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.