Intercultural competence and student mobility

2012 - 2015

Mattia Baiutti

Tutor: Anselmo R. Paolone

Università degli Studi di Roma Tor Vergata - Period of study at Durham University (UK)

In Italy the trend of secondary school student mobility is rapidly increasing. According to the ministerial documents, within the process of internationalisation of the Italian school, this kind of intercultural experience has to be considered as a crucial tool for the personal growth of pupils and, for that reason, these programs are a complementary part of the students’ curriculum.
One of the most critical moments of the year abroad program is the returnees’ reintegration into the original school system (usually for the last year before the final state exam). Several studies claim that the returnees, as an outcome of their experience, and beyond disciplinary knowledge, acquire intercultural competence (IC), a concept that is problematic to assess. This doctoral research aims to investigate the assessment of returnees during their reintegration process and suggests possible implications for assessing returnees' IC.
The first research question (RQ1) is: Do Italian secondary schools assess returnees’ intercultural competence (IC) after one year abroad? If yes, how do they assess it? If no, why don’t they assess it?
Therefore, the aim of RQ1 is to understand the assessment of returnees carried out by secondary schools in Italy focusing on IC. In order to answer RQ1, a qualitative methodology was adopted, namely analysis of documentation (legislation, 44 school documents), 6 semi-structured interviews conducted with teachers and headmasters, 6 semi-structured interviews with key informants and 27 questionnaires filled out by returnees. The findings suggest a lack of assessment of IC by the Italian secondary schools under investigation. Indeed, Italian schools seem to pay more attention to disciplinary knowledge than to competences even if the paradigm of competences has been implemented within the Italian school system.
However, preliminary attempts to identify shared answers to the challenges posed by student mobility to educational system, such as for example the assessment of IC, are developing.
How is it possible to change this scenario? A starting point would be to identify indicators of IC specific to the context of Italian secondary school student mobility. Therefore, the second research question (RQ2) is the following: What are the elements which compose the returnees’ IC after one year abroad? In order to answer to RQ2, several semi-structured interviews were conducted: 11 with returnees, 3 with five parents, 2 with teachers, 2 with friends of returnees and 3 with volunteers of Intercultura association. For the data analysis, Deardorff’s model of intercultural competence (2006) 3 was adopted. The findings indicate that the elements of Italian returnees’ IC are: curiosity toward otherness, geography and global issues; openness; respect toward others and their ideas, beliefs, worldview; self awareness; knowledge of original context; knowledge of host context (languages; historical, anthropological, and political aspects); critical thinking skills; adaptability; ethnorelative view; building and maintaining new intercultural relationships, and dealing with cultural conflict from an intercultural perspective. From all of these elements it is possible to deduce the essential indicators that might comprise an assessment rubric for assessing Italian returnees’ IC after one year abroad.


Baiutti, M. (2019). Dall’altra parte del mondo. Mobilità studentesca e competenza interculturale. In Lingua G., Granata A. e Monti P. (a cura di), Culture vive. Saggi di filosofia e pedagogia delle relazioni interculturali, 45-58. Torino: Celid.

Baiutti, M. (2018). Fostering assessment of student mobility in secondary schools: Indicators of intercultural competence, Intercultural Education, 29(5-6), 549-570

Baiutti, M. (2017). Competenza interculturale e mobilità studentesca. Riflessioni pedagogiche per la valutazione. Pisa: ETS

Baiutti, M. (2016). Rethinking the concept of intercultural conflict: Italian returnees’ attitudes towards others during a cultural conflict, FLEKS Scandinavian Journal of Intercultural Theory and Practice, 3 (1)

Baiutti, M. (2015). Intercultural competence and the Italian school system: The assessment of returnees from individual long-term exchange, Quaderni di Intercultura, VII, 16-32

Baiutti, M. (2014/2015). La competenza interculturale: uno dei principali risultati attesi della mobilità studentesca, Rivista Scuola IaD. Modelli, Politiche R&T, 9/10, 82-113

Intercultura Quarterly N° 82

Conferences and presentations

  • Udine, 6 March 2018 (book presentation)
  • Milano, 28 February 2018 (book presentation)
  • Bari, 5-6 June 2017 (Redefining Community in Intercultural Context)
  • Fiume, 18-19 May 2017 (Intercultural Horizons)
  • Milano, 5-6 May 2017 (SIETAR Italia)
  • Bergen, 24-26 November 2016 (Nordic Intercultural Communication Convention)
  • Budapest, 5-9 September 2016 (Convention IAIE)
  • Glasgow, 31 May - 3 June 2016, (Convention CESE)
  • Milano, 26 May 2016 (Quarta Giornata Interculturale Bicocca)
  • Durham, 21-23 April 2016 (Cultnet)
  • Colle di Val d'Elsa, 29-31 October 2015 (Forum on Intercultural Learning and Exchange)
  • Durham, 17-19 April 2015 (Cultnet)
  • Oslo, 16-17 October 2014 (NOFIK Symposium)
  • Friburgo, 10-13 June 2014 (Convention CESE)