Newsletter #431 – Cross Cultural Connections

When this newsletter goes out I expect to be at a conference on cross-cultural leadership and communication. Many of the participants will be expatriates who live and work in countries other than their own. Since some are educators I have been reading Teaching in a Distant Classroom by Michael H. Romanowski and Teri McCarthy. But a broader perspective comes in Duane Elmer’s captivating 2010 book Cross-Cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting in Around the World. This is worth reading if you counsel, do business, lead, teach or live overseas. But the book is equally valuable if you go on occasional mission trips or want to build rapport with a neighbor who’s ethnic or national background different from yours.

The author writes, “Your sojourn into another culture will probably be fun and frustrating, exhilarating and exhausting, stretching and stressful. It may be among the toughest things you have ever done and also the most rewarding.” There’s always much to learn even for cross-cultural veterans. For example:

  • We all take expectations and biases when we cross cultures, sometimes with no awareness about how these impact our perceptions, actions, communication and relationships.
  • Transforming the way we think takes reflection, determination, and humility.
  • At times we slip into thinking that new and different ways of doing things are wrong or inferior. Most often they are just different.
  • Anxiety comes when we lose all the familiar signs and symbols that help us understand a situation. Difference makes us feel uncomfortable because we aren’t sure how to respond.
  • Fear, suspicion, inflexibility, criticism and withdrawal can drag us down. Observing, listening, inquiring, and not jumping to conclusions can build better adjustment.
  • Three key attitudes will give us an advantage in building good relationships and adjusting internationally: practicing openness, acceptance, and trust.
  • Don’t think you can avoid all of this by staying home. You are relating cross culturally even if you’re trying to understand and communicate with other generations in our own community or family.

Please click on comment and share some of your experiences or discoveries about connecting cross culturally.

  1. Thanks for the recommendation. I teach conflict management overseas love the challenge of communicating Biblical principles and not my values. In South Africa I have had one class with nine students and seven different cultures together. The discussions where great and eye opening. It is always a challenge to integrate culture and principle especially when it is not your culture. Thanks.

  2. Thank you for the suggestions, they are very applicable to what I do. I teach counseling in Guatemala and just last week we finished a class on sexual issues, with 29 students from 14 countries. I was a tough subject and trying to make it applicable to different cultures made it even harder. The response was excellent and your suggestions are really helpful.

    • Oscar Pekelder
    • April 15th, 2011

    This is a great article with good recommendations for those who venture into cross cultural settings. It is my personal experience that doing this with an open mind greatly increases your life experience and modifies your worldviews and assumptions.

    Don’t forget this also works the other way. After working in such settings for a longer time, we will increasingly view our “home” culture also through other lenses, which might be permanent. In this way, we become more global citizens, which is truly enriching. It also puts us in a better position to challenge assumptions in our home culture. I would never want it different anymore.

    • TO EVERYBODY WHO HAS RESPONDED TO THIS NEWSLETTER ON CULTURAL CONNECTIONS, Thanks! I have just returned from three weeks in Russia, not only teaching about leadership and coaching but interacting with people of different cultures and giving a lecture on leading and connecting cross culturally. I always learn in situations like these and I grow as a result. Clearly each of you has what might be called a global heartbeat. You think internationally and are enriched (and often challenged) as a result. I hope your numbers continue to increase.

    • Hope Hurlbut
    • April 15th, 2011

    Dear Gary,
    I guess this comment is going to be different from most. I returned to Canada almost 9 months ago on an extended home assignment which may turn out to be permanent. Having spent the majority of my life in Asia, I feel Asian inside in spite of being Canadian by birth and upbringing. My reverse culture shock is still ongoing after all these months, as I live in an almost strictly Caucasian area. Yesterday I was at a huge conference, and for once felt comfortable as there were lots of Asians there, especially Chinese! I can empathize somewhat now with new immigrants, as I feel like an immigrant in this (to me) alien culture. In the past my trips home were usually only 4-5 months, so I did not have to adjust much. (Of course this is just the opposite of what your newsletter is about, but I suspect that I am not the only long term person overseas who goes through a long period of re-adjustment in their native country!

    • Hope, I can completely relate to your experience. They say that we “Third Culture People” are only happy while in an airplane because “we think we are going home” and when we get there we realize that we are also missing a great deal what we have left behind.

      There is a really interesting video on Third Culture kids that also applies to us adults. You can check it out here: http://tckacademy.com/tckfilm/

      Sergio E. Mijangos, Psy.D.

  3. I like the valuable information you provide in
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    I’m quite sure I’ll learn lots of new stuff right here!
    Best of luck for the next!

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