Bridging theory and practice

Mid-September I attended the SIETAR Europa* congress in Tallinn, Estonia. This congress is a meeting place of many intercultural trainers and consultants. The congress is very practice oriented with many lectures and workshops about (aspects of) intercultural training, consulting and working in an international environment. I think I was one of the few researchers present and as someone who would like to have a foot in both academia and practice, I quite enjoyed it.

The retirement of the U-curve
I was particularly struck by Kate Berardo’s presentation on the retirement of the U-curve. I am familiar with the literature that shows that there is no proof for the U-curve (1) so I completely support her suggestion that intercultural trainers and consultants should be using another model to help clients deal with transition stress. Her presentation made me realize even more the importance of bridging the gap between theory and practice. Not every practitioner dives into the literature to figure out what research has been done and what the consequences are for training, coaching and consulting.

The widening gulf between theory and practice
The criticism goes both ways, as an interestBridging theory and practiceing article about this topic in Academy of Management Review (2) states: ‘Academics are being criticized for not adequately putting their research into practice. Professional knowledge workers, as well, are criticized for not being aware of relevant research and not doing enough to put their practice into theory.’ Academia and professional practice seem to be two worlds apart, and this ‘gulf […] is widening’ (2).

So how can we increase communication between academia and professional practice? In future blog posts I’ll have a look at what academia has to say about this but I would love to hear about your experiences with bridging this gap – as a researcher or a practitioner – and your thoughts and ideas about it.

* SIETAR – Society for Intercultural Education, Training and Research – is an association for interculturalists and has many (local) chapters – I myself am a member of Young SIETAR.

(1) Ward, C., Okura, Y., Kennedy, A. and Kojima, T. (1998). “The U-curve on trial: a longitudinal study of psychological and sociocultural adjustment during cross-cultural transition.” International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 22(3): 277-291.
(2) Van De Ven , A. H. and P. E. Johnson (2006). “Knowledge for Theory and Practice.” Academy of Management Review, 31(4): 802-821.


About Marian van Bakel

I graduated in International Business Communication at Radboud University Nijmegen, the Netherlands. After my studies I was a Visiting Study Fellow at University of Oxford where I conducted a research on the adjustment of Dutch diplomats and their partners in London. In February 2012 I successfully defended my PhD thesis ‘In Touch with the Dutch’, in which I put expatriates in touch with a Dutch host to examine the effect of this contact on the success of the international assignment. During my PhD research I also worked as in house communication consultant at Radboud University Nijmegen Medical Centre in Nijmegen, the Netherlands. I am currently a postdoc at the Department of Leadership and Corporate Strategy at the University of Southern Denmark ( Since 2004 I have done extensive voluntary work in the intercultural field for the Young Society of Intercultural Education, Training and Research (Young SIETAR). One of my projects was to co-edit and co-author A Suitcase Full of Discoveries (2008), an intercultural storybook for children.
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