Encounters with strangeness: Intercultural learning in an engineering course


  • Jan Van Maele KU Leuven
  • Steven Schelkens KU Leuven
  • Katrien Mertens UC Leuven-Limburg (UCLL)




strangeness, engineering education, student perspectives, critical interculturality, intercultural encounters


This paper reports on an intervention whereby a critical approach to intercultural communication is implemented in a module for undergraduate students of engineering technology. The module centers on an encounter in which small teams engage with people and practices that represent cultural strangeness to them. A qualitative, exploratory study was carried out on how participating students perceive strangeness, on their motives for selecting their encounter, and on the insights as they reported and demonstrated them in their project reports. Students confirmed the primacy of first-hand experience in intercultural learning, and pointed at an open mind, a non-essentialist view of culture, and an awareness of stereotyping as key takeaways from the project. Providing additional teacher guidance could further support students in their acquisition of critical understanding, for instance through the development of validated (self-)assessment tools. The authors conclude that the described project can help to fill the observed lack of intercultural communication practices from a critical, non-essentialist perspective in engineering education. More generally, this study contributes to a wider pedagogy of encounter by elucidating the concept of strangeness as a linking concept for examining underlying dynamics in intercultural interaction.