SkillsAct4Vet – Training

Module 1 - Before the mobility


Short definition

Adaptability and context ‘reading’ is the ability to act properly in both new and known contexts, adapt to their specific characteristics and recognize the values, beliefs, resources and limits of the environment and people.

It is also the ability to recognize your and others’ roles and expectations. In multicultural contexts, this capacity implies the linguistic-communicative adaptation to specific environments.

Difficulties to which this skill responds

IQ and EQ — intelligence quotient and emotional intelligence — were hallmarks of success in the past. A new success trait is what Natalie Fratto, Silicon Valley Bank vice president, calls AQ — the adaptability quotient. You can have intellect and emotional intelligence, but without the ability to adapt, you are yesterday’s news.

In his book “Homo Deus: A Brief History of Tomorrow,” historian and author Yuval Noah Harari predicted:  “Most of what people learn in school or in college will probably be irrelevant by the time they are 40 or 50. If they want to continue to have a job, and to understand the world, and be relevant to what is happening, people will have to reinvent themselves again and again, and faster and faster.” Adaptability is the go-to ability for the new age.

Knowing that, we can say that even if students study tons of books and theories, have a perfect level of English, or another language, but they do not have the ability to adapt and use these skills in different contexts, all this knowledge may be quite useless.

We should make them aware that adaptability is a skill, so something they may have as a natural gift, but also something they can improve and work on. The role of the tutor, mentor, teachers, should be also to make them aware of this need, and help them improving and put this skill in practice in any aspects of their working and private lives. 

This is remarkably true when it comes to short-term work experience abroad, where young students are required to adapt  quickly to a new context.

Analise a situation, reconduct their behaviour and sometimes their believes is needed in order to adapt to the new scenario.

So for instance, the more adaptable the student is, the more the new climate, new timetable, new daily routine won’t affect him/her, and also he/she will enjoy a more authentic and complete experience abroad.

Therefore, the more adaptable a student is, the less can the new climate, new timetable, new daily routine affect him/her, allowing a more authentic and complete experience abroad.Participants of short-term mobility projects often face unexpected situations. They are not better or worse, but for sure different from what they got used to in their home countries. Lunch and dinner timetable may be one of the examples.

On an internship, due to the host company´s internal organization, language barrier or other reasons, the tasks of students and their role among the company can be different from their previous experience, and the time to adapt to the new context is very short.

The ability to adapt and to interpret new context helps the participants make the most of the internship. It can furthermore prevent home sickness or discomfort, often caused by insufficient ability to understand new situations.

Behavioral indicators

There are certain behavioral indicators, or behavioral patterns, that can help students develop adaptability and content reading:

  • Feeling at ease even in new or unknown situations (living in a new house, moving around in a new city)
  • Knowing the culture and the communicative styles of the context (e.g. correctly recognising if people speak loudly and fast or calmly, or interpreting the body language)
  • Interacting properly with colleagues, supervisors and clients, understanding formal and informal hierarchical relationships  (e.g. differences between a meeting with clients or the board and a staff meeting, or a business lunch and a coffee break in the office)
  • Recognizing others’ expectations, and adapting to them, considering the role or situation (e.g. just arrived vs long term intern, cohabitation rules in a students residence vs a private house)
  • Establishing relationships considering how people move or talk to each other, putting the focus on any adapting effort that others show in different contexts
  • Adopting any adaptability skills following the development of the organization

Why is this skill important for mobility students and which sub-skills are associated with it

Among other situations, adaptability is the first skill required when traveling and having an experience abroad. When living in another country, we see that everything around us is different: new language, new culture, new rules. What allows us to be able to live a new experience in a different context is the “adaptability”, the skill that allows us to pick all these little “tools” we already have and use them in a slightly different way.

Adaptability has also some subskills directly linked to it:

  1. Dealing with uncertainty, that is, having the willingness—emotional tolerance, mental fortune, spiritual guidance—to not only face uncertainty but look it straight in the eye and press on.
  2. Seeing opportunity where others see failure. A failure is usually temporary, especially for young people in their first working experiences. Any failure at this step can and must be approached as an opportunity for success, rather that an error with no way back.
  3. 3. Resourcefulness – rather than sticking to one solution to solve a problem, adaptable people have a contingency plan in place for when Plan A doesn’t work.
  4. Forward and long-term thinking
    Open to opportunity, adaptable people are always on the lookout for improvement; minor tweaks that will turn ordinary into extra-ordinary, because they’re not attached to the one-size-fits-all solution. They don’t care about the limelight because they know it’ll soon burn out. Rather than wasting effort on a temporary issue, they shift their focus to the next obstacle to get ahead of the game, so that when everybody else finally jumps on board, they’ve already moved on to the next challenge.
  5. Curiosity
    Without curiosity, there is no adaptability. Adaptable people learn—and keep learning. Curiosity enables growth; it pulls you along, as opposed to willpower, which pushes you forward. Willpower only lasts so long as you like being pushed. Does anybody like being pushed? Don’t think so.
  6. Change Understanding
    If you want to adapt to a change you must know what to adapt to and why it’s important. Communication and Understanding is at the heart of everything we do.
  7. Big Picture Thinking
    To better fit in a new context, it helps to see the entire forest rather than just a few trees. Otherwise, you don´t have the overview of the situation and it is impossible to make the right decisions and truly adapt yourself.
  8. Open-mindedness
    If you’re not willing to listen to others’ points of view, you are limited in your thinking, which means your adaptability skills are also limited. The more context you have, the more prepared you are to make decisions and introduce changes.


  1. Natalie Fratto, former vice president at Silicon Valey Bank describes in this Ted Speech why she considers adaptability a form of intelligence and why it is the criteria for deciding which start-up founder support:  
  2. This article nicely describes the cultural shock a short term student may face while abroad, and how to overcome it:
  3. This article published in Forbes in 2015 describes in 14 points the signs of an adaptable person, focusing on the challenging of the continuously changing context, in professional, social and personal life:
  4. is one of the widest online platform for job searching worldwide. It also offers Career guide with a focus on soft skills. Here is their definition of adaptability:

How to use the Exercises

Further in this section, there are two Exercises for the teacher to use in order to demonstrate the importance of adaptability and context reading. The first exercise is meant to be carried out at personal level, while the second is a group activity. The Exercises help to elaborate on the soft skill, offering a metaphor of real-life situations.

The following information will show in what way the exercises constitute a training tool, revealing also the strategy to effectively train Soft Skills.

Learning outcomes

Learning outcomes for the trainers:

  • Acquiring a definition of adaptability and context reading skill within the context of mobility for students
  • Understanding the behavioral elements linked to adaptability as a soft skill to be applied in short-term mobility experiences abroad
  • Recognising sub-skills within adaptation and context ‘reading’, which are related to students’ behaviors

The trainers will be able to guide students to:

  • understand the challenges hidden even in seemingly simple situations
  • recognize others’ expectations
  • adapt to a different daily routine
  • adapt their language to an unfamiliar context
  • recognize roles in a different context
  • feel at ease even in new or unknown situations
  • understand interpersonal relations among people
  • get familiar with the culture and the communicative styles of the context
  • establish relationships by considering the context features