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We Are One Altogether Better

Intercultural Storytelling Module Course designed by Marco De Cave and Francesco Zaralli APS Futuro Digitale

This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Project No. 2016-1-UK01-KA204-24478

This course will explain you:

❖ Some basic elements of storytelling; ❖ Some tricks about how to create stories; ❖ Why storytelling and intercultural education are related; ❖ Why intercultural storytelling is fundamental in our society.

Each of us has engaged in narration at some point. We all tell stories (long and short, low or tall), often anecdotes, or – more frequently still – jokes, as well as the occasional excuse or untruth. Storytelling is spread and it is related to sociality of human beings. That means that we are born storytellers. However, storytelling can be learnt and it is related to a broad set of techniques.

We are convinced that storytelling is a powerful method for intercultural practices, and there are several reasons to that. One important aspect is that telling stories is a natural process and each of us does it all the time. Whenever we communicate, we tell stories.

Another aspect that makes storytelling a powerful tool is that it is a very egalitarian method. Everybody can do it and sometimes even people who have low self-esteem for various reasons (like postcolonial trauma or perception of hierarchy) feel attracted by storytelling as a simple and natural means of communicating their views and experiences. Many philosophers and thinkers in the past have studied how to structure stories. However, only since the 80’s of last century storytelling has become an autonomous subject of study and work.

In intercultural practices, storytelling can be seen as the systematic attempt of transferring an experience to someone, entertaining, informing, trying to making someone reflect creating bonds among people. Storytelling is particularly important because it makes the interpretation and the thoughts of everyone worth to listen and understand. But how does storytelling work?

People naturally tell stories, but storytelling is more. In technical terms, a story is a chain of events which are led by a set of characters moving within a scene, real or unreal, which move from one initial situation to another one creating situations of conflict. Storytelling focuses on showing what it is going on, and not actually explaining why. In this way, one of the main elements of storytelling is the actual process of creating the narration, where there is a sort of pact between the listener and the teller.

Storytelling can be used in different settings, such as in knowledge management, education, marketing, but we believe that there is a particularly high potential in using storytelling for intercultural practice. In fact, when we talk about storytelling as a method or tool, we don’t mean working with given stories. The stories we work with are based on real-life events, situations that someone really went through and can talk about.

However, in general storytelling does not only deal with real stories because stories must be first of all credible in terms of coherency and credibility. In other words, if I assume that in my imaginary setting humans can fly, it will be contradictory to assume that a human can’t fly unless I explain a condition in the story that makes this credible and coherent. Storytelling is not just about how to make a good story, but how to make your story worth to be listened. The main question that should guide storytelling is “Why do people keep listening to me?” Probably because they are waiting for what is next.

A story focuses on a main idea. It is not just about the concept, but the plot created by the different elements belonging to that concept. Harry Potter is not just Harry Potter – it is about an entire school of young magicians and many other characters that have to choose and fight between the light and the shadow. As all the stories are thought, we can distinguish a beginning, a development and an end. Through this arch, we can name a hero (or more), the enemies, a conflict that evolves in time, a magic item (that saves the situation) that is desired and several endeavours that will make the hero solve the situation.

Characters are fundamental. Stories are not always about us, but they can be also told from different points of view. So we have to know a lot about whom and what we are talking about if we want to create a great story. The beginning of a story is crucial. It must catch the attention of the people around us and it has to surprise them. You should make guess your listeners to imagine what the story is, stimulating their imagination. There is not just a way to write or tell stories, but there is a way to make stories interesting and authentic.

Storytelling is fundamental when meeting different cultures. In particular, storytelling as intercultural practice brings us back to the oral tradition of storytelling. When travelling, when working with people from other backgrounds, interacting with them is a central activity that creates comfortable ground of dialogue. This direct form of communication affords an opportunity to familiarize social groups of different cultural or ethnic background with each other's specific heritage without having to rely on extensive material resources and making more spontaneous usage of storytelling.

When talking about culture, there is a general tendency to stress differences and the uniqueness of each culture. If we refer to differences, this is much easier in an atmosphere that allows similarities to be appreciated. In the intercultural practice, what we care about is immediacy; the story itself is not the most important thing, but the process of narrating. That means that intercultural storytelling puts the story a bit behind and focuses more on the development of the story as a group experience.

In this sense, intercultural storytelling is ideal for small focus groups. Stories focus on the images and actions and less on concepts – the interpretation must be left at the end of the story. This means that storytelling can particularly support people to shape a sense out of their complex integration experience. The effect might not be as strong as if they had gone through this experience together, but still, a story is the revival of a situation experienced in a different context. These common experiences can be found in every story and are a great means of building trust in intercultural groups.

Intercultural storytelling is a powerful tool also because it connects the teller to his or her personal database of experiences giving the possibility of deciding what a person wants to talk about. The story is of course never a mirror image of reality, as the storyteller decides what to tell and what to leave out. This choice gives him/her a feeling of power, of being in charge of reality. From the other side, the listener participates to the story in the way he or she can connect it to his/her personal memoirs. Which are common ways of implementing intercultural storytelling?

In intercultural storytelling, there is a general tendency in focusing on problems, challenges and conflicts that might ignite from cultural differences. However, in intercultural storytelling intended as oral work, there should be a more positive approach to be adopted in order to appreciate diversity as a precious element that makes people who they are.

In particular, intercultural storytelling as an educational practice should make storytellers reach the point to resist from judging other cultures and let them be existing next to each other.

A sound intercultural storytelling practice should focus on 7 main intercultural competences: ❖ Respect (“valuing of others”); ❖ Self-awareness/identity (“understanding the lens through which we each view the world”); ❖ Seeing from other perspectives/world views (“both how these perspectives are similar and different”); ❖ Listening (“engaging in authentic intercultural dialogue”); ❖ Adaptation (“being able to shift temporarily into another perspective”); ❖ Relationship building (forging lasting cross-cultural personal bonds); ❖ Cultural humbleness (“combines respect with self-awareness”).

In fact, storytelling is important because it makes cultural discussion less abstract and more focused on practical experiences, on images, on people who try to stimulate each other’s imagination. Such an approach can support immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees to go through the hardships of integration while making local people closer to understanding the processes within multicultural societies more concrete and less about “what I have heard in the aisle�.

Thanks to digital tools like podcast platforms, blogs, virtual cafes or social media, it is possible to make intercultural storytelling more known and spread. A specific tool that can ignite storytelling as intercultural tool of learning is visual storytelling – taking pictures and videos can become a way to narrate a specific context and transmit to others.

Thank you! Marco De Cave & Francesco Zaralli APS Futuro Digitale m.decave@futurodigitale.org f.zaralli@futurodigitale.org


This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication [communication] reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein. Project No. 2016-1-UK01-KA204-24478

Profile for Francesco Zaralli

Intercultural storytelling course  


Intercultural storytelling course  



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