Alone, Asian, Atheist in the Middle East

Obey-Middle-East-Mural

Middle East! Turn around and look East! (Obey Middle East Mural, Shepard Fairey)

Many of you followed Phuong-Mai Nguyen’s journey through the Middle East, as written live right here on the Cultural Detective blog. Last year in Estonia, Mai, the co-author of Cultural Detective Vietnam, keynoted the SIETAR Europa congress. In that speech she shared the ten lessons (‘commandments”) she had learned after almost a year of living in the Middle East after the Arab Spring. Her remarks have now been republished by The Islamic Monthly, and I’m confident you’ll be eager to read them.

As Mai tells us, her learning “touches on threats of Islamism, the tendency to self-victimize, and the need for all of us to establish a genuine relationship with moderate Muslims in the West.” The full article reprinted from her speech contains some of her powerful photos as well as her personal learning and viewpoints. 

The ten lessons she learned from her journey include:
  1. Thou shalt not watch TV
  2. Thou shalt stay thyself
  3. Thou shalt empower thy man
  4. Thou shalt fear God
  5. Thou shalt turn around
  6. Thou shalt break free
  7. Thou shalt seek guidance
  8. Thy land shalt be named
  9. Thy land shalt be named again
  10. Thou shalt acknowledge my new identity

Please, read her remarks and let us and Mai know what you think! I have been fascinated by the fact that she chose to make this journey, and the opportunity to view such an experience through the eyes of a Vietnamese woman.

Best, Dianne

 

4 Methods of Learning Culture

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“…the things we take for granted can trip us up and cause untold discomfort and frequently anger.” Edward Hall (“How Cultures Collide,” Psychology Today, July, 1976.)

It is generally acknowledged that it is important to understand one’s own cultural values before we can begin to understand another’s worldview, let alone develop intercultural competence. Cultural Detective Self Discovery offers a way to investigate our own values through a series of guided questions designed to help us discover more about ourselves. Below is an excerpt from Cultural Detective Self Discovery by Dianne Hofner Saphiere, George Simons, and Kate Berardo in which we address various approaches to culture learning.

Why learn about such a complex thing as culture? Certainly no one can learn everything about every other culture or even about one’s own, so why try at all?

At a very practical level, having the ability to work across cultures is a key skill in daily life and the workplace. When we think about “culture” as different organizational departments, communities, regions, companies, nations, genders, or religions, we realize that we cross cultures daily and constantly.

While we can never learn everything about every culture, what we can do is know our own values and how they affect us. We can be determined to go beyond auto-pilot thinking and to question our assumptions. We can approach working across cultures with curiosity and the intent to learn about others. Doing all this helps us to communicate more effectively and to avoid misunderstandings that lead to bad feelings and conflicts. In communities, this translates into greater cohesion. In the workplace, it means higher productivity, creativity, and synergy.

Encountering people who see the world differently, act differently, and speak differently challenges us to understand others and become more open and creative.

As Cultural Detectives, we want to understand what makes people tick. So where do we begin? There are a number of approaches to learning about cultures:

The Etiquette & Customs Approach
First of all, it is useful to know about people’s customs and habits, for example, when and how they greet others. There are many books on this topic, from professional studies to popular travel guides. There are videos and websites that help us know how to behave in everyday encounters with people who are different from us. Knowing what behavior is expected in particular situations can help us enormously—we can more quickly feel comfortable and blend in a bit, and we can prevent some unintentional insults. The downsides to this approach are that it is 1) difficult to memorize a long list of do’s and don’ts; 2) too easy to misunderstand which situations call for which behavior; 3) too easy to act stereotypically—in other words, the rules will not apply in all situations; and, of course, 4) most people do not expect outsiders to behave like insiders. Learning customs and habits is one way of getting to know others, but is not the only—nor necessarily the most effective—strategy.

The Language Learning Approach
We can also learn the language of our colleagues, clients, students, or neighbors. This could mean anything from learning their slang or TLAs (three-letter abbreviations) to mastering Arabic, Mandarin, or Verlan. Language is, of course, a key to understanding how people think, how they see the world, and what is important to them. It is supremely valuable for communicating across cultures. But, learning another tongue takes a long time. Learning their language may not be a step that you have time to take before interacting with people from another culture. Yet, you will certainly benefit from picking up that phrase book and learning at least a few polite words. So what then?

The Cultural Dimensions Approach
Another approach is to learn models of culture that help alert us to those areas where in our differences are likely to show up and where the differences will make a difference. For example, some people have a deep respect for authority and hierarchy—the boss is important and is to be treated accordingly, while other groups are very egalitarian—in meetings it is hard to tell who the boss is or even whether there is one. Or, you find that some people are likely to proceed on their own as individuals while others are inclined to act only when everybody in their group is in agreement.

To catch sight of the broad range of differences within which people think and act, it sometimes helps to use the dozen or so dimensions of difference developed by Western intercultural researchers. These models can help us recognize, classify, and respond appropriately to differences. They are categories of the ways in which people may be different. But they do not necessarily tell us why these differences work the way they do, or how these differences are viewed by our colleagues and neighbors.

Some of these categories of cultural difference ask us to look at ourselves and others to see whether…
  • We feel in control of our lives and our world, or if fate, destiny or other forces outside of us have a decisive impact on our lives.
  • We think deductively or inductively.
  • We focus, when we first work together, on taking action or on forming relationships.
  • We believe that rules and laws apply uniformly to everyone, everywhere, or that rules and laws need to be applied differently in different circumstances.

You can learn more about such categories from the work of Edward Hall and Geert Hofstede, who are among the pioneers of modern intercultural studies.

The Cultural Detective Approach
A powerful way to understand the motives of others and ourselves is by learning about core values. As a Cultural Detective we want to know what lies behind peoples’ many differences and what drives the gestures, words, and preferences of the people with whom we interact. What better way to learn than to have people themselves tell us what they value and how it motivates them to speak and act? The Cultural Detective Method begins by looking at a culture’s core values as they are seen by the people in that culture and by people who have experienced the culture deeply.

We encourage you to learn more about yourself and your core values via the Cultural Detective Self Discovery package. It has been used extensively by educational institutions, businesses, NGOs, and individuals throughout the world, and is currently available in a printable PDF format.

We are pleased to announce that Cultural Detective Self Discovery will soon be available as part of your subscription to Cultural Detective Online. Watch here for details in the coming months!

Cultural “Madeleines”

Image from "Foodies," a blog by L. John Harris on Zester Daily

Image from “Foodies,” a blog by L. John Harris on Zester Daily

Another terrific guest blog post by CD Russia co-author Carrie Cameron, combining two of your favorites: food and literature. Smells and tastes evoke our deepest memories, and for Blended Culture people they can easily lead to a round-the-world reverie…

Perhaps you’re familiar with the famous madeleine of Marcel Proust’s A La Recherche Du Temps Perdu (Remembrance of Things Past, or In Search of Lost Time, depending on the translation). The author takes a bite of a madeleine, a simple cookie, and the taste-memory drifts him off on a long reverie of his childhood, connecting him to the people and moments of long ago:

“…when from a long-distant past nothing subsists, after the people are dead, after the things are broken and scattered, taste and smell alone, more fragile but more enduring…remain poised a long time, like souls, remembering, waiting, hoping, amid the ruins of all the rest; and bear unflinchingly, in the tiny and almost impalpable drop of their essence, the vast structure of recollection.”

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking, by Anya von Bremzen, is not a cookbook, but a literary madeleine, evoking through food memories her childhood in Soviet Russia. It’s not about her favorite foods or emblematic Russian dishes. It’s about how a taste connects us with a moment in time and space.

Vobla, dried and salted Caspian roach fish, “brings out that particular Russian masochism: we love it because it’s such a torment to eat…I’d happily trade all Hemingway’s snails and Proust’s cakes for a strip of [this] petrified fish flesh.” A half-piece of black-market Juicy Fruit gum takes her back to the girls’ bathroom in elementary school, where she would auction it off to the other girls, having obtained it through some elite family connections. She describes salat Olivier as a “metaphor for a Soviet émigré’s memory… loosely cemented with mayo.” In her mother’s American kitchen in the 90’s, making the salat, she notes how “a taste of Lebanese pickle that uncannily resembles a Russian gherkin leads to a snippet from a Rodina song, which in turn rouses a political morality tale, or reawakens a recollection of a long-ago dream, of a fleeting pang of yearning.” Starting from these tastes and smells, the author skillfully depicts the cultural intimacies of a point in time and place which no longer exists, yet is very real and alive in her memory.

What tastes and smells evoke your cultural insights? What clues do they provide to other ways of life, and why?? Post your answers in the comments, and let’s compare!

The Nasty (and Noble) Truth about Culture Shock

—And Ten Tips for Alleviating It (from our “Oldies but Goodies” series)

PolicemanThe Nasty Truth

I’ve behaved badly. It’s true, and I’m admitting it. Very publicly.

There was the time a police officer in Japan told me to move, and I stood my ground, passive-aggressively, staring him down, daring him to remove me.

There was the time at my son’s school here in Mexico, when I refused to go into a private office, insisting on talking (loudly) in the public lobby, because I was so very upset at the runaround the staff was giving me, and tired of being (privately) shut down.

Both of these were very culturally inappropriate. Heck, they were inappropriate by the standards of my birth culture! I behaved badly. I lost face. I upset others. I looked like a fool. I was ineffective. Why?

You could say these experiences reflect a lack of emotional maturity; despite my age I still have loads of growing to do. The case I’d like to make in this post, however, is that the stress of culture shock causes many people to do things we would never do in our home cultures, in a milieu with which we are intimately familiar and generally comfortable.

The Noble Truth

There are good things about this sort of “acting out.” Such meltdowns enable us to define and preserve our sense of self, identify our core values, realize how stressed we really are, so we can take care of ourselves and try to restore our equilibrium. Culture shock is also an indicator that we are indeed growing, stretching, challenging ourselves to get out of our comfort zone, and trying to adapt to new and different ways of being in the world. Thus, it is a highly worthwhile venture!

In the free download that accompanies this post, you will see a page titled, “Level of Acculturation.” This is one of those “Oldies but Goodies” that we occasionally release. Originally written back in 1989, the arrow on the page illustrates two polar extremes: the expat who makes great efforts not to acculturate, living instead much as s/he would at home; and on the other end, the expat who “goes native,” adapting to the local culture in every possible way. The key point of this piece of training material was to advise expats to try to strike a balance, to manage the polarity between the two extremes. It is important to maintain home-country connections for sanity and respite, and to build host-country connections in order to learn, grow, adapt, and fully experience one’s new home.

Please do not misunderstand me; I am most definitely not advocating behaving badly! I am, however, saying that such bad behavior happens all too frequently. The nasty truth is that inappropriate behavior, due at least in part to culture shock, is a fact of expat life that is all too often brushed under the rug. We refuse to talk about it. We may pretend it doesn’t happen, that it only happens to others, or we try to forget it did happen. We blame it on lack of competence. Of course we lack competence—we are learning and adapting to a culture that is new to us. And, it takes super-human levels of self esteem and emotional composure to navigate cultural adaptation without ever going over the edge, at least a bit.

Photo credit: Shelley Xia, USC

Photo credit: Shelley Xia, USC

What Is Culture Shock?

Culture shock is a continual, gnawing sense that things are not quite right. It is more appropriately called “cultural fatigue” or “identity crisis”: we become confused about how to accomplish our goals, and thus we start to feel powerless, to question our abilities, and lose self-esteem.

Culture shock does not result from a specific event or series of events. It does not strike suddenly or have a single principal cause. It comes, instead, from the experience of encountering ways of doing, organizing, perceiving, or valuing things that are different from ours. On some levels, this threatens our basic, unconscious belief that our encultured customs, assumptions, values, and behaviors are “right.” Culture shock is cumulative, building up slowly from a series of small events that may be difficult to identify or recognize.

General fatigue and exhaustion, susceptibility to illness, moodiness, headaches or upset stomach, weight gain or loss, irritability, restlessness, withdrawal, hostility—all of these can be signs of culture shock. A more extensive list of such symptoms is in the free download, which you are most welcome to use as our gift to you. Our only request is that you, of course, maintain the copyright information and url on the materials.

One of my friends and mentors, Bob (L. Robert) Kohls, explained the causes of culture shock in his 1984 book, Survival Kit for Overseas Living:

  • Being cut off from the cultural cues and known patterns with which your are familiar, especially the subtle, indirect ways you normally have of expressing feelings. All the nuance and shades of meaning that you understand instinctively and use to make your life comprehensible are suddenly taken from you.
  • Living and/or working over an extended period of time in a situation that is ambiguous.
  • Having your own values (which you had heretofore considered as absolutes) brought into question—which yanks your moral rug out from under you.
  • Being continually put into positions in which you are expected to function with maximum skill and speed, but where the cultural “rules” have not been adequately explained.

The W-Curve and Stages of Cultural Adjustment

Culture shock has often been introduced over the decades by using a curved line representing experience over time, either a “U-Curve” or a “W-Curve”—a sample graphic entitled “Stages of Cultural Adjustment” is included in the download accompanying this post. The idea of such curves is that our emotions go up and down as we adapt to a new home. First, we adjust superficially: learning our way around town, learning how to shop, cook, socialize, etc. Then, at some point, we are confronted with values differences that challenge us on very deep levels: a new and cherished friend seems to stab us in the back, or a work project we were confident would succeed crashes and burns, and we may have no clue why. At this point many expats return home (often at one year to eighteen months into the sojourn, according to many trainers), while others navigate their way through the challenges of shock to attain some level of ongoing effectiveness and adjustment to their new home. The U-Curve and W-Curve can be helpful learning tools, but research repeatedly shows they do not reflect reality. Actual expat experience is not nearly so neat, nor tidy, nor linear.

Kate Berardo, co-author of Cultural Detective Self Discovery and Cultural Detective Bridging Cultures, did a review of the literature on this topic, and offers a process approach for managing culture shock, which Cultural Detective first published back in 2010. Be sure to check it out if you haven’t read it, and know that these traditional models have been debunked; continuing to use them should be an informed choice.

Factors Influencing the Degree of Culture Shock

Nobody is immune to culture shock. The degree of culture shock that individuals experience varies, and can be influenced by a number of factors such as:

  1. Pre-departure expectations: Are they realistic, or overly positive or negative?
  2. Degree of change in environment, customs, language and values.
  3. Degree of personal commitment to the move.
  4. Amount of knowledge about the host culture.
  5. Flexibility: How adaptable is the individual by nature or experience?
  6. Emotional stability.
  7. Level of emotional support in new environment.
  8. Economic security.
  9. Availability of mental health services and support groups.
  10. Availability of tension relievers: How accessible are recreational facilities? Is it possible to pursue hobbies or other interests?
  11. Availability of worthwhile work.
  12. Acceptance of different values and beliefs.
  13. Ability to tolerate ambiguity: Is the individual able to tolerate situations that are unpredictable, puzzling or frustrating?
  14. Ability to be a learner: Is the individual curious about the new environment and open to learning about it?

As interculturalists, and those who work with international sojourners, I think it’s time we face up to the nasty truth: culture shock is real—it happens. And, despite the toll it takes on our relationships and our dignity, it presents an opportunity for growth and learning that we should take advantage of.

In looking through the incidents in our Cultural Detective series, most of them represent people managing their work in the best way they know how. All parties in the story have good intentions, but due to cultural differences they miscommunicate or work at odds to one another. In a small minority of our critical incidents, however, we see someone who is suffering from culture shock. They do or say something that, most probably, they would never do under more comfortable or familiar circumstances. They are probably tired, due to linguistic and cultural fatigue. They have suffered repeated blows to their self confidence: the educated adult that they are only knows enough to act with a child’s effectiveness in the new culture.

cultureshockTyttiBraysyHow Do We Manage Culture Shock?
And How Do We Deal With Those Going Through It?
(the key that’s never talked about)

Our goal is not to avoid difference and ambiguity, but, rather, to learn to bridge differences and harness them as assets. And, we want to help our colleagues, family members, employees and students while they are experiencing culture shock. How can we best do that? The free download accompanying this post provides you ten “Tips for Alleviating Culture Shock”, including such things as getting sufficient rest, reading in your native language, and cultivating a support network. Subscribing to and regularly using Cultural Detective Online will help you process your emotions and make sense of your experiences, using them as learning and development opportunities.

Another tool included in the download is a set of three worksheets on identity (“The Impact of Cross-Cultural Experience on Identity”). The first urges you to reflect on the identity you hold in various spheres of life and ways of being in your home culture(s). For example, how do you define your competence, what is your communication style, how does your occupation affect your identity, and how do you define and maintain your health? The second worksheet then asks you to reflect on how those same things might change when you relocate. The third sheet is useful for reflection before you finish your sojourn and return home. These worksheets are another tool for thinking about life transitions, differing contexts, workplaces and friendships, and how we and those around us change during our sojourns abroad.

Another key person in my early professional formation was Dr. Dean Barnlund. He taught me so much and, more importantly perhaps, inspired me. Dean focused on intercultural interaction and included art and photography in his approach, which resonated with me on so many levels. One very small piece of his work is a set of values continua that he assembled together with Kluckhohn and Morgan. I honestly can not remember if these were published in a book or shared with me in person, and my internet searches have not pointed me to their origin, either. I do know that I’ve always had their names on the bottom as originators of the tool, so the work comes from them. I see them as the precursors to the many dimensions of culture models in use in the intercultural field today. I used these continua for years to help teach people about basic cultural differences, to help expats reflect on what might be welcome changes for them, and what they might find challenging. I share it with you in the attached download (“Cultural Values Checklist”).

The final piece of material in the free download is “Culture as an Onion Skin.” I no longer use this metaphor, preferring instead the Personal Values Lens from the Cultural Detective Self Discovery. My chief concern with the onion-skin metaphor is that, when you peel back the many layers of an onion, nothing is left inside! If that lack of fit doesn’t bother you so much, the usefulness of the onion-skin worksheet is to help us think about our core values. What are the things that in life that are really important to me? I can note those that are near and dear, guarded closely, never to be negotiated, in the central portion of the onion. Then, I have other values that I still hold tightly, that are very important to me, but that are more amenable to situational variance. Those I can note on the outer layers of the onion.

Come on, be truthful now. Share with us one of your “I behaved badly” stories, and a bit about the journey you were on when it happened! Help us take the nasty truth out of the closet and into the light of day, so we can learn from it. Did the experience make you stronger? A better Cultural Detective? How did you learn to navigate your way through it?

cultureshockThis was reposted in the Velvet Ashes’ Culture Shock link-up. If the topic interests you, be sure to visit some of the other great posts, from other blogs, that are linked-up there.

Great Culture-Crossers I Have Known (or wish I had!)

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Entrance to Woolarac Museum

This is a guest blog post by Carrie Cameron, co-author of Cultural Detective Russia. I assure you I would have been wrangling to get on the guest list for Frank’s annual party! What a mixer those must have been!

What do oil tycoons, American Indians, and bank robbers have in common? I had a chance to find out recently, when I visited the Woolaroc Museum in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, USA. The name “Woolaroc” is composed of the words “woods,” “lakes,” and “rocks.” The museum and surrounding natural park, located in the beautiful hills in the northernmost vestiges of the Ozark Mountains, was a gift to the people from Frank Phillips, the founder of Phillips Petroleum (Phillips 66). The museum is full of extraordinary Indian art and artifacts, as well as cowboy and frontier art and artifacts.

Mr. Phillips was born on a small farm in Nebraska, became a successful businessman, and married the daughter of a bank president. Moving to northern Oklahoma to buy land and drill for oil, he became deeply attached to the countryside, and also close to the Osage tribe living there. He was the first White man adopted into the tribe, a testament to his ability to transcend cultural differences.

He originally built Woolaroc as a personal retreat, to which he invited his wealthy business associates and friends. But perhaps his most remarkable social contribution was to host a grand party once a year to which he invited his business and family friends, his Osage Indian friends, local White settlers and cowboys, local lawmen, and bank robbers and cattle rustlers (who received full amnesty for that day). What a gathering that must have been.image003Phillips’ ability to value the humanity in an extraordinary range of people—rich and poor, White and Native American, businessman and cowboy, and even citizen and outlaw—was exceptional. It reminds us that building cultural bridges is not just about ethnicity or race, but about the many facets that make up our unique identities. Not simply tolerating—but actually thriving—on this kaleidoscope, Mr. Phillips appears to have been a Cultural Detective par excellence!

Film Review: Searching for Sugarman

MV5BMjA5Nzc2NDUyN15BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwNjQwMjc5Nw@@._V1_SY317_CR0,0,214,317_AL_It must be summer for me: two movie reviews in just a few weeks! Another really good movie, too, this one an Academy-award-winning documentary. If you love an amazing story that serendipitously weaves together continents, champions the underdog, and echoes the resonance of truth across cultures, Searching for Sugar Man is for you!

Sixto Rodriguez is the working-class son of Mexican immigrants to the USA. As an anti-establishment folk singer he published two albums in the 1970s about the marginalized poor of the inner city. The music is powerful and haunting, but his albums met with minimal success in the US, and Rodriguez was dropped from his record label.

Unknown to the Rodriguez family, several of his songs became anthems of the anti-apartheid movement (“the system is gonna fall soon, to an angry young tune”), especially among Afrikaners. Rodriguez became a platinum-selling hero in South Africa, supposedly more famous than Elvis Presley or the Rolling Stones. He was widely rumored to have committed suicide on stage—bestowing Rodriguez with a Jimi Hendrix-like aura—yet people knew nothing more about him than what they could glean from his album covers and liners.

In the mid-90s two men—record-store owner Stephen Segerman and music journalist Craig Bartholomew—decided to play detective and learn who Rodriguez was and what had become of him. They tried to contact his record label, but it had long ago gone out of business. They contacted the label’s owner, but he was of no help. They pored over the lyrics to Rodriguez’s songs, with not a lot of luck (they needed a cultural informant, as most any midwesterner or KISS fan could tell you that the lyrics from Can’t Get Away, “born in the troubled city in rock and roll USA,” refer to Detroit). Finally, they found the thread to unravel the story. This movie is the story of their quest.

SPOILER ALERT
It turns out they found Rodriguez alive and well in Detroit’s historic Woodbridge neighborhood, having earned a B.A. in philosophy and having worked for several decades in demolition and on production lines. He became politically active, running for city council, and has three daughters. Segerman and Bartholomew arrange for Rodriguez to visit South Africa for a sold-out series of tours, and the movie includes footage of the first of those tours.

Another interesting cross-cultural tidbit is that his youngest daughter, who accompanies Rodriguez on his first South African tour, falls in love and ends up living there.

The way in which Rodriguez’s words, from inner city Detroit, speak to those on another continent and in another hemisphere, is very powerful. What is most remarkable to me, however, is the dignity, peacefulness, and clarity of the man himself. Rodriguez seems content with the life he has led (we never witness him expressing regret for lost royalties or fame), and joyous and yet non-phased by his fame and success in South Africa. It makes me want to meet a man so fully rooted in and confident of who he is.

Recent Upgrades to Cultural Detective Online Enable Even Better Collaboration

QuickViewLensesOur most recent update incorporates significant changes to the user incident sections and the group functionality, in direct response to feedback from CDO users, so please keep those ideas coming! At Cultural Detective, we are always working to improve our flagship product, Cultural Detective Online.

conference_calling_support_headerQuick View Lenses: A New Tab On The Main Menu Bar
Maybe you are in a meeting, and you can just feel you are not quite connecting with the person sitting across from you, or the people on the other end of the conference call. Now you can quickly and easily open any of the Cultural Detective Values Lenses to use as clues in deciphering the dynamics of your conversation, and to help you bridge the communication gap!

The new Quick View Lenses tab is visible anytime you are logged into CD Online, located just to the right of the Package tab. Clicking on this tab will open a new browser window with a drop-down menu listing all Lenses in the CD Online system. Clicking on a Lens name will open that Values Lens in the new browser window.

Group Functionality: New Features
The real magic of cross-cultural collaboration is in using our differences as assets to innovate, create and solve problems—together.

You already know you can subscribe to Cultural Detective Online either as an individual user or as a group. A group may be a team that works together on a project, or a class of students. The group leader may be the team leader or the class instructor.

Collaborative Incidents and Debriefs
Group members have the option of sharing a critical incident they upload with the members of their group with one easy step. The Group Administrator will receive an email requesting approval of the incident for group-wide publication. After publication to the group, the incident creator’s name will be listed as having authored the incident.

A group member now is able to invite other group members to collaborate on an incident. This is a terrific new feature! Let’s say I’m working together with Ana on a project. I upload a story about my collaboration with Ana. She is now able to edit my incident draft, making sure it’s also accurate from her perspective. Then, together, we can debrief what happened: she gives me insight into her intentions, and I let her know what I was intending. Together, we enter interpersonal bridges—what each of us can do to reach out to the other while contributing our personal best, and systemic bridges—what our organization can do to support our efforts and encourage our intercultural success.

Group members can also create a Sample Debrief to aid other group members. The Sample Debrief will appear just like a Sample Debrief written by an author. Collaborators on an incident may also contribute to its debrief. We strongly recommend that group members create a Sample Debrief for each shared incident to aid fellow group members in their learning.

Our recent upgrade included MANY other great additions to the CD Online system. For just US$99/year, or US$150/two years, your individual subscription gives you access to the 60+ packages in our system, and permission to project its contents to your classes, trainees, or coaching clients. I can’t imagine where you can get better value for your investment!

Please join our 130 authors in putting this incredibly robust tool to good use, to build respect, understanding, inclusion and teamwork in your arenas of influence. Want to learn more about what Cultural Detective Online can do for you and your organization? Join us for our next free 90-minute webinar—click here to view the full schedule through the next few months.

We Are Not (Just) Our Nationality(ies)!

Who of us is a single story? As Chimamanda Adichie so eloquently told us, insisting on a single story is to “flatten” one’s experience. While I am USA born, it definitely irks me when those I know, often interculturalists, insist on defining me purely through that Lens. Yes, I am US American; I claim it. I have also lived overseas half my life; surely that has had no small influence on who I am today? I’m a woman, of a certain age, a mother, a friend. I’m in a committed relationship, I own a small business, I am an immigrant.

We are many things, and different aspects of our identities rise to the fore depending on the context. Shouldn’t intercultural competence enable us to get to know ourselves and others in the fullness of who we are? Two-and-a-half years ago I wrote a post on this blog about the many layers of our cultural identity.

Today, I am very proud to say that Cultural Detective Online makes it very easy to look at how real people interact in real situations, and to reflect on how our many cultures might be influencing us (or others) in a given interaction. Did I react that way because I’m a Mom? Because I’m a Baby Boomer? Or just because I’m me? Cultural Detective Online is a cross-cultural effectiveness tool that doesn’t reduce us to a single story, but rather encourages us to get to know ourselves and others as fully and wholly human. Take a look:

Remember, Values Lenses represent the core values of entire societies of millions of people; they are not intended to be used as yet another “box” into which to stereotype individuals. Try using a Values Lens to gather clues as to why someone may have responded in the the manner she or he did. Then, with perhaps a little more understanding about the other’s positive intent, you can engage in a more effective dialogue, and learn to collaborate more enjoyably and productively.

How do you use the multiple Lenses available to you within CD Online? How often do you upload stories from your everyday work or life, and purposefully learn from them? What creative things are you doing with Cultural Detective Online to further your intercultural competence? We would love to hear your experience!

Cultural Detective as a Facilitator’s Magic Tool

IMG_6335Guest blog post by Tatyana Fertelmeyster, co-author of Cultural Detective Russia,
connecting.differences@gmail.com

First of all a disclaimer: I have a long-lasting love affair with Cultural Detective and see it as the favorite tool in my toolbox, good for almost anything where training or coaching is concerned. It does not mean that I try to squeeze it into every design or set of handouts I do, but it is a go-to resource. In this short post I’d like to invite you to consider the Cultural Detective Model as a very powerful mechanism for effective facilitation of any process (training, meeting, academic classroom learning, etc.) that you might be facilitating.

Let’s say you come in all ready and prepared to teach, but for some reason the group is just not following you, no matter where you are trying to lead them. Observe. Observe the group and observe yourself: who is doing and saying what here? Ask yourself my favorite question: assuming they have a reason to respond to my efforts in that strange way—what might that be? Take your next step in accordance with your analysis and not in accordance with your initial brilliant plan that just flew out the window (assuming it had a good reason to fly out the window—what might that be?)

Say you’ve got yourself a difficult participant (you know the kind I am talking about, though yours might look nothing like mine). Take a deep breath and ask yourself: assuming this person’s behavior comes from some place of value, what might that be? To get really good at it, practice on significant others. If you master doing it with teenagers, the whole world will be yours for the taking.

I owe one of my best co-facilitation experiences to Cultural Detective as well. A few years ago Kate Berardo (CD Self-Discovery and CD Bridging Cultures) and I were teaching a class at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC) together. It was our first collaboration. As we started preparing for the class we talked about ourselves using the structure of the CD Value Lens: this is what I bring to this project, this is how it can be instrumental, and this is how I can be a pain in the neck for somebody who operates differently. I don’t know too many people whose style as is different from mine as Kate’s is. It could’ve been a huge disaster. Instead we were able to really combine our strengths, which is such a wonderful alternative to drowning in frustration over “how come you are not like me?”

If you want to strengthen your skills as a facilitator, come join me this July in Portland, OR at the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication. I will be teaching three workshops incorporating Cultural Detective in various ways:

I hope to see you there!

Transforming Lives: Education as an Alternative to Violence

AUN “The youth in Nigeria are beginning to speak—some with violence.
They attract attention. But others are also speaking.
The question is, is anyone listening to this plea
for western education, for training, for reform, for help?”

—Margee Ensign, President, American University of Nigeria

With all the grim news coming out of Nigeria these days, I thought you might want to hear about a little-known educational bright spot in the country: the unique programs offered at the American University of Nigeria, founded in Yola (capital of Adamwa state) in 2005 by the country’s former vice-president, Atiku Abubakar.

Despite Boko Haram’s year-long campaign of terror, including kidnapping over 300 girls from a school, murdering family members, burning villages, and displacing thousands of people, most families still desire an education for their girls and their boys, says Margee Ensign, President of AUN. And AUN provides it.

Both the university’s valedictorian and its graduating class speaker this year are women. The university is one of the leaders in the interfaith peace initiative. It has hired and trained more than 500 female and male security guards to protect the campus and its housing, offering each of them a free education. AUN facilities include a nursery school, primary and secondary school, in addition to the university itself. It recently dedicated a new library that has received international accolades for its efforts to create the finest e-library in Africa.

“Security comes not from our security force, but from our development and peace efforts,” Margee reports. In one of the poorest places on earth, AUN has a program to teach local women literacy and entrepreneurship skills, to enable them to generate income for their families. The university’s Peace Council has created 32 football and volleyball “unity teams” for young people to play in tournaments year-round. None of the young people have jobs, over half have dropped out of high school, and 10% have not even completed elementary school. Sports team members study a peace curriculum focused on building understanding and tolerance. The unity teams help ensure that these youth stay active and involved in their communities—making them less vulnerable to recruiting by terrorist groups like Boko Haram.

This kind of creative programming doesn’t happen by accident. Margee is a tough, dedicated, innovative, and tireless educator. Her extensive experience in administrative and faculty positions in universities in the USA (including Columbia University in New York, Tulane University in New Orleans, and the University of the Pacific, Stockton, California), and her interest and experience in international development in Africa, make her well-prepared to be president of AUN.

“I met with about 80 women in the [AUN entrepreneurship] program…They wanted to learn English, Nigeria’s official language, so that they could read to their children. In modern education, they knew, lay the only hope for the future.”

Margee relishes the challenges of working across cultures. She has embraced the local community culture, while building a university culture that retains important aspects of the US educational experience. After all, this is why parents are sending their children to college at AUN. She’s always recruiting—looking for people with just the right skills, willing to give their time and talent to join the international faculty and staff at AUN, a growing academic community in Nigeria.

The Cultural Detective Team believes it is possible to help make the world a better place through our actions. Yet, it isn’t always easy! Cultural Detective: Global Teamwork investigates some of the challenges involved in managing culturally diverse teams in today’s global environment, even if working in the same geographical location. What is the task? How do we form and maintain a high performing team? How do we manage the terrain or contexts in which team members work? How do we choose the right technology to support the team? How do time and space affect communication? Add culture to this mix, and it is even more complex! These are just the beginning of the challenges Margee faces each day—and she loves it!

All around the globe, dedicated, competent people are working to make a corner of the world a better place—often, not the corner of the world in which they were born and raised. Yet, they are motivated to share their skills in multiple arenas and diverse geographical locations. You probably know people that match this description—or are you one?! We’d be delighted to share their stories or yours with our readers!

With all the doom and gloom in the news, it is good to remind ourselves that generous people are doing wonderful things in difficult circumstances. A recent article written by Margee and published on the BBC.com website offers an often overlooked perspective on the area better known for the rampages of Boko Haram. We invite you to read Margee’s entire article here: “Nigerians defy terror to keep learning.”