Explorations of Intercultural Communication Barriers among the Students of College of Social Sciences and Law at Jimma University, Oromiya, Ethiopia

Melkamu Dumessa & Ameyu Godesso

Jimma University - Ethiopia


The exploration of intercultural communication barriers among the students of college of social sciences and law at Jimma University was conducted from October 2009 to March 2011. The study was based on qualitative descriptive one. The data collection methods were focus group discussion and in-depth interview. The research found that the barriers for intercultural communications among the students from various linguistic and cultural backgrounds were ethnocentrism, prejudice, past historical back drops, linguistics and socio cultural variations. Sometimes misunderstanding occurs due to cultural competition and political and social reality existing in at the national level at this time of the study. Lack of opportunities created by university structure was also considered as the proximate barriers for intercultural communication. Thus, the promotion of tolerance for diversity and multicultural competency has been recommended to be implemented to various level of schooling. Among these, the necessity of learning Afaan Oromo as a course starting from primary school was recommended by students. Moreover, continuous awareness creation program aimed at promoting diversity and tolerance has been expected from university.

Keywords: intercultural communications, ethnocentrism, prejudice, linguistic and cultural variations


Ethiopia is a multilingual and multicultural country. It is thus critical for the country to promote cultural diversity and appreciate cultural heritages of various nations, nationalities and peoples living in the country but, the lack of acceptance of cultural diversity has a strong tendency lead to negative evaluation of others way of life and it creates what Summer (1906) suggested that ethnocentrism which refers to one’s own group is the center of everything, and all others things are related to or depends on it.

Research has shown that ethnocentrism tends to be negatively correlated with intercultural communication. Most often researchers view ethnocentrism as producing negative communication effects. People form opinions and perceptions based on their ethnocentric tendencies (Lin et al., 2004). Thus, high levels of ethnocentrism can result in stereotypes and misconceptions of people from other cultures (Gudykunst and Kim, 1997). These misperceptions can affect communication patterns, styles and many other dynamics related to intercultural communications.

Research into and the usage of intercultural communication is one of the most essential objectives for a today’s students and educational leaders in nowadays multicultural context. Awareness of different cultures and subcultures, determination and management of barriers to intercultural communications would definitely improve sharing of the good practice and innovation spread for the purpose of ensuring positive abilities for novel and conducive learning atmosphere among students with diverse cultural and linguistic background.

Statement of the problem

Intercultural education has been brought up in many countries since the 1960s. Previously, however, these educational programs have mainly concentrated on acculturating immigrants and other minorities into the majority population of a nation. This reality was eminent in Ethiopia.

Over the past three decades, however, the view point of multiculturalism has been clearly becoming more and more visible in Ethiopia. It goes on to implicate, those students from diverse backgrounds are enrolled to higher educational level. As a result, universities are becoming an arena where increasing interaction exhibit among people from various different cultures. In due course of interaction people tend to communicate with each other. However, when communicating with someone from a different culture, we can therefore, expect cultural differences to have influence in our way of communications.

Thus, by understanding how people perceive the world, their values and beliefs we can better understand what they say and can anticipate potential cross-cultural misunderstandings. Samovar and Porter’s (1997) model shows the possibility of misunderstandings that always exist in intercultural communications, especially if there is great variation in cultural differences.

As noted earlier, the need for intercultural communications is more important today than ever before. This is true if you simply look at the diversity that is present at the university and even in the classrooms. There are students from diverse ethnic cultural background who may not share similar perspectives and experiences. Understanding the student’s nature of intercultural communication give a greater appreciation and tolerance of diversity which benefit the student’s personally in many ways.

Thus, one of the most prominent areas in promoting multiculturalism is in the field of education. Statistics showed that the most hate crimes occurring in schools or colleges are related to racial bias or bias against victims’ ethnicity or national origins (Arizaga, et al., 2005). Therefore, it is imperative to develop multicultural perspective to appreciate cultural diversity and other perspectives. Based on the increasing awareness of the need for intercultural communication in tertiary education in Ethiopia, this study will investigate the barriers of communications among students from different cultural backgrounds and suggest possible solutions.

Understanding Culture and Intercultural Communication

Culture and communication

Before studying what does or should happen when cultures meet, it is of the essence to define the term culture. Culture can be seen as the ‘sum total ways of living, including behavioral norms, linguistic expression, styles of communication, and patterns of thinking ,and beliefs and values of a group of large enough to be self-sustaining transmitted over the course of generations( Jandt,2001:499). The definition of culture stated above refers largely to our country context where stable practices happening within an ethnically stable group of people within stable physical and legal national borders.

It is recognized widely that one of the characteristics separating humans form other animals is the development of culture. The development of culture is made possible through communication, and it is through communication that culture is transmitted from one generation to another (Gudykunst and Kim, 1992). Thus, culture and communication are two sides of the same coin.

As mentioned above culture and communication, are indivisible form each other; the understanding of one demands the understanding of the other and the changes to one will cause changes in the other. In line with this Samovar and Porter (1997), sated that when culture vary, communication practice also vary.

As culture vary, misunderstandings and difficulties in intercultural communication is inevitable. This largely arises among university students when there is little or no awareness of divergent cultural values, beliefs, and behaviors. To increase student’s cultural fluency, they should be aware of and sensitive to different values, beliefs, attitudes and assumptions in diverse aspects of life as well as culturally different modes of behavior.

What is intercultural Communication?

Intercultural communication as a human activity has been around since human history began. It has been a human concern for millennia. It takes place when culturally diverse people interact. Seen in this light, intercultural communication is not a new phenomenon. However, what is new is (the systemic study of exactly what happens when cross-cultural contacts and interaction takes place –when message producer and message receiver are from different cultures (Samovar and Porter, 1997:1). It investigates the relation among people representing different cultures (Gudykunst and Mody, 2002).

Today the world we live in is a global village where no nation, group or culture can remain anonymous (Samovar and Porter, 1997). There are now an increasing number of intercultural contacts leading to communication between people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds. This communication occurs as a result of intercultural contacts such as in the field of business, mass media, science and education (Allwood, 2003).

It is therefore vital to point out that intercultural communication involves sharing information among representatives of various cultures i.e. communication among separate individuals identifying themselves as being different on the background of communication ( Porter and Samovar,1988). In addition to this, other authors, Rogers and Hart (2002) were emphasizing the importance of culture in communication claim that this sort of communication analyses difficulties of different cross-borders and cultures.

Virtually this study is interested in how intercultural communication impacts learning process. In fact, an obstacle to effective management and promotion of intercultural communication is leading to triggering effect on learning and teaching process. Diversity found in classrooms is managed and built upon by using cooperative learning techniques (Slavin, 1995a). Research on the effects of cooperative learning has consistently found that the use of such methods improves academic achievement as well as intergroup relations (Lopez-Reyna, 1997; Slavin, 1995a). The authors argue that if class room interaction does not encourage intercultural communication, cooperative learning end in vain.

Theorizing about Intercultural Communication

In the discussion of intercultural communication theories there have been three major scientific approaches, positivist, humanist and systems. The positivist approach follows the ‘analytic–reductionist–mechanic–behavioral–quantitative’ (Kim, 1988). Traditionally it has been acknowledged as the most scientific approach, as it represents the essence of natural science. ‘If A then B’ is the ‘practical reasoning’ that usually exists in everyday life, above all in Western European and North American societies (Kim, 1988). It is believed that this pragmatic logic might help us simplify and predicate or even manage real phenomena through careful observation. For instance, Gudykunst’s (1988) Uncertainty and anxiety follow this approach.

Gudykunst (1988) studied individual intercultural experiences from a psychological perspective. He based his theory on the assumption that individuals might try to reduce uncertainty in their first intercultural encounters with people from different cultural backgrounds by proactively predicting ‘others’ attitudes, beliefs, feelings, and behavior, as well as retrospective explanations about others’ behaviour’.Gudykunst presented a set of predicative statements linking the factors considered to influence the psychological reactions. The factors comprise’ knowledge of host culture, shared networks, intergroup attitudes, favorable contact, stereotypes, cultural identity, cultural similarity, and second language competence’ (p. 124), which are identified as being able to reduce uncertainty and anxiety. Four have an impact on uncertainty reduction, ‘intimacy, and attraction, display of nonverbal affiliate expressiveness, and the use of appropriate uncertainty reduction strategies’, while the other four are concerned with anxiety reduction, ‘strangers’ motivation to live permanently in the host culture, host nationals’ intergroup attitudes, host culture policy toward strangers, and strangers’ psychological differentiation’(Gudykunst, 1988). Arguably, Gudykunst emphasizes psychological and linguistic aspects at the micro level and thus overlooks the impact of the macro or global environment and national foreign policies in his intercultural communication research.

The humanist approach challenges the positivist approach by focusing on presenting the nature of the phenomenon as it unfolds and by emphasizing the freedom of individuals. This approach accentuates a ‘synthetic–holistic–ideographic–contextual ‘methodology (Kim, 1988, p.17). Following the interpretative approach, humanist research is mainly concerned with the ‘historical meaning of experience and its developmental and cumulative effects’ at the individual and social levels (Kim, 1988). Thus, the theoretical goal is chiefly to describe and clarify a given communication phenomenon. Guided by this goal, humanist theorists endeavor to maintain the original structure engendered by the individuals who are parts of the communication event. This approach is well represented by the theories proposed by James Applegate and Howard Sypher, Vernon Cronen, Victoria Chen and Barnett Pearce, as well as Mary Collier and Milt Thomas, who primarily investigated the subjective and inters-ubjective processes of interpretation and perspective employed in communication (Kim, 1988).

For example, in Applegate and Sypher’s (1988) a constructive theory of communication and culture the impact of culture on individual communication behaviour is delineated. The emphasis of the theory is on the interpretative nature of communication, the interconnected culture and the individual’s cognitive construction of reality. The constructive theory focuses on how individual differences in social perception processes affect the development and use of ‘person-centered’ communication behaviors (Applegate & Sypher, 1988, p. 44). This theory represents the humanist approach to research into intercultural communication. As do the theories applying the positive approach, this theory concentrates on micro perspectives as to how to make intercultural communication effective through an analysis of individual differences, cultural identity and management of meanings. Although it does not exclude the social situation, the theory similarly overlooks the impact of the global context that situates the intercultural event.

The systems approach highlights the interactive nature of communication phenomena and interactive elements of a given system as ‘codetermining the outcome being investigated’ (Kim & Gudykunst, 1988, p. 18). It also identifies the structure of a system and the forms of information exchange which arise in the system. Similarly to the positivist approach, the systems approach highlights the importance of identifying ‘law like principles and patterns of interaction among systems elements’. Yet it critiques the ‘insensitivity’ of the positivist approach in the complicated, transactional, dynamic nature of communication phenomena (Kim & Gudykunst, 1988). Resembling the humanistic approach, the systems approach considers communication as ‘an emergent and interactive process’ and emphasizes the whole of a communication system. Therefore, this approach incorporates ‘the external “objective” patterns and the internal “subjective” experiences of individuals’ which operate concurrently and are inseparable (Kim &Gudykunst, 1988).

The representative systems theorists are Kim and Brent Ruben, June Ock Yum and Lawrence Kincaid. As an illustration, Kim and Ruben (1988) presented Intercultural transformation: a systems theory, which addresses the process of intercultural transformation happening in the internal condition of individuals as they take part in wide ranging intercultural communication activities. In this internal transformation the development of the individuals’ ‘cognitive, affective, and behavioral patterns’ is seen to transcend their culturally governed psychological constraints. This theory also elucidates why and how intercultural transformation takes place. Its major theme is ‘the stress–adaptation–growth dynamic’ which drives individuals to build up intercultural ‘capital’ (Kim & Ruben, 1988, p. 299). This theory is also constrained by a focus on psychological and interpersonal analysis in intercultural communication.

A comprehensive theoretical framework from which to understand intercultural communication is not possible through focusing only on psychological and interpersonal analysis. It is necessary to take account of the impact of macro level processes, and this account must incorporate a social, political and economic dimension. We cannot consider culture simply as a dimension of reality (frequently termed the cultural dimension) because ‘all economic, political, religious, legal, educational, scientific and technological activities are cultural activities, since they are part of a certain culture’ (Coll, 2002). Culture cannot be independent of these activities as they are all expressions of a particular culture and constituents of a society and social group. Particularly, national policies can also have profound effects on intercultural communication.

Barriers to Intercultural Communication

People from different cultures may be not able and not willing to communicate with others due to various reasons. With this regard, dozens of studies have been conducted. One of the researchers into intercultural communication, Laray M. Barna (1997), has identified six stumbling blocks in intercultural communication. These refer to the main causes of frustration and misunderstanding in intercultural encounters.

The next barrier to intercultural communication is assuming similarity instead of dissimilarity. When people are acting in a home manner in the different culture it might cause a lot of problems. In order to prepare yourself for various circumstances it is very important to assume laws, habits, and attitudes of another society. The reason for this assumption might also be our discomfort in dealing with difference. In any case, as we have learned by now, people have different assumptions and worldviews, in a word cultures. Unless we are aware of these differences, we are certain to face difficulties in communicating with people from other cultures. The second and third stumbling blocks according to Barna are linguistic ones, in other words language differences and nonverbal misinterpretations (See also Jandt, 2001).

The fourth block is the preconceptions and stereotypes that we might hold. Samovar and Porter(1991) defines stereotypes are over generalized, second hand beliefs that provide conceptual bases from which we “make sense” out of what goes o around us, whether or not they are accurate or fit the circumstance. Stereotypes are stumbling blocks for communicators because they interfere with objective viewing of stimuli. In other words we have a certain stereotypical preconception of a person from a culture and we interpret his/her behaviour according to this preconception, whether or not the reason for the behaviour is what we think it is.

The fifth stumbling block is the tendency to evaluate. We tend to approve or disapprove the statements and actions of other person or group rather than to try to comprehend completely the thoughts and feelings expressed from the worldview of the other. This prevents the open-minded attention needed to look at the attitudes and behavioural patterns from the other’s point of view. Finally, the sixth block is called high anxiety or tension. It is also known as stress. Too much anxiety or tension requires some form of relief which too often comes in the form of defences, such as the skewing of perceptions, withdrawal, or hostility. High anxiety often underlies and compounds the other stumbling blocks.

Because we learn to be members of our own culture, a phenomenon called ethnocentrism may result. Ethnocentric people tend to value their own culture above everything else and judge the others using one’s own cultural criteria. To some extent, all the cultures are ethnocentric. This is natural, since people have been brought up thinking that their way is “the natural” way to do things. However, ethnocentrism can also lead to cultural misunderstandings if it is not recognized because it provides us with only limited choice of human thinking and behaving.

At the opposite direction from ethnocentrism is ethno relativism. Bennett (1986) has developed a model for development from one end of the continuum to the other. The core concept of this model is difference. We must recognize that cultural differences exist among people in order to move from ethnocentrism to ethno relativism. According to Bennett (1993), this happens in six stages, which are denial, defence, minimization, acceptance, adaptation and integration. In the first stage the assumption is that everyone in the world is the same as us. Characteristic for the second stage is the feeling of superiority of one culture over another. On the stage three differences are recognized but trivialized by assuming that basically all humans are alike. The fourth stage represents acceptance and respect for cultural differences. On the fifth stage this recognition turns into observable behaviour. People show cultural empathy and pluralistic way of thought. On the final stage we not only adapt to cultural differences but enjoy experiencing such differences.

Objectives of the Study

This study was conducted to attain the following predetermined objectives:

General Objective

The general objective of the study was to investigate intercultural communications barriers among the students of College of Social Sciences and Law, at Jimma University.

Specific Objectives

While the specific objectives are:

Significance of the Study

This study has a paramount importance for the university in relations to intercultural communication barriers. Jimma University is Ethiopia in miniature as a result there is a great opportunities for misunderstanding among students from different ethnic and cultural and linguistic back grounds which can hamper the smooth teaching and learning processes on campus.

As a result, this study is significant for various reasons. First, it enables to identify the intercultural communications barriers that can take place on campus among students in social sciences and law. Second, identifying the causes of intercultural communication barriers among Jimma university students facilitates to take necessary measures to avoid such type of misunderstanding and conflicts on campus in order to make the teaching learning effective and fruitful. Finally, this study can be used as a base line for future studies in intercultural communication barriers that occur among Jimma University students in general in the future studies.


The Area and Population

The study was conducted between October 2009 to March 2011 among College of Social Sciences and Law students at Jimma University. This is because the students at the social sciences and law are supposed to have sensitivity about social changes and cultures than any other college students.

Data Collection

The data were collected using qualitative methods. The researchers used in-depth interview and focused group discussion. The strengths of qualitative methods are that they generate rich, detailed, valid process data that usually leaves the study participants' perspectives intact. Thus, the data collection methods used for this study are:

Focus Group Discussions

A total of twelve focus group discussions were conducted with students with female students group and male group per six groups. Each focus group comprises of students from similar ethnic backgrounds (Tigrai, Amhara, Oromo, Somale and Walaita). The researchers feel that ethnicity is the dominant criteria for identity formation. It is also in line with the policy of ethnic federalism exhibiting in the country. Moreover, students with diverse ethnic backgrounds from Addis Ababa city were included. Each group will have 8- 12 participants.

In-depth Interviews

For the purpose of getting detailed information an in- depth interviews were conducted with students, two teachers and a student dean. While unstructured in-depth interviews were conducted with students and teachers, key informant interviews were conducted with representative of Jimma University student dean and students´ union. The purpose was to get detail information into the situations of intercultural communication among all students.

Sources of Data

In order to generate relevant data for this study both primary and secondary data were employed. While secondary data were compiled from sources such as books, journals and articles, primary data were gathered from the subject of the study.

Data Analysis

The qualitative data were transcribed and analyzed after data collection. Verbatim transcriptions in the student’s native languages was made for all tape recorded FGDS and in-depth interviews, and finally used for analysis and comparison for qualitative data. Some quotes from the qualitative data that best explain the context of the study were identified and translated into the nearest English version. Those similar items from the discussion were coded and categorized under a theme. After reducing the data into a systematic manner, the presentation was made in such a way that it gives more insights into the perceptions and practices of intercultural communications.

Scope and Limitation of the Study

This study was is purposefully delimited to those students coming from five federal states such as Tigrai, Amhara, Oromia, Somale and walaita. The researches believed that students from these regional states have similar ethnic and linguistic backgrounds relatively for this study.

Ethical Consideration

After getting a letter of clearance to be submitted to the concerned officials the process of data collection was ascertained. After explaining the importance of the study, verbal consent was obtained from each individual participant.

Operational Definition


The paper deals with intercultural communication barriers among the social science and law students at Jimma University, located in Oromia Region, Jimma Zone, in Ethiopia. Students taking part in the study represented different ethnic groups (Tigrai, Amhara, Oromo, Somale and Walaita). It is in part based on an empirical research project, where in-depth interviews in focus groups were carried out. The groups were mono-ethnic, and female and male students were interviewed in separate groups. This seems to reflect the cultural and socio-political conditions prevailing in the country, which we think one should keep in mind when reading the paper. In this focused group discussion, the researchers held talks with main ethnic groups attending their educations in the college in details.

To this effect attempts were made to describe the view of different ethnic groups one after the other and /or sometimes simultaneously. The Somali group in focused group discussion we have held with them stated that they know that Ethiopia is a country which consist of multicultural or diversity of cultures. One of the students stated that,

Before I came here I speak one language and I have experienced with one culture but since my arrival I have got exposure to various cultures and language groups and I can deal with people of different cultures now after two years of my stay here.

The students who came from Somali further explained that they cannot tolerate anything about the diversity of cultures, language and religion at the beginning of their university life. But now they can tolerate any difference such as religion, and other cultures that they might encounter in the university. Therefore, they suggested that tolerance is very important for people who came from cultural diversity as this enable us to work and live together to promote the progress of the society. The tolerance for diversity can avoid much obstacle which we face such as intercultural conflict which could be raised from intergroup conflict and/ or inside group sudden clashes due to linguistics and cultural differences. Moreover the Somali students elaborated further about their mind set at the beginning when they have joined the university and the challenge they have faced owing to cultural diversity at the university that awaited them. They stated that they came from mono culture and mono religious background in Somali region with no exposure to diversity in culture and linguistics and traditional practices. However, in the university they had learned that people with different cultures and different religion and traditional practices live in harmony together. They realized that people can share different ideas and understand each other though they have different cultural and linguistic back grounds. The direct statement of the Somali students showed that there was an ethnocentric feeling before he came to Jimma University.

“You know really when I was there that I could only see the same Somali people that have the same language, same religion, same tradition wherever you go in Somali region. However, when I came to Jimma, I can see people who are speaking different languages, who were following different religions and different cultural practices. So the exposures they have got from coming to Jimma have really changed us in many ways to develop tolerance to difference and diversity in our society.

The second important lesson we have got from this experience is that even though the intercultural communications has a positive side it has some obstacles too. The ethnocentrism is very much deep rooted here in the minds of the students who came from different regions. The Somali group stated the intercultural communications barriers among students as follows: “Yes we came from Somali region and we speak one language and we have got one religion. We are completely different from other nations and nationalities and peoples because we speak different language-Somali”.

Moreover, even though the majority of other students have their own different mother language, they all can speak one lingua franca i.e. Amharic which is the working language of the federal government in Ethiopia. However, the Somali do not speak Amharic; even if they speak Amharic they speak a broken Amharic language. Due to this reason most of the other students did not consider Somali students as normal Ethiopian citizens, they suspect them. “If we say we are Ethiopian citizens, they don’t trust us as Ethiopian citizens because we don’t speak Amharic perfectly thus they don’t consider us good citizens with minus Amharic language competencies.” The student goes on to say that;

“We have observed this problem after we have joined Jimma University. The other problem that the Somali group stated as a cause for intercultural conflict was ethnocentrism whereby the students discriminate each other based on their own cultural viewpoints. However it is not easily observable. “There is a cultural competition among the students on campus nowadays. Students from different cultures feel ethnocentrically and they claim that their culture is better than the others and this sentiment has caused intercultural conflict on campus and in the dormitory too among students from different cultural and ethnic backgrounds.”

Another cause for intercultural communication barriers is that there is language problem among the students from different cultures and linguistic backdrops. Some students namely the Somali and Oromo didn’t speak Amharic language. The former have only one alternative to communicate with the students at Jimma University via English medium. A student said that “With most of the students, it is difficult for us to communicate in Amharic and for them they don’t know English well. For the first time we suffer so much with language and communications barriers”. To add another problem regarding language and communications at Jimma, the Somali students consider themselves out of access to information because most of the notices that were announced in Jimma University were written in Amharic Language. They can’t read Amharic and even if they understand. So sometimes, we consider ourselves out of information. Therefore the Somali students stated that their main communications problem was language barrier. Even they sometimes face communications problems in the classrooms, as they cannot understand what the teachers were explaining as they use Amharic in elaborating some issues in Amharic. Hence, they cannot understand what he or she says to them due to language problem.

Concerning discussion and sharing of cultures and diversity in their dormitory, the students stated that they rarely discuss about cultures and diversity in the same dorm with their dorm mates. The students interviewed stated that “If we raise issues cultural differences, it creates conflict and cultural difference creates conflict. If you suggest something about aspects of one culture, they may consider that you regard their culture as inferior to yours. Therefore “we have avoided discussing about cultures and religions in our dormitories to avoid conflicts and quarrel. We don’t share such issues in our dormitory at all to overcome conflict.”

However the Somali girls have a different opinion from that of their male counter parts about intercultural communications barriers in this focus group discussion. They stated that there is a tolerance among the female students. For instance, a girl said that

In my dorm, there were at least six students who came from different cultures, linguistics and religious back grounds but there were cultural tolerance and we respect each other. We share cultural views, I tell them about my culture, my religion and language and they listen to me. They respect me. They are ready to share with me about my culture and language and religion. I also, have the same interest to share with them about their culture, religion and language. I was eager to know. They tell me how they behave, what kinds of cultures do they have what kinds of food they eat. They told me the kinds of clothes they wear; the type of dances they dance. I have learned a lot of experience since I came to Jimma University especially from my dorm and classmates. I lived with different students from different linguistic and cultural backgrounds such as Oromo, Amhara, Tigre, Waliata and the like. For instance, in this academic year I live with fourteen students in one dorm who have different cultural difference on campus. We share everything friendly, we all share cultural festivities and a lot of things. I did not live with Somali students but we love each other, we respect each other, there is no cultural conflict among us in the university and in the classrooms.”

Though it has a positive side the second problem we have realized once we came to Jimma University is that in our locality have been with the same people with the same culture, religion and language. Hence there is a social relationship and strong social cohesion among Somali people even if there are differences in clans. That means there is strong interdependence among the Somali people. However, at Jimma University, every person is acting uniquely in its own way and sometimes not interacting clearly with someone else. They might not tell their internal feeling to the other students from different ethnic group. In addition, students from different ethnic backgrounds always walk and live quiet lonely within their own ethnic circle without intermixing and interacting with students from other linguistics origins very much.

In general, the students from Somali region stated that they speak the same language and pursue one religion in their regions. However the Somali students interviewed stated that they were completely considered differently from other nations and nationalities and peoples in Ethiopia because they do not speak amharic at all if any they speak not fluent amharic which is the working language of the federal government. Hence, most students from other nations and nationalities speaking Amharic ,as a result of our poor Amharic background they did not respect or consider Somali students as normal Ethiopian citizens. Even if we claim we are Ethiopian citizens, they do not trust us as Ethiopian citizens because we do not speak Amharic perfectly. They do not consider us a good citizen this is one of the most problem I have observed when I am here as a student at Jimma University.

So, intercultural communication experience at Jimma University has many positive sides also there are some communication barriers and challenges due to language barriers.

Another problem that can cause the intercultural communication barrier is that as Somali we came up with unique culture which is quite different from the rest of Ethiopia. That means most students on the campus here such as Oromo, Tigre, and Amhara etc. have different cultures from us.

For instance, in dorm cases there are some behaviour that can be considered bad or even harmful to our health. Some students from some regions do not care about the odor of their socks. They even go further to define their maleness with the odor of their socks.

Similarly, concerning the cafeteria or the food habit; in other words, the kind of food one eats is culture based. As a result the common food or the popularly eaten food here is ‘teff’ made into ‘injera,’ but for we Somalis ‘injera’ is absolutely not suitable food type for us because we are accustomed to eating rice or spaghetti.

Another source of misunderstanding among the students was that on the university campus when students gather from different ethnic group in a place like stadium at for cultural shows and music we observe the sort of cultural competition among the students. Hence you may sense that there is cultural discrimination among the students as result I have seen some cultural discrimination among students based on culture though I have not sensed any discrimination against Somali students. It was a hidden discrimination among the students on campus. One can observe clearly a cultural completion among the students’ and one cultural group claim that my culture is the best and better than the others thinking which was a cause of conflict among students in dormitory and on campus sometimes. In the same token the students from the other ethnic origin such as the Oromos, the Amhara, the Tigre and the other nations and nationalities also stated that are various reasons for the causes of intercultural barriers and challenges among the students due to linguistics, the past unfair political relations among Ethiopian nations and nationalities and peoples, cultural difference and ethnocentrism.


The in depth interviews and the focused group discussions held with the students and key informants about the intercultural communication barriers and challenges among social science and law students at Jimma university revealed that there are many causes for intercultural communication challenges among students at Jimma university. They have clearly listed causes of the intercultural communication barriers such as ethnocentrism, past unfair political relations among Ethiopian nations, nationalities and peoples, linguistic and cultural difference, wrong perception of cultural equality and cultural difference and food habit of the different students might be a source of intercultural communications challenges at the university. Thus, more or less the little intercultural communication among ethnic groups seems to reflect the difference in cultural and socio-political conditions prevailing in the country.

Implications of the study

From this study it is possible to infer that there were barriers and challenges of intercultural communication among students from diverse ethnic and linguistic background from different federal regions in Ethiopia. The students faced communication barriers when they join federal universities where they can experience multicultural and multilingual learning environment at higher education in Ethiopia contrary to their respective regions where they were familiar to mono cultural and linguistic background in their local community. In this exploratory study of intercultural communication barriers among students at college of social sciences and Law at Jimma University we have found out that there is linguistics, cultural and former political prejudice and ethnocentrism were the causes of the intercultural communication barriers among the students from diverse cultures such as from Amhara, Oromo, Tigre, Somali and Walaita and students with different ethnic backgrounds from the city administration of Addis Ababa, the capital city of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

Therefore, it is vitally important to expose the students into multicultural situations and help them to develop multicultural competence and intercultural communication skills to live peacefully and interactively in the multicultural learning environment among diverse students community with different linguistic and ethnic differences.

In order to overcome the intercultural communication barriers among the students of diverse linguistic and cultural it is crucial to introduce intercultural communication courses at high school to develop the students’ intercultural communication competencies as a curriculum and offer intercultural communication course as a common course at higher institute level to create awareness among the students of diverse linguistic and cultural and ethnic backgrounds about cultural and linguistic differences and their implications on their communications behaviours in the multicultural learning and working environments.

Acknowledgement and Sponsoring Information

We would like to acknowledge Jimma University research and publication office for sponsoring this study and Director for Student Affairs office, Students‘Union and students for their participation in the study.


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About the Authors

Melkamu Dumessa Kenno is an Assistant Professor of Teaching English as a foreign language. He is staff of Jimma University college of Social Sciences and Law Department of English Language and Literature. He has got his MA degree in TEFL and has been teaching English at Jimma University since 2002. His research interests are applied linguistics and intercultural communication and discourse analysis. Currently, Melkamu is a PhD student at Addis Ababa University in Applied Linguistics and Communication in the Department of English Language and Literature.

Ameyu Godesso Roro studied Sociology and Social Administration (BA) and Sociology (MA) at Addis Ababa University. He has taught Sociology at Jimma University for 7 years. His research interests are inequalities in health, multiculturalism and conflict and peace studies. Currently, Ameyu is a PhD student in International Max Planck Research School on Retaliation, Mediation and Punishment (REMEP), Deutschland.

Authors’ Address

Melkamu Dumessa Kenno
Jimma University
College of Social Sciences and Law
Department of English Language and Literature
Jimma 378
Tel. +251 47111 1458

Ameyu Godesso
Jimma University
College of Social Sciences and Law
Department of Sociology and Social Work