Building Empathy and Intercultural Citizenship through a Virtual Exchange Project

by Roberta Trapè

The article explores possibilities of creating a space to develop empathy in
teaching foreign languages and cultures. It draws upon studies on empathy
(Deardoff 2006; Bloom 2016; Guntersdsorfer & Goulbeva 2018), the ideas of
intercultural competence and citizenship (Byram 1997, 2008; Byram et al. 2017)
and “thirdspace” as theorised by Edward Soja (1996), highlighting the importance
of emotions in intercultural education. If we consider the phenomenon
of the “spatial turn” in its pedagogical dimension, Soja’s conceptualisation of
a “thirdspace” can be connected to the development of an alternative learning
space for inter-linguistic and intercultural interactions, enhanced and shaped
by social relationships, designed through cross-institutional collaborations,
and achieved through virtual exchanges. A space that is built in terms of the
lived experiences of those who inhabit it can foster empathy. The author presents
a virtual exchange project for intercultural citizenship between Italy and
the U.S.A. where one of the key objectives is building empathy and allowing
the verbalisation of students’ emotional understanding.