2.6 Cultural Empathy

The ability to emphasize with the feelings, thoughts and behaviours of members of groups with a different cultural background.

How this cultural empathy module is build up

You will learn different aspects of cultural empathy, what is it and on what is it based. These aspects are important to be aware about your own feelings, thoughts and behaviour.

Cultural empathy has to contribute to your competences in teaching or mentoring people from another country or cultural background, with other values and norms than you have. How can you ‘understand’ empathy of individuals different than ourselves?

To reach these goals, you read theories; view video’s, make some assignments for yourself and discuss cases with your peers.

The order of the Chapter:

1.      Indicator chart.

2.      Cultural Empathy, the concept.

3.      Cultural sensitivity self-test

Indicator Chart

cultural empathy

Concept of Cultural Empathy

Being empathic means: “To be with another in this way means that for the time being you lay aside the views and values you hold for yourself in order to enter another’s world without prejudice. In some sense it means that you lay aside yourself and this can only be done by a person who is secure enough in himself that he knows he will not get lost in what may turn out to be the strange or bizarre world of the other, and can comfortably return to his own world when he wishes. Perhaps this description makes clear that being empathic is a complex, demanding, strong yet subtle and gentle way of being.”1 

“Empathy leads us not only to experience the feelings of another, but also to reflect on those feelings and compare them to our own. Only when one truly understands what the other is thinking and behaving, can he get access to ideal communication…. It’s important to emphasize that cultural empathy is not sympathy with, agreement with nor identification with a specific culture. Rather, it is the appropriate understanding of a culture’s values and beliefs; it has been described as “seeing the world through another’s eyes, hearing as they might hear and feeling and experiencing their internal world”, which does not involve “mixing your own thoughts and actions with those of the client2

We will start with the “the giraffe metaphor” before reading or studying on this indicator:


Assignment 8.1: Cultural empathy.

Watch the video below of Meryl Streep in which Meryl Streep discusses the role of Empathy in her life and acting.Pay attention on what she presents in the effect of the role of empathy. Describe what her learnings mean for you?

Meryl Streep discusses the role of Empathy in her life and acting (duration: 5:00)

Assignment 8.2: Cultural empathy.

Read about the different empathic perspectives. Answer the following question, given by the author: As an Empath, what will you do when you come upon people from lands that are foreign to you? Will you try in earnest to understand their culture, even if it is vastly different from your own? Describe briefly.

Assignment 8.3: Cultural empathy.

Watch the video below: “Nurturing Cultural Competence in Nursing: Promising Practices for Education and Healthcare. Focus on cultural empathy. Describe in your own words the importance of empathy in health care situations. Also describe the importance in your profession as a teacher/mentor.

Nurturing Cultural Competence in Nursing: Promising Practices for Education and Healthcare (duration: 8:10)

As teacher or mentor you may have experienced to teach in front of a diverse group of students/trainees. Important is to be aware of the cultural differences and have an open mind. On top of that you must have the ability to show your empathy for different opinions, values and believes. 

Assignment 8.4: Cultural empathy. 

Read ‘The Role of Empathy in Teaching Culturally Diverse Students’. (It will be downloaded as PDF file) The teachers saw a positive correlation between empathy on one side and positive interaction and relationship with students on the other side. Write down the increased importance of being empathic towards foreign students.

In the article Relationship of Culture and Empathy in Cross-Cultural Counseling by Chi-Ying Cung and Bemak3, the guidelines for establishing cultural empathy are explained. Because this article is not free of charge, we provide you with a summary for teachers and mentors.


Teachers/mentors must show their interest in learning students’ culture. They must be frank and honest when they don’t understand students’ experiences and clarify (verbal and non-verbal) clear and detailed their own struggle. They must ensure that students really understand teachers’ attitude and values.

In addition 6 dimensions can be added towards a significant contribution to effective cultural empathy. Teachers/mentors:

  • understand and accept the context of the student and his family and social environment;
  • incorporate educational didactics/methods/pedagogics from students’ own culture, if possible;
  • are well informed about the historical, social and political background of the students;
  • are aware of the psycho-social adjustment that students have made, when moving to another country;
  • are very sensitive to possible discrimination, oppression and racism;
  • facility empowerment for students who feel underprivileged and less valued, by offering information for more and professional support.


Read also ‘From Intercultural Awareness to Intercultural Empathy’  (It will download itself as a PDF file)

Assignment 8.5: Cultural empathy.

Based on the two previous articles, answer the following questions: Which given guidelines and advices about cultural empathy do you or would you use when you have to work with foreign students in your own situation? Do you expect the same empathy from your students to you and why? Describe briefly.