University policies and deadlines (e.g., withdrawal deadline, safety information, disability support services information, honor policy) as well as course materials are available in Blackboard. You are expected to check Blackboard regularly for announcements. You should also be checking your VCU email regularly, as I will use that as a preferred method of communication.

As this is a partly online course, it is essential that you have reliable internet access, interest in maximizing learning in an online format, and ability to learn new technology as needed for course assignments, For help with technology problems, you can follow the links from the "Downloads & Help" tab in Blackboard or contact the VCU Technology Services Help Desk. If you have problems with your computer, you can use one of the computer labs on campus, including the VCU World Studies Language Learning Center (Hibbs Hall, room 424), which is well equipped for multimedia. If you complete work early, there will be time for you to troubleshoot any tech problems that may occur without missing a deadline. Technological problems are not valid excuses for turning in work late.


  1. You will see a weekly schedule in Blackboard with due dates for assignments throughout the week. Assignments will normally be submitted through Blackboard and will be available for a limited time.
  2. The starting point for each week's work is to read the assigned pages from the textbook. You should then work your way through the online tutorials that accompany each unit. The tutorials supplement the assigned readings through on-line lectures and other resources. While reading and working with the tutorials, you should take notes on issues or questions you may have, so you can bring them up in class discussions. The tutorials also include self-correcting exercises that you should complete. They are designed to help you retain the most important content from the readings & lectures. As they function as formative assessments, you may answer questions more than once, and improve your score. For each chapter there will also be supplemental readings (available as PDFs in Bb), to extend and update content from the textbook - these will often be the basis of topics in the discussion forums. Short digital videos (usually in MP4 format) will also be used to illustrate topics covered in class.
  3. Each week students will engage with the material from that week's assignments through participating in discussion forums in Blackboard. Students will usually have several different topics to choose from. Normally the initial post to the week's forum will be due on Friday with follow-up posts (if applicable) due by Sunday night. The earlier in the week you post to the forums, the better, as that allows more students to read and react to your messages.
  4. There will be an on-line quiz usually at the end of each week on the material assigned for that week. These will be done in Blackboard. They will be in multiple-choice format and will be timed.
  5. Each student will complete 2 short papers (4-5 pages in length), which will provide an opportunity to apply the knowledge gained from the course to concrete cultural contexts.
  6. Each student will do an individual and a group presentation. The individual presentation will be a "culture collage" highlighting your own cultural background, about 5 minutes in length. The group presentation (groups of 3 students, 15 minutes) will focus on a particular country/culture.
  7. Regular attendance and in-class participation are required. There will be regular in- class discussions, activities, and exercises and all students are expected to participate. One absence for an emergency is permitted with no penalty. Each additional absence will result in a five-point deduction from this portion of the course grade. Being late to class three times will count as one absence.
  8. Three hourly exams will cover readings from the textbook and other materials worked with in class and on line. Exams will be predominantly in short answer and essay formats. There will be an open book take-home final exam.