Building intercultural skills in the global world of sustainability: What do students think?

The Faculties of Science, Arts, and Business and Economics, and the Monash Sustainable Development Institute, have partnered to deliver the interdisciplinary Master of Environment and Sustainability, a course that won a 2019 national Banksia Foundation Award. The university saw a need to develop a Masters degree that gives graduates skills, knowledge and competencies from many disciplines and perspectives to build on their passion to create a sustainable, thriving, more equitable world. Monash University’s vision was to collaborate with partners – institutes, industry and NGOs worldwide – to meet the complex and interconnected challenges of today.

Why? Our most urgent global challenges, like climate change and widening inequality, require solutions that are global, collaborative and innovative. They demand passionate leaders who can inspire change and work across cultures, disciplines, and industries.

The current course cohort of 280 students is drawn from 45 different nations and is diverse and global in view. Intercultural skills are taught via global case studies, bespoke training, and work integrated projects, as well as perspectives-based and international development-focused units, and leveraging the rich expertise and diversity in the room.

Let’s hear from our students about the importance of intercultural skills in the area of sustainability. Do students see a global skill set as crucial, and why? How are intercultural skills developed in an online environment?

Do students see a global skill set as paramount to advancing sustainability?

“I think that intercultural competence is crucial to becoming a sustainability graduate. The challenge [of sustainability] is not related to our community, city or even country. It is a global challenge that requires a global solution. This global solution is an amalgamation of local responses. To be able to communicate between these responses, I believe the need of intercultural competence is necessary. Not everyone will face the same sustainability challenges. We can be empathetic to different circumstances only when we understand these differences. This empathy can lead us to take the necessary action.”  - Student 1

“The current world is plagued with a plethora of problems and tackling them needs out of the box solutions. Diversity brings to light various perspectives and solutions that exist around the world and enforces critical thinking. This will help us learn from various world examples and establish problem-solving by understanding its root cause rather than resort to quick-fix (superficial) solutions” - Student 2

Is cultural intelligence important to global employers in sustainability?

“I believe that with Globalisation, we have moved from concentrating work within geographies to transnational borders. Team work without such borders works only when we can understand each other. Respect and understanding of each other's cultures, identities, motivations and communication can push a company's profitability. Good employees make a good environment that makes a good business.” - Student 3

“This is highly useful in a professional sphere that is interconnected worldwide and has staff spread across various countries.” -  Student 4

How has intercultural learning rolled out online compared to in person learning? How could it be improved?

“The virtual environment made me more aware of assumptions I made based on physical characteristics. It made me stop and think before asking a question or providing an answer. It helped me clearly explain myself but also be willing to carefully listen to someone else. We know that online communication is hard, however, simple elements such as name and pronoun tags on Zoom have ensured I can be more inclusive.” - Student 5

“We should encourage participation from students with culturally diverse backgrounds by hosting important festival events from different cultures. The staff must ensure active inclusion in a class by having at least two students from different countries be present in each break-out room to facilitate conversations/discussions. The students from minority communities must be given the mic to talk and explain their own concepts, rather than someone else who has studied or has an interest in it.” - Student 6

In alignment with the United Nations 17 Sustainable Development Goals, global and intercultural skills are paramount to a more sustainable world. Creating partnerships - globally in business, within society and with nature - is at the heart of what the program aims to enable. Students appear to strongly recognise the value of intercultural learning in sustainability training and have great ideas to boost it further.

If you have any questions, please contact Course Director, Susie Ho at Susie.Ho@monash.edu. We acknowledge the wonderful contributions of students Sanjana, Sanjna and Yasheshwini (part of the MESSA course student association) and other student respondents.