Communication Barriers During Your Internship Abroad

Whenever you visit a new country or undertake an internship abroad, it is very likely that you might experience communication issues and misunderstandings. Many people believe that as long as you understand the local language, you will be alright. And while language is important , successful intercultural communication does not depend on it alone.

The following are some of the main barriers to consider, when speaking to a person of a different culture , according to Jandt & Jandt  (2004):

Assuming Similarity Instead of Difference

One of the biggest mistakes you could make is to start behaving in the same way in a different country, as you would at home. This could make even the simplest actions be perceived as serious taboos if the locals discourage making them. Depending on where go, you might perceive people as too emotional or not emotional enough. South Americans doing their internship in London might perceive the working environment as "cold". However,  immediately assuming difference instead of similarity is also not desired. Since all cultures are different, it would be wise to familiarize yourself with them, before going abroad. 


It is a feeling of nervousness usually caused when there is uncertainty in what is expected of you or when starting university or a new job. People may feel out of place and if they focus too much on these feelings, they tend to make more mistakes and seem awkward.  Anxiety can also be tied to language - your fear of not being able to speak it properly causes you to make more mistakes or even avoid people who speak it at times.


This occurs when you judge outsiders by your own culture's standards, because you believe it to be better. Opposite of that, cultural relativism encourages understanding a person's behavior in the context of their respective culture. Ethnocentrism relates to the idea of assuming that even the most basic things should be the same everywhere. It generally limits creativity and does not allow for expressing different views and ideas or undertaking different approaches and gaining various skills.

Stereotypes & Prejudice

Stereotypes are either positive or negative assumptions and judgments about a person who belongs to a certain cultural group. Prejudice is the illogical fear or hatred for said group. We tend to stereotype when we lack information about a person and we develop certain expectations about them just based on what we can immediately recognize. Many negative stereotypes are related to racist tendencies. However, even the positive ones can be harmful - the idea that "Asians are good at math" might put an enormous pressure on an Asian person to do well and could lead to depression if they cannot manage that.


In conclusion, you should always be open-minded about the cultures you interact with during your internship abroad and try to accept new ways of doing something as just as or even more effective than the ways you are used to. You should appreciate the differences, rather than reject them.

At the same time, do not be quick to assume that, just because someone is a member of a certain group, a person would reflect its characteristics automatically. Try to get to know people personally, regardless of their nationality, race, religion, sexual orientation, age, etc.

Once you have understood that, you will be able work effectively in a diverse group or company, where all of the different inputs and skills will be the deciding factor that gives your organization the competitive edge.


Jandt, F., & Jandt, F. (2004). An introduction to intercultural communication. Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications.

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