About Kathryn Stillings

As editor of the Cultural Detective series, I have the pleasure of working with our wonderful international team, and, through each of them, gaining a glimpse of another worldview. It is an amazing opportunity to be able to learn from so many interesting people who share a common desire to further global understanding.

Today in the USA

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Asha Deliverance, left, the mother of Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, leans in and embraces a woman who approached her at the vigil. Photo by Beth Nakamura/Staff, The Oregonian/OregonLivecaption.  

I almost feel guilty as I write—80+ people were killed in Kabul today and I am focused on two men who were killed in Portland, Oregon, a few days ago. You may have heard about it: three men formed a wall between two young ladies (one wearing a hijab) and a man who was verbally accosting them on a public train. Two of the men ended up dead and a third was seriously wounded. A vigil was held the following evening at the place the attack happened. Here are some photos from it; click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

I am convinced that heroic actions take place every day in our world, but we frequently don’t hear about them. This time we did. It happened not far from my house, across the street from where I grocery shop, and just around the corner from our weekend farmers’ market. I didn’t attend the vigil that was held for our local heroes. But the reports from those that did spoke of the kindness and love that was evident—and the gratitude for those who had stood up to hate.

Right now, from outside of the US, it may look as if our country has changed since our new president was inaugurated. And in many ways it has. Some people are more comfortable making and hearing racist statements than they were before the election. They feel they no longer have to be “politically correct” and can say and do whatever they feel. After all, they are just following the example of the president.

But many people are not accepting these “new norms” and are actively and quietly doing their jobs to make sure the laws of the country are upheld. A few examples follow.

  1. When the “travel ban” was abruptly instituted, a group of state attorneys general worked diligently over the weekend to prepare the case to take to court on Monday morning. Many corporate attorneys whose companies were affected, university attorneys whose students were stuck overseas, and other interested legal organizations gave up their weekends with family to help prepare the necessary documents.
  2. Amidst the noise of ongoing “Russia investigations” and leaks and counter-leaks, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, and his staff are quietly doing their jobs—investigating the accusations and finding out what actually took place and what didn’t. It may look from the outside as if nothing is happening because you will hear no tweets or leaks from that group—they are just doing their jobs.
  3. I belong to a local neighborhood online group. Two weeks ago, there was a post with a lengthy list of furniture and clothing needs for a recently arrived Syrian family. Within a few hours, the items were donated and the family had a comfortable home to settle into. And it wasn’t the first time the neighborhood had pitched in; this was at least the third similar request in the last six months.

So what is my point? Individuals can and do make a difference. Everyday. In the most unexpected places and in unexpected ways. Kindness matters. Civility matters.

Cultural Detective provides a method to help us understand others who are different from ourselves. It provides a way to listen and understand another’s view, whether or not you agree. Get a clue and check out CD Online—and use your intercultural skills to share a little kindness in a culturally appropriate way.

Ready for Some Good News?

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photo by Steve Evans from Citizen of the World (South Africa  Uploaded by russavia) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

…maybe the most important thing happening in the world today is something that we [journalists] almost never cover: a stunning decline in poverty, illiteracy and disease.”

—Nicholas Kristof, NY Times, Oct. 1, 2015

Things seem so grim some days that sometimes I want to turn off the news. But such a “head in the sand” approach isn’t beneficial — it is important to me to know as much as I can about what’s going on globally. But I keep believing there are many good things that are happening in the world that we just aren’t hearing about — the kindness and compassion of people, the connections that make us truly human, the tireless efforts to educate more children, feed more people, and eradicate diseases.

On a particularly glum day, I was delighted to find a NY Times Op-Ed Column by Nicholas Kristof—something that actually gave me reasons to feel more optimistic about the improving situations of people globally. While the daily struggle continues to be difficult for too many around the world, there actually is some good news.

Funny thing is, US Americans don’t know about it. Kristof puts this lack of knowledge squarely on the shoulders of US journalists, but I wonder if others around the world know this information?

According to Kristof, “…the proportion of the world’s population living in extreme poverty… has fallen by more than half, from 35 percent in 1993 to 14 percent in 2011 (the most recent year for which figures are available from the World Bank).”

What? Why didn’t someone tell me? All this work actually is making a difference! For example, in the 1980s, only half the girls in developing countries completed elementary school; today the number is 80 percent. In 1990, more than 12 million children died before they were 5; now the number is less than half that amount.

Kristof writes: “The world’s best-kept secret is that we live at a historic inflection point when extreme poverty is retreating. United Nations members have just adopted 17 new Global Goals, of which the centerpiece is the elimination of extreme poverty by 2030. Their goals are historic. There will still be poor people, of course, but very few who are too poor to eat or to send children to school. Young journalists or aid workers starting out today will in their careers see very little of the leprosy, illiteracy, elephantiasis and river blindness that I have seen routinely.”

Steven Radelet, a development economist and Georgetown University professor, in a forthcoming book, The Great Surge: The Ascent of the Developing World, notes, “We live at a time of the greatest developmental progress among the global poor in the history of the world.”

All this is very encouraging news—caring, hard working people do make a difference, just as I want to believe! Thousands of people all over the world share their knowledge, skills, and expertise to help others have a better life. We at Cultural Detective salute each of you doing your part to make the world a better place!

The Oxford Dictionary recently added “Mx” to their lexicon. Are you familiar with what it means?

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Transgender symbol image ©ParaDox, used under Wikimedia Commons license

Growing up in the USA in the 1950s, as I did, it was “clearly understood” that there were two genders: boys and girls. So it never crossed my mind until I was much older that perhaps the binary world of gender was not so binary. And if one allows—even intellectually—for that possibility, you can begin to see how difficult daily life can be for transgender people, individuals who do not identify with the gender to which they were assigned at birth.

The more one thinks about it, the more complex being transgender becomes. Take a seemingly simple thing like filling out a standardized form: what do you do if you aren’t Miss, Mrs., Ms., or Mr.? This is the dilemma that opens Jacob Tobia’s recent piece in The Guardian, which I highly recommend. He writes of the difficulties of not having a gender-neutral option available in so many daily situations. As I read his article, I began to realize the privilege given to “cisgendered” individuals—those who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth.

Tobia writes:

Growing up, I assumed that the only way to have a gender-neutral title would be if I got a PhD and could make everyone call me “Dr”. For most of my life, I didn’t realize that there was another way out of the “Mr/Ms” dichotomy. That changed when, in my junior year of college, a favorite professor of mine introduced me to an artist named Justin Vivian Bond who used a gender-neutral term that I had never heard of before: “Mx.”

What?! Yup, that’s not a typo: the word is “Mx.” When I read this article, I thought everyone else must already know about it, since it is now included in OxfordDictionaries.com: “A title used before a person’s surname or full name by those who wish to avoid specifying their gender or by those who prefer not to identify themselves as male or female.”

Judging by the reaction of the few people I have mentioned it to, this term is not in universal usage, at least not in my tiny little corner of the world. However, it seems a great addition to the English language for those who do not self-identify with binary gender assignments.

“…on 28 August 2015…That day, OxfordDictionaries.com – created by the publishers of the Oxford English Dictionary – added Mx to the dictionary. Seemingly overnight, Mx went from an underground, somewhat obscure term, to an official part of the English language.”

Want to learn more about the challenges of being transgender? Watch this video with Jazz Jennings, a transgender youth. Want to learn how to be an ally to transgender people? Here are a few tips from Basic Rights Oregon. Want to understand some of the values that transgender individuals tend to share? Check out Cultural Detective LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender), now part of Cultural Detective Online.

Cultural Detective is DiversityBusiness.com’s “Top Business 2015”

gk-1Nipporica Associates LLC, the company behind the Cultural Detective brand, is proud to announce that it has been been named to the Diversity Business.com “Top Business” list for the 15th year in a row—each year since the inception of the prestigious award!

This honor speaks to the hard work and dedication of our Cultural Detective team, beginning with Dianne Hofner Saphiere, founder and principal, and including our highly talented and diverse group of 138 authors, hundreds of certified facilitators around the globe, and to YOU—our clients, colleagues, and community. Together we engage passionately every day to build respect, understanding, collaboration, and justice across cultures!

Here is the notification letter:

Dear Honoree,

We are honored to announce that your company has been recognized as a 2015 “Top Business” recipient by DiversityBusiness.com! You have distinguished yourself as one of the leading entrepreneurs in the United States and are most deserving of this award and recognition. We are pleased to present you with this honor.

Over 1,300,000 businesses in the United Sates participated in our 15th annual business survey and you were among the select few chosen based on both your annual gross revenue and the business profile you presented to us. This award reflects our annual “Top Business List” which receives over 20 million viewers annually. We could not have done it without you!

Our “Top Business List” offers the most comprehensive look at the strongest segment of the United States economy – America’s privately held companies. These companies are the most recognized and respected which truly differentiate themselves in our indeterminate market place. We are proud to say this esteemed list has been coveted by the most successful companies in the U.S and, as one of the strongest your company has joined its ranks!

Your award is intended to inspire, motivate and honor your employees, customers, community and most of all, you. Your dedication and hard work has created incentive to stimulate economic growth in America. Like you, we at DiversityBusiness.com are dedicated to empowering the economic growth of our country and we are proud to walk alongside you as we all work to make this happen.

As an awardee, I am pleased to extend a personal invitation to you and your team to attend the “15th Annual National Entrepreneurship Summit”. This event will honor you and a select number of businesses which have dedicated themselves in stimulating econonmic growth throughout America. The event will be held at the Harvard Club of NY in NYC on April 30, 2015.

On behalf of DiversityBusiness.com and our sponsors, we salute you and your employees for achieving this momentous honor.

We look forward to congratulating you and your team in person at the awards ceremony on April 30th at the Harvard Club of NY in NYC!

With warm regards,
Kenton

Kenton Clarke
President & CEO
DiversityBusiness.com
(203) 255 – 8966
kenton@diversitybusiness.com

Here is the official explanation of the award:

“The ‘Top Businesses in America’ program recognizes and honors individuals who have established themselves as a world class community of entrepreneurs that continue to transform the way we live and advance our economy forward. In recognition of these outstanding accomplishments and contributions, the program is also designed to celebrate and support their efforts in order to generate public awareness among their peers, customers, press and to organizations who seek their products and services.

Now in its 15th year, Diversitybusiness.com has been privileged through business intelligence in identifying the USA’s most successful entrepreneurs on a state and national basis. Over 1.3 million businesses participated in the annual survey. The ‘Top Businesses’ are determined by a selection committee which evaluates the eligibility for all submissions in each award category.

The ‘Top Businesses in America’ program is sponsored by major brands which include Apple, AT&T, Wal-Mart, Coca-Cola, Office Depot, Toyota, Cisco, and Verizon, among others. This ongoing partnership and support has allowed the “Top Businesses in America” program to progress into the nation’s most coveted awards program.

The goal each year of the ‘Top Businesses in America’ program is to continue to celebrate another year of innovation, progression and growth and to raise the profile of entrepreneurs who remain committed to strengthening our competitive global landscape and rebuilding our future. No matter what circumstances, these men and women continue to build successful business relationships. They also continue to create an atmosphere of pride, camaraderie and confidence among their family, customers, suppliers and communities they serve.

DiversityBusiness.com is proud to be in the position to identify and stand behind these individuals. We know their accomplishments will serve as inspiration to current and future generations.”

We are pleased to receive this honor again this year, and we recognize it is a team effort that puts us in this competitive group. There is a great deal of work to be done building bridges across cultural gaps in this world, and we are thrilled to be able to make a small contribution to this process!

Just Released! New Book: Perception and Deception

PERCEPTION AND DECEPTION COVER FACE 3Need a powerful story to illustrate your point about intercultural miscommunication? Want to help someone understand that different cultures may utilize the same word, concept, image, gesture, sound or touch to mean different things? Could you use a proverb that gives insight into another person’s cultural worldview? Search no more—Joe Lurie , intercultural trainer, Executive Director Emeritus at UC Berkeley’s International House, and former Peace Corps Volunteer, has got you covered!

Perception and Deception: A Mind Opening Journey Across Cultures, is an entertaining, eye-opening and easy-to-read book that contains dozens of intriguing intercultural experiences, gathered from Joe’s research and his decades living abroad and managing Berkeley’s International House, one of the largest, most diverse living centers on the planet.

In an informative and enticing manner, the author explains how he discovered that his perception of a situation could be “deceptive” when he looked at it simply through his own Lens. Joe’s growing self-awareness of the impact of culture is clearly illustrated through his humorous stories and striking culture clash examples from news reports across the globe. Better yet, these stories are indexed by culture! Joe also shares pearls of wisdom about perception, perspective and the nature of “truth” from his rich personal collection of proverbs and sayings from around the world.

Joe’s infectious curiosity in uncovering and understanding cultural differences will help readers, no matter their profession, age or cultural background, gain a fuller appreciation for the richness of human diversity, and the multiple things that can go wrong when trying to communicate across cultures. You, your students, colleagues, clients, friends, and family will all enjoy this engaging book, published by Cultural Detective, and now available in paperback. Kindle on Amazon and other e-versions from Barnes and Noble and Apple will be coming soon.

Perception and Deception is an engaging and insightful introduction to cross-cultural communication in a globalized world. For more information, reviews, a peek inside the book, and a link to purchase a copy, visit www.PerceptionandDeception.com.

Purchase the book now.

You are also welcome to copy and print the flyer below to share with your colleagues and friends.
Perception Deception Flyer White

The Wedding Quiz

800px-Indian_wedding_DelhiConsider this: it is your wedding day, and you are a young bride-to-be. Your family and friends have been planning for this event for months. Just as the ceremony is about to begin, your future husband has a seizure. What do you do?

  1. Immediately stop the wedding and accompany your future husband to the hospital.
  2. While your future husband goes off to the hospital, explain to your guests that there will be no wedding today, but everyone should enjoy a nice a party since they are already here and there is plenty of food and drink.
  3. Everything is prepared, so just select another man from among the guests in attendance to be your new husband, and go on with the wedding.

I didn’t make this situation up, rather it is something I read in the Times of India, “Groom unwell, bride weds guest in fit of rage,” which really made me think about my own reaction to the story and my own cultural assumptions.

This wedding took place in India. It seems that the bride–to-be and her family had not been told of the medical condition of the groom prior to the wedding. So when the groom had an epileptic seizure, she decided, right on the spot, to marry another guest at the wedding. Although faced with an unexpected and upsetting situation, the bride-to-be didn’t make a rash decision, but one based on long established tradition. However, to appreciate the logic of the situation requires a major shift in thinking by those whose main values related to marriage are derived from largely individualistic western values and practices.

The action made cultural sense to the bride and her relatives because the man she decided to marry was someone she and the family already knew well: her sister’s brother-in-law. From their collectivist point of view, hers was a very reasonable choice. A marriage in South Asia is not just a joining of two people, but a public recognition of mutual duties and obligations, which impacts possibly hundreds of people on both sides. That is why many marriages in South Asia are arranged—such an important event is too serious to be left to only two people. Family honor is involved, and it is the duty of the larger family and lineage to make an appropriate investigation of the groom’s side. Since the man who was to be the groom fell ill, and neither he or his family had revealed his medical condition to the bride, it was considered a sufficient breech of trust that the marriage could not proceed.

However, there was a cultural solution available. Since the newly designated groom was someone the family already knew well, and he was present, willing, and not yet married, the wedding could continue. It is not uncommon in South Asia for sets of sisters to marry sets of brothers over time because it is thought that the bonds between kin groups will be stronger because of those ties. Further, it is relatively common that if a wife dies, the bride’s family would consider it proper that the deceased woman’s sister might marry the widower. After all, the family is familiar and such a wedding would preserve the links between kin groups. Anthropologists call this kind of arrangement “sororate” marriage patterns.

Of course, in our story, when the bride’s former husband-to-be returned from the hospital, he was not pleased that his intended bride was now someone else’s wife. There is a bit more to the story, but I’ll let you track it down, if you are curious.

What was interesting to me were people’s reactions and interpretations—unfortunately, they aren’t currently available, but I took screen shots of the “comments section.” The range of opinions ran from total support of the bride’s actions, to shock that someone could make such a life-altering decision so quickly. Here’s a sampling:

  • “Very unfortunate incident and shame on the bride.”
  • “Good luck groom”
  • “Hats off to this brave lady…my salutes”
  • “The girls did the right thing. In fact, the girl’s family should sue the boy’s family for hiding his medical condition before they agreed to the marriage.”
  • “poor man…guess he can cope with this embarrassment.”
  • “Sad incident. The groom’s family is at fault keeping the bride’s family in the dark about the groom’s epileptic attacks. What followed after the groom fainted is really unfortunate. The bride’s family must also share a part of the blame for not making exhaustive enquiries before finalizing the marriage. The bride was lucky to find her match at the same wedding venue and got married happily.”
  • “Why parents keep such info under the carpet is a shame for parents and the youth of this century. They should have the courage and the conviction!”
  • “A bold lady…The bridegroom party got a fitting reply for not disclosing the medical condition of the boy…”
  • “How can a person take such an instant decision about her life?”

This is such a great incident to illustrate the Cultural Detective Method. What seems like an irrational action from one person’s view, can seem perfectly reasonable from another perspective. Not that I would recommend choosing a spouse this way! (Wow—that really reflects my US American perspective!)

india wedding

Welcome Back! I guess…

It’s that time of year—summer study abroad programs beginning, returning students headed home, along with travelers returning after brief overseas summer vacations, not to mention those expats who are moving back in time to find a place to live and enroll their kids in school for the fall.

Yup—it’s the time of year when those of us who stayed home are likely hear how much better things are elsewhere. So while we are delighted that our beloved sojourners are returning, there is frequently a bit of anxiety as we begin looking forward to the adjustment. What to do?

First, be prepared. Understand that everyone involved—the returnee, friends and family at home, the organization for which the returnee works or school where she or he studies—all need to recognize that the transition of the person returning home begins well before the actual arrival home. Leaving new friends and colleagues, withdrawing from what have become familiar patterns of behavior, saying goodbye over and over again—these are hard things even if you are looking forward to returning home. While a major goal of “re-entry” is to integrate the recent intercultural experience with life at home, we should expect these transitions take some time, and will be better dealt with by acquiring a bit of knowledge and planning about the process.

return_purchWe suggest you log into your Cultural Detective Online subscription and take a look at the ideas included in the package, The Return. While offering advice and guidance mainly directed toward the business professional returning home after an overseas assignment, there are pearls of wisdom that are applicable to any “returnee” situation. The Challenge Lens looks at different areas in which adjustment issues, both personal and professional. For example, the returnee often find that family, friends, and colleagues are not as interested as the sojourner thinks they should be in his or her experience. Things that happened at home during the time away can be more exciting to those who stayed home than are photos of new friends and places that were visited. Knowing this in advance gives an opportunity for both sides to adjust and make allowances for each others’ behavior.

coming_homeCraig Storti’s highly rated book, The Art of Coming Homeis another useful resource for you and your returnee. Craig writes in a practical and easy-to-read manner, that is theoretically well-grounded, and full of valuable tidbits. Reading Craig’s book will not only help the returnee feel less crazy, but will help those surrounding the returnee understand the complexity of the transitions involved and provide ideas for smoothing the re-entry experience.

Speaking of smoothing the re-entry experience, be sure to check out “Twelve Tips for Welcoming Returnees Home,” part of the free online resource, What’s Up With Culture? Bruce La Brack authored (see Section 2.5.1). One of the most important tips: “Understand that most returnees are, in some ways, different than they were before they left home.”

And isn’t that the point of an intercultural experience? If the returnee was just the same as before he or she left, would it not be a big waste of time and money? Whether we are a family or an organization that sent someone overseas, we have an expectation that the exposure to other cultures and languages will result in the sojourner gaining new skills and attitudes—including acquiring broader perspectives, different ways of seeing the world.

However, sometimes we, unconsciously, still expect that the other hasn’t really changed, and are therefore surprised when this is not so. Being prepared to welcome home a returning friend or loved one, but also being ready to find that they have undergone important changes and may have acquired new ideas is one key to insuring a smooth transition home for every one involved.

“One’s destination is never a place, but a new way of seeing things.” – Henry Miller

Rajel messouab ta hed ma y sed lou el bab. “All doors open to the person with good manners.”

morocco_purchWe are pleased to be publishing a wonderful addition to our series, Cultural Detective: Morocco. It’s perfect for those working with Moroccans, or wanting to do business in or relocate to Morocco. Perhaps, however, you are like me: you have seen tourist posters, watched Casablanca, eaten at Moroccan restaurants, and dreamed about visiting this seemingly exotic place. If so, then you will also enjoy wandering through our new package, even if you have no immediate plans to visit or do business in Morocco—at least not when you start reading the package!

One of the delightful things about Cultural Detective: Morocco is the feeling of almost participating in the culture that begins as you read the introduction. The oral tradition of Morocco is clear throughout the package, and the stories and examples show the hospitality and warmth of the people. To truly navigate successfully within Moroccan culture, you will need the advice of an inside perspective—a cultural informant—to help you develop and maintain the relationships and connections so necessary to doing business in this fascinating country. Cultural Detective: Morocco can provide you with that ongoing guidance, with ideas to save you from being unintentionally rude, and with suggestions that may help you communicate more comfortably and successfully with Moroccans. Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow.

Cultural Detective: Morocco has truly been a “labor of love,” coming to fruition due to the determination of two very dedicated professionals, Catherine Roignan and Youssef Zahid. Currently, one author lives in France and one in Morocco; both have a great deal of international experience, both have more than full-time jobs, and both have family responsibilities that take up every spare moment. In spite of these challenges, they wrote, revised, and wrote some more.

What is even more remarkable to me is that they wrote in French and then translated their work into English so I could read it. I made suggestions, did some editing, and then my suggestions were translated back into French for their consideration. (While the current version is in English, we will soon publish the French language version.) Of course, part of the authors’ discussion was also about Arabic words, as they explored the nuances of Moroccan culture and the particular choice of words used to describe it. This was a truly multilingual, multicultural creation process, weaving observations from inside and outside of the culture, and shifting worldviews as the authors worked to share the culture of Morocco with us.

One of the Moroccan values highlighted in the package is Daba baada (the present comes first): the only thing one can be sure of is today; one cannot know what tomorrow will be like, as things may change at any moment. We hope you will take the time today to explore this terrific new package, either via the PDF version or by viewing it as part of your subscription to Cultural Detective Online.

Ah Ha! I knew it! Bilingualism does pay!

benefits of being bilingual

“Not only are bilingual young adults more likely to graduate high school and go to college, they are also more likely to get the job when they interview. Even when being bilingual is not a requirement, an interview study of California employers shows that employers prefer to both hire and retain bilinguals.”
—Rebecca Callahan, Associate Professor of Bilingual/Bicultural Education, University of Texas at Austin

Those of us who have worked in and around international education think that learning more than one language is good for people. We think it helps open up the mind to other possibilities, other cultural points of view. We also believe that the “code switching” involved in speaking multiple languages helps develop skills that are useful in social situations and beneficial in keeping the mind sharp.

However, for years no data existed that supported the benefits of being bilingual. And for a long time in many US educational settings, children who did not speak English as their first language were not encouraged to keep their bilingualism. Why would you need a second language when you learned English? The benefits of being able to speak more than one language were not generally recognized in the US.

I was excited to read about some new research by Rebecca Callahan, Associate Professor of Bilingual/Bicultural Education, University of Texas at Austin. In a recent article in Quartz, she writes: “Speaking more than one language may confer significant benefits on the developing brain. Research has now shown that bilingual young adults not only fare better in the job market, but are also more likely to demonstrate empathy and problem-solving skills.”

What does this mean? For study-abroad students, it might encourage them to know that the effort spent in learning and using another language has long-term economic benefits—you are more marketable! This is, of course, in addition to the eye-opening, mind-expanding, life-altering experience of living in a culture different from your own.

For children of immigrants and refugees, it means that making an effort to retain their parents’ native language is beneficial. In reality, many immigrant and refugee children in the US serve as interpreters and cultural bridges from an early age. They are forced to be bilingual—learning English to be successful in the school system, while speaking another language at home. I remember one Cambodian mother telling me, through her son, that if she learned to speak English, her son would forget how to speak Cambodian now that he was here in the US.

“Currently, researchers have begun to use data-sets that include more sensitive measures of language proficiency to find that among children of immigrant parents, bilingual-biliterate young adults land in higher status jobs and earn more than their peers who have lost their home language.

Not only have these now-monolingual young adults lost the cognitive resources bilingualism provides, but they are less likely to be employed full-time, and earn less than their peers.”
—Rebecca Callahan

For many in the US educational system, acquiring a second or third language is not as highly valued as it is in many other parts of the world. I am always impressed (and a bit jealous) when I am around people who can switch among languages—often because they were required or encouraged to learn multiple languages when they were in school. And for a nation of immigrants, it seems strange that only one-in-four US American adults are conversationally proficient in another language, according to a recent Gallup poll. It reminds me of the old joke, so true that it is embarrassing:

Question: What do you call a person who speaks four languages?
Answer: Quadrilingual.

Question: What do you call a person who speaks three languages?
Answer: Trilingual.

Question: What do you call a person who speaks two languages?
Answer: Bilingual.

Question: What do you call a person who speaks one language?
Answer: An American!

Of course, this challenge isn’t just limited to US Americans. In an article last year in The Guardian, Vice-chancellor of Cambridge University, Leszek Borysiewicz, pointed out that one in six children in English primary school do not have English as their first language. He noted that their first languages:

“…are real languages: living languages that give people a huge insight into culture and give the children who can speak them additional opportunities.

Isn’t that what education is about – enabling every child to achieve the maximum potential? What I’d love to see is an emphasis that this is an added value that that child has, a talent, and we should aspire to allow other children who may be monolingual to strive to become as bilingual as they possibly can be.”

An article about a study conducted by researchers at University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada, indicates that merely knowing a second language can result in higher earnings. The researchers say that the results of their study, published in the journal Canadian Public Policy/Analyse de Politiques, has implications for bilingual policy in Canada:

“Efforts to promote French in the ROC [rest of Canada] should be continued, not so much because of the earnings advantage that bilingualism confers, but because it results in many social/cultural/political benefits, strengthening the fabric of Canadian society and serving as an example to countries torn by ethnic, religious and linguistic divisions.”

The cultural flexibility inherent in knowing two languages is a valuable ability and a resource to be cherished. If we are to move toward intercultural competence, we need the ability to think outside of our cultural box and explore other ways of seeing the world.

That is what we try to do with our Cultural Detective packages—provide insight into another view of the world, a small glimpse into a different cultural reality, a chance to perhaps understand, just a little, how others see us, and how to work together more effectively.

Standards of Good Practice for Education Abroad

Standards Good Practice, FEAAre you a study abroad professional? Are you looking for like-minded professionals who share the same challenges and frustrations as you do? Are you wondering where you can turn for some solid advice and guidance to make your institution’s study abroad programs high-quality learning experiences for your students? Ever heard of The Forum?

The Forum on Education Abroad is a nifty organization, first conceived in San Diego, California, in May 2000, by a group of education abroad professionals who felt the need for a stand-alone organization. At that time, there were study abroad programs at numerous educational institutions, yet nothing existed in terms of standardization of policies and practices. Essentially, each program was on its own, and its quality was as good as the director of the program was able to make it, given the knowledge and resources available.

From its inception, standards of good practice for education abroad have been a priority for The Forum. Beginning in November of 2002, they began to lead the development of a set of standards. They used a distinctive approach: they structured the Standards by stating each Standard, followed by a set of questions designed to be used for assessment of that Standard. The first formal edition of the Standards of Good Practice for Education Abroad was published in November 2004.

The group moved quickly (history of The Forum), and by 2005, it was recognized by the US Department of Justice as the as the Standards Development Organization (SDO) for the field of education abroad. This status gives The Forum legal protection in undertaking standards-development work, and obligates the organization to exhibit “Openness, Balance, Transparency, Consensus, and Due Process in developing and disseminating standards.”

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“The Forum on Education Abroad is an institutional membership association and welcomes as members all institutions of higher learning, consortia, agencies, and organizations who are committed to improving education abroad. Members join a community of dynamic, thoughtful dialogue about the issues facing the field of education abroad.”

Among the variety of resources and training opportunities The Forum offers for its members and the public, a “must have” for every study abroad office is the recently published Standards of Good Practice for Education Abroad, 5th edition, 2015. This document offers authoritative and comprehensive guidelines for the development, management, assessment, and improvement of education abroad programming, in order to make students’ experiences as rewarding and meaningful as possible.

If you are a study abroad professional and are not familiar with this resource, please take a look. You will be doing yourself, your institution, and your students a big favor. As we have discussed before in this blog, meaningful intercultural experiences arise not just from being in the vicinity of an event, but from the meaning we give to those events. If we are to truly offer high-quality study abroad programs, we need to consider the pre-departure preparation, the on-going support during the time abroad, and the integration of the international experience into the life of the a student upon return home. Standards explores all these areas and more. Forum members have exclusive access to additional resources related to each Standard.

Cultural Detective salutes the work of The Forum and its ongoing efforts to promote cultural competence through well-run, ethical, study abroad programs! Cultural Detective Method and materials integrate seamlessly into all stages of study abroad—pre-departure, on-going support, and reentry— helping students to make sense of and integrate their experience.