Get Close to Opera is going to run a training week in February 2019 about Opera through #multipleintelligences #womenrights #disabilities and #immigrantinclusion. It will take place in the beautiful UNESCO city of Matera, in the south of Italy, that will be the European Capital of Culture in 2019.
Today, Eugenia Arvanitis & Spyridoula Giaki, from University of Patras, introduce the training module that they are developing dedicated to the role of an intercultural mediator.
If you are interested in attending this training module, participate in the #GCTO Training Week!

The role of an intercultural mediator

Mediation process is a unique convergence that can (re)shape participants’ lifeworlds, namely values, beliefs and principles forming new social spaces of engagement through reciprocal communication and understanding. In this context, mediators assist parties from different cultural contexts to understand one another by becoming aware of (own) biases towards processes, persons, behaviors and outcomes and to engage in effective communication and action (Arvanitis, 2014; Sani, 2015).

Modern mobility affects societies both structurally and culturally. It challenges social cohesion and national identity building. However, cultural identities are highly shaped by diversity. Modern citizens and non-citizens sooner or later enter into an act of reconstructing national and cultural identity where local perspectives and otherness ought to be considered (Baraldi & Rossi, 2011). The important point here is to enable interlocutors to use their communication and mediation skills so to interact with each other in an open, reciprocal, inclusive and self-reflexive way. Intercultural dialogue and mediation can build a balanced relationship between parties of different cultures and a new social space where cultural transformation may occur.

An intercultural mediator (also called ‘community interpreter’) facilitates communication between domestic, ethnic and migrant individuals, families and communities in general (Catarci, 2016). The role of intercultural mediators is both to support migrants and refugees to settle in the new country and to liaise with social actors and institutions so to understand migrant settlement needs and communicate with respect to their diversity (Cohen-Emerique, 2007:8). Acting as an intermediate between refugees/migrants and the society, intercultural mediator tackles cultural and language barriers and fosters inclusion and the development of a culture of openness. Intercultural mediator deals with beneficiaries and assists them to deal with the complexities of social citizenship. It facilitates refugee/migrant needs and collaborates with public servants in supporting them to design, implement and evaluate of social and civic interventions (Cartaci, 2016). In general, intercultural mediation is considered as a “systemic response to secure access to public services” (Arvanitis, 2014:1).

In the school context, the role of intercultural mediator is becoming more and more necessary, as educators deal with learners from diverse backgrounds. When someone addresses a diverse school ecology in real situations then it becomes more aware that mediation is necessary. The coexistence of refugee children and teenagers, diverse families, teachers and the other actors or the native population create a complicated sociality that needs to be mediated so that all school community partners can both express and accept cultural diversity (Baraldi & Rossi, 2011). Educators act as intercultural mediators. They have the task to create an inclusive learning environment where both migrant and native children have the right of self-expression and at the same time the obligation to respect different cultural identities and promote successful communication/collaboration across cultures. Intercultural mediation tries to teach dialogue among cultures, creating the conditions for both maintenance and mutual enrichment of cultural identities. An intercultural educator should promote agency and active participation for all children in multicultural classrooms (Nairnby et al, 2003). Intercultural mediator’s role is to support newly arrived refugees/migrants and to familiarize them with the school context and culture. But also, to work effectively with all students (natives and others) to identify and combat stereotypes from both sides. Establishing a culture of mediation at school level can develop educator’s empathy not only on refugee/migrant students’ personal life experiences (Sani, 2015) but on the whole student population.

Efficient intercultural mediators are those who possess certain skills and attitudes. Such as good migrant language skills, both spoken and written (Sani, 2015). Also, an efficient mediator has a solid knowledge of both the migration population and the mainstream culture, ensuring that refugees/migrants have the right and space to express their needs and that mainstream society understands the situation and handles it properly. Another essential skill is a good grasp of the social context and of all the regulatory aspects related to mainstream healthcare, national social service, education, work, etc. In relation to the above, intercultural mediator must be able to foresee the possible conflicts that could arise from the encounter of different cultures and traditions. Thus, management skills and handling obstacles to the integration and access to education and medical care is required (Sani, 2015).

The above skills can be summarized to the model of intercultural competence that is used to look for evidence of specific attitudes, skills and knowledge that shape an intercultural speaker (Byram, 1997:58-64).

In brief, the model of intercultural competence consists of five elements with the first two functioning as preconditions for successful intercultural/interlingual interaction and the rest as necessary skills:
• attitudes: relativise self and value other; suspend belief in own and disbelief in other’s behaviours, beliefs and values
• knowledge: of own and other’s behaviours, beliefs and values; of how each is seen by other – comparative methods.
• of interpreting and relating ‘documents’/‘texts’ based on existing knowledge and attitudes
• of discovering (in own time or in interaction) new behaviours, beliefs and values
• of interacting in real time based on other preconditions and skills
• the responsibility of the teacher to develop ‘critical cultural awareness’ (Byram, 1997:58).

To sum up, personal disposition and respect are primarily important in establishing effective social relationships. Intercultural mediators support both refugees/ migrants and native population to understand their differences from an interpersonal and an intercultural perspective and collaborate towards common goals.

 Eugenia Arvanitis & Spyridoula Giaki


  • Arvanitis, E. (2014). The intercultural mediation: a transformative journey of learning and reflexivity. In E. Arvanitis & A. Kameas (Eds), Intercultural mediation in Europe: narratives of professional transformation (pp. 1-16). USA: Common Ground.
  • Byram, M. (1997) Teaching and Assessing Intercultural Communicative Competence. Clevedon: Multilingual Matters.
  • Catarci, M. (2016). Intercultural Mediation as a strategy to facilitate relations between the School and Immigrant Families. Revista Electrónica Interuniversitaria de Formación del Profesorado, 19(1), 127-140.
  • Baraldi, C. & Farini, F. (2013). Trust and Facilitation in Educational Interactions. Participation, Citizenship and Trust in Children’s Lives, 132-153.
  • Nairnby, K., Warren, J. & Bollinger, C. (2003). Articulating contact in the classroom: Towards a constitutive focus in critical pedagogy. Language and Intercultural Communication, 3(3): 198–212.
  • Sani, S. (2015). The Profession and the Roles of the Intercultural Mediator in Italy. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. 191. 2546-2548.