Reaching across the Divide

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These days we see, hear, and read about divides—political, racial, religious, economic, etc.—all the ways we are different from each other. It often seems these differences are exploited and amplified to encourage disagreement and conflict. It is hard to combat the feeling that we are living in a time of strong opinions and large cultural differences. But there have been previous situations of large cultural divides and evidence that people have bridged those cultural gaps in wonderful ways.

On a recent trip to Astoria, Oregon, a small town on the northwest tip of the state where the Columbia River meets the Pacific Ocean, I was reminded of how the town’s history is unusually multicultural. Of course, the first inhabitants were native peoples who lived in the area for thousands of years prior to the first Europeans arriving in 1792. The explorers Lewis and Clark and members of their cross-continent expedition spent the winter of 1805-06 in the area. By 1850 the town had 250 inhabitants, a large city for the time, and by 1920 it boasted over 14,000 residents— the second largest city in Oregon.

Astoria was noted for being very cosmopolitan; timber and fishing brought immigrants from around the world including Finns, Swedes, Chinese, and East Indians, among others. In fact, the influence of the Finns was so strong that street signs were in English and Finnish—the only bilingual city in Oregon at the time.

I ran across a story from Oregon folklore that illustrates the influence of the Finns on Astoria. Like most such handed-down stories, one likes to think they are describing the original situation accurately.

“A 16-year old girl from Finland, who had traveled to the US to live with her grandparents in Astoria, arrived unmet at the RR station. Failing to see her grandparents and unable to speak English, she slumped down on the wooden platform of the depot and began to sob. Seeing her anguish, a Chinese passerby paused to ask what was wrong. Tearfully, she told him. “Where do your grandparents live?” he asked. She took from the pocket of her dress a slip of paper and gave it to the man. “I know where this house is at,” he said. “I will take you there.” And he picked up her suitcase.

As they walked, the girl asked, “How is it that you speak Finnish?” “In Astoria,” the Chinese good samaritan replied, “if you do not speak Finnish you had better move elsewhere.” [from: in search of Western Oregon, Ralph Friedman, 1990, p. 3]

I found this story delightful and a great illustration of life in early Astoria. And a wonderful example of making an effort to reach across the divide.

But what could a Cultural Detective see in this story? I could imagine the young woman exhibiting the Finnish value of Sisu (Perseverance) by making the trek by herself. And perhaps the Chinese value of Jia ting (Family) influenced the gentleman’s decision to help the young lady. And/or maybe, as an immigrant himself and a Blended Culture person, he recognized the challenges of landing in a strange place with no one to meet you. Contextuality (It all depends) is an important Blended Culture value.

Once the Cultural Detective way of viewing the world becomes a habit, you can apply it in all sorts of circumstances, past and present. Using a Cultural Detective approach to viewing history can inform us of the issues that both “sides” faced in any interaction. And remember that “history” can be that discussion you had with your co-worker last week!

In these times of deep divisions, it is useful to understand the underlying values that impact a situation in order to figure out a solution. Using the Cultural Detective Online provides immediate access to the values of over 60 cultures, providing a roadmap for discovery, offering clues and a process to sort out challenges and to build bridges across divisions. We don’t have to always agree, but as interculturalists, we should definitely do our best to understand one another.

4 Reasons to Add EPIC to Your Toolbox

EPIC_cover

Many thanks to Debbie Bayes, Intercultural Consultant and Trainer at culturecrux.org, for this guest blog post.

I recently had the chance to use EPIC (Essential Practice for Intercultural Competence) for the first time with a group of people who train student leaders in a university setting. There were several surprises along the way… all of them good!

  1. Reasonably quick prep to put together a quality training event—The structure of the EPIC process, which brings together both Cultural Detectiveand Personal Leadership methods,made it possible to plan a quality training event in a short amount of time. It saved me hours of work and was a breeze to facilitate!
  2. It was helpful to have the EPIC experience to look back on when going over IDI results after the training—This particular group had asked each member to take the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) prior to the EPIC training. As I met with individuals to go over their IDI results following the training, I found that having the common EPIC experience to look back on provided many concrete examples that I could use to illustrated ideas that are sometimes difficult for people to grasp. Concepts like the limitations of Minimization and the value of working towards Acceptance were far easier to explain because moving through the EPIC process so clearly and tangibly demonstrated both.
  3. EPIC worked well with people at all levels—Because I had IDI results on the group before doing the EPIC training, I had some sense of people’s abilities prior to meeting with them. Participants in the group ranged from Denial to Acceptance. It can be difficult to plan an event for a group that has such a wide range of abilities. I was pleased to find that everyone in the group was engaged and interested throughout the training.
  4. EPIC was fun and eye-opening—The two most frequent comments I received on the EPIC training in the weeks following were that it was both fun and eye-opening. The training challenged the participants, caused them to see both themselves and cultural others in new ways, and inspired them to press on to learn more. And all the while, they were having fun!

I expect to use EPIC frequently in the year ahead. It’s a great tool to have in the box!

More Excellent Free Gifts

I just downloaded a wonderful high-resolution jpg of an equal-area projection Peters Map of the world for FREE thanks to Bob Abramms and our friends at ODT Maps, and you can, too!

The Peters Map jpg is branded with the Doctors Without Borders logo, but, hey, you can print it out most any size you want; it is a terrific asset to a classroom, training room, meeting room, etc. Click here to download your copy.

While you’re at it, you can also download a Hobo-Dyer equal-area projection map via this link. This one is not quite as usable, as it has the Carter Center data all over it. But, it is high-resolution and free.

In Bob’s and ODT’s incredible retirement generosity, they have uploaded other free things you can get your hands on:

We are not retiring BUT, as always, Cultural Detective offers a huge selection of freebies, accessible and downloadable anytime here.

Bless you for helping build intercultural competence, respect, justice, equity, inclusion and collaboration in this polarized world of ours! You are doing vital work.

Antibiotics and Intercultural

©Dianne Hofner Saphiere, Thru Di’s Eyes Photography.  Used with permission.

For over a decade we have been talking about the fact that developing intercultural competence is a process and a commitment, not a one-shot event. Recently our senior trainer of facilitators, Tatyana Fertelmeyster, interrupted her usual incisive yet humorous social commentary on LinkedIn to share a personal rant:

“I am getting so tired of [the] conversation [that] diversity trainings don’t work! What in the world are we talking about? Antibiotics don’t work! Dah, did you take them twice a day for ten days? No, I took one pill and felt no difference. Or — I took one, felt better, and stopped. And now I am even more sick. Wait — why did a doctor tell you to take antibiotics in the first place? I told him I need to take antibiotics once a year in October. I don’t know why I need to do it and they never make any difference but I still do it. Or — I can’t take antibiotics any more. I have been using them for any kind of health problems for years and now I am allergic to them. Ridiculous, isn’t it? Maybe we first need to define what is a high quality diversity training, what it is and is not good for, who and why should be able to “prescribe” and “administer” that kind of treatment, and how the course of treatment should look depending on the issues and desirable outcomes. The whole process, not a one pill, one time, etc.

I absolutely LOVED this analogy! If bias, injustice, inequity, exclusion, and hate are illness-inducing bacteria, intercultural and diversity competence are antibiotics that can heal society. Yet, there’s a whole lot of garbage out there, and how do we wade through it? As we have frequently discussed on this blog, developing intercultural and equity competencies needs to be done developmentally and sustainably, as with anything in life, and Cultural Detective is a core tool that is proven effective for doing so.

As with any rant by a beloved and respected commentator, a few of the comments were outstandingly salient as well:

  1. “I have two qualifying comments:  1. Diversity training doesn’t lead to change.  People lead to change. No amount of training will change the attitude or behaviour of someone who doesn’t want to change.  I know my life will be healthier if I eat less and run more — but I don’t want to change. Diversity training can only raise awareness and try to influence change. Even the best trainer will not make a racist recant their views.   2. A half day/one day/two day training will not create lasting change, but it’s the pattern of 90% of training offered in this area. You attend, have a great time discussing the ways in which diversity matters, you even strategise on what you can do to improve diversity, but you [go] back to your desk to the 200 emails you need to action, the huge task list and the fantastic training slips into oblivion.  And I haven’t even started on eLearning yet…. To promote diversity and inclusion agendas, we need to mainstream them.  We need to by default consider D&I at every stage of interacting, policy creating, decision making, problem solving, recruiting, firing…….etc.  If we consider D&I by default, then attitudes and behaviours will change.”
  2. “I wonder how many influencers and leaders in business sign up to this training, and also believe in its purpose. Societal change, and change within a business also needs authentic and committed leadership.”
  3. “When I was young I heard this story: ‘A man heard from someone that faith could move mountains. He had a big mountain near his house that cut out the light — so he decided to try this faith idea. As he went to bed that night he said ‘I have faith that the mountain will be gone in the morning.’ The next day he pulled back the curtains and the mountain was still there. And he said ‘I knew it wouldn’t be gone!’ Many companies sign up for diversity training because they heard it helps business. But, like the man above, they don’t really believe it and don’t fully buy in.”

If you’d like to read the full conversation or join in, here is the link. If you’d like to take your first step towards developing sustainable, meaningful intercultural competence, start with a subscription here.

CD Certification May 27-28 in Belgium

We receive so many requests from people based in Europe who want to attend a Cultural Detective Certification. If you live in Europe, this is your only chance to attend one this year on your home continent at an unbelievable price, so please do not miss out! Also very convenient for anyone attending the 2019 SIETAR Europa Congress in Leuven.

Conducted by Tatyana Fertelmeyster, this workshop will be a pre-conference event for the SIETAR Europa Conference. Participants will learn to facilitate Cultural Detective’s state-of-the-art, developmentally appropriate, theoretically-grounded and immediately practical method to build intercultural competence in their organizations, communities and teams.

For more information click here. To register click here.

New Law Threatens to Tear Apart Israeli Community

coverIsraelA new law threatens to tear apart communities and mutual agreements in Israeli society and brings up questions that haven’t been discussed—more democratic or more Jewish? There may be hope yet.
Guest blog post by Cultural Detective Israel co-author Anat Kedem

I wanted to share with you what has been going on in Israel. A new law declaring Israel the nation-state of the Jewish people, the so-called “Jewish Nationality Bill,” was passed last week. It has the weight of a constitutional amendment because it’s a “basic law.”

It fits right in with similar laws passed recently in other parts of the world. Sections of the law formalize symbols of statehood such as the national anthem and emblem, something that lawmakers say was missing from the Israeli legislative basis. Israel has 15 Basic Laws that require a 75% majority in the parliament to change. They constitute the legal foundation of our different institutions and are intended to be the basis for a future constitution.

The controversy is around the timing and impact of the new law and mostly around two sections in it.

  1. The first makes Hebrew the only official language, downgrading the position of Arabic to a “special” language—no longer a formal one.
  2. The other section allows communities (like the communal village where I live) to turn away people not belonging to the same ethnic group. Before this law, someone denied permission to live somewhere could sue on the basis of discrimination. With this new law there can be religious towns that will be allowed to deny secular people; Jewish villages that can turn away Arabs wanting to live there; and Arab villages that can not accept Jews. This is where the potential for division and destruction in this law is most apparent.

The new law is quite a coup for Bibi and his supporters, with protests by opposition who say it runs counter to the Basic Laws of Israel, including “complete equality of social and political rights” for “all its inhabitants” no matter their religion, race or sex. The Druze minority has found themselves excluded by the law, becoming second-rate citizens in spite of the fact that they shoulder citizen duties such as service in the military.

There was a major demonstration last Saturday evening, one of the largest in history, where side by side Jews and Druze showed solidarity. Our Arabic language learning group attended together. The protest finished with a loud and emotion-filled singing of the national anthem. It was very strengthening to come together and show that we have more unity than divisiveness.

It is a heartbreaking moment here, a death-inducing blow to everyone who believes in different groups living together, anyone that holds a vision of Israel being democratic and Jewish at the same time with equality for all. Holding both sides, as good Cultural Detectives do—being a democracy and a Jewish state—has always been a work in progress, necessitating gentle maneuvering, extensive dialogue and bridge building, but now the very fabric of our mutual existence here has been brutally torn apart. I see this as a state-generated act of exclusion, drawing a line between those that “belong” and those that are required to live in a permanent sense of existential insecurity, dependent on the good will of the government.

That said, we don’t yet know if this law will stand up to supreme court scrutiny. It was legislated by a very narrow margin and major lawmakers are conceding it will need to be changed. The Israeli parliament is out for summer break so nothing can be done now.  Things in Israel change all the time adapting to new circumstances—so who knows?!!!!

We’ve been holding counsel with friends and neighbors, and have witnessed lots of grass roots initiatives going on now. This might be a change for the better after all. People need to be much more involved with the daily work of representation—no more ballet once in four years and believing that things will be taken care of. We are in for interesting times. Passing the law has had the opposite of its intended impact, bringing us closer together. All around there are acts of solidarity. One of the hospitals had the staff stand outside with signs: “Jews and Arabs working here will not be made into enemies.” Impromptu Arabic learning groups have gathered, and Israel’s president, who must sign the law, said he will sign it in Arabic. A well regarded Israeli Arab lawmaker resigned from parliament, and writers and former chiefs of Army staffs are speaking out.

David Grossman, an Israeli writer who won the Man Brooker award and who serves as our moral compass, wrote an open letter in the August 3rd newspaper. He wrote,

“For hundreds and thousands of years, the Jewish people were a minority in the countries in which they lived. The experience of being a minority shaped our identity, sharpened our moral sensitivity. Now we Jews are the majority in our country. It is a tremendous responsibility to be a majority, and it is a great challenge, political and social, and especially human: to understand that the attitude towards the minority is one of the major tests of the majority in a democratic regime. … Equality is the starting point of citizenship, not its product. It is the land from which citizenship grows. It is also what allows the highest freedom—the freedom to be different. Different, and yet equal to everyone else…. Perhaps this law does us a great favor, and reveals to us all, from the left and the right, without illusions or self-deceit, where we are, the point to which Israel has deteriorated. Perhaps this law will finally shake all of us, from all sides of the political map, who fear for Israel; for its spirit, its humanity, its Jewish, democratic and human values. I have no doubt that there are so many, on the left, right and center, decent and sober people who know that this law is a disgraceful act and a betrayal of the state by its citizens.”

Netanyahu, as usual, presents this as a struggle between the left and the right. But it is a much deeper and fateful struggle, a struggle between those who have given up and those who still hope. Those who have succumbed to nationalist and racist bias, and those who continue to oppose it, who insist on preserving in their hearts a picture, an image, a hope of how things can be in a proper country.”

To subscribe to Cultural Detective Online and learn from over 70 intercultural skills development packages including CD Israel, or to license printed materials of this world-class, theoretically-grounded and immediately useful series for your classroom, training, or coaching, click here.

 

Miracles Happen

IMG_1539I grew up in small town Wisconsin USA surrounded by Catholics of German ancestry. While I moved when I was eleven, I remember the town as having a wonderful community spirit—a volunteer ambulance way back before small US towns had such things. I remember a town that was lily white, the men barrel-chested; hard-working people who weren’t very emotionally expressive. The biggest cultural differences, and they were huge, were between town folk and farmers.

Today I have tears in my eyes as I have witnessed a most beautiful blessing. I heard there would be an outdoor Mass in my hometown, Burlington, in the park where I ice skated as a kid. I love outdoor spiritual celebrations. It’s a beautiful day, and I was excited to attend.

IMG_1537When I showed up at Echo Park there were several large tents set up and an altar ready in the pergola. Parking was at a premium. This was to be a tri-parish Mass: St. Mary’s and St. Charles from Burlinton, and St. Joseph’s from Lyons. There were three choirs and three priests.

 

As I walked into the celebration space, much to my surprise, the choir was singing a song in Spanish! I got out my cell phone to record a snippet. How very cool. I knew there is a Spanish language Mass each Sunday at St. Charles; I’ve attended it several times. Would this outdoor Mass be in Spanish? That would be cool and unexpected.

I love that my birthplace, founded by immigrants, once again has such a large immigrant community. When we are up here visiting family in the summer, I travel to nearby Burlington to buy jamaica (hibiscus) leaves for tea, Mexican cuts of meat for cooking, and a few other Latino savories. There seems to be a strong local Latino community. Last weekend we attended a very popular new Mole Fest in Elkhorn.

But when I attend Spanish-language Mass I see mainly Latinos there; the larger parish doesn’t seem very involved. There seems a definite segregation or separateness, though Mole Fest did have lots of every sort of people. I know that over one out of every five rural priests in small town USA are foreign-born, as there is a shortage of priests in the USA. Thankfully, many of them receive training using Cultural Detective materials.

 

The opening prayer celebrated diversity and unity. I beamed. The next song was in English. I noticed people around me, hundreds of them, and mostly the blonde-haired, blue-eyed variety that live in these parts, were reading along as they sung. I went over to grab the bulletin for today’s service. It was written in both English and Spanish! Not just one or the other, but an integrated, bilingual bulletin!

Really? In my small, what I perceive as insular town? I know and love these local Catholics. They send out mission trips every year to help the needy in the USA and abroad. They pray for peace and harmony, the cessation of war and violence, that the homeless, immigrants and refugees can find home. But, I also believe that some if not many of these parishioners have a hard time praying this latter petition. Many of them voted for Trump, after all.

 

This morning’s miracle got better and better. The second reading was in Spanish, by a native-speaking man. It felt so good. The response to the reading was in Spanish, and that response didn’t just come from the Spanish-speaking choir, but from voices here and there, scattered among the hundreds of people gathered in the shade of the tents. Wow! How cool!

The sermon was in English, given by the priest who was not the main celebrant. That was nice; they wanted to include the priests from all three parishes in the celebration. Then what to my wondering eyes should appear but, the Colombian priest giving a sermon, too! And he gave it in Spanish! He said the same things the first priest had said, but in Latino style, with much more passion. And of course with more references to the Virgin. I looked around. These German-Americans that I’d grown up with listened politely. I assume most of them didn’t understand. But I heard them join in the Latin-sounding “Ah-men,” vs. their normal “Ey-men.” Things have obviously been changing around here while I’ve been gone. And, then again, they haven’t. I heard the ladies behind me remark after the Colombian’s sermon, “He sure gave a short homily. Maybe we should check out his Mass.” 😉

 

The songs during Mass rotated between Spanish and English, with a few of them bilingual: one verse English, one Spanish. I was thrilled to hear that those around me singing along to the Spanish lyrics. The accent wasn’t pretty, but they were trying! This was, truly, an inclusive, integrated service.

Time for Prayers of the People. A gringa lady got up, and she read the prayers in both languages. She struggled with the Spanish, but she read it respectfully. We responded first in English, and to the Spanish ones in Spanish. I couldn’t imagine this Mass getting much better. Today encouraged me so much about my birth town’s people and community.

 

Communion was interesting. Most of the US Americans took the host in their hands, as is the custom here, while most of the Latinos received communion on their tongues, as is the custom for them. It was nice to see both.

 

At the conclusion of Mass, I thanked the celebrant, telling him I’d been born in Burlington and never would have dreamed that we’d be celebrating a bilingual Mass; that it was such a blessing. He thanked me for letting him know; I had the feeling he was happy to hear it, as perhaps he hears the opposite as well. I then thanked the Colombian priest. He gave me a big abrazo/hug, and thanked me also. Then a large portion of those attending, rather than hurry home as I’m so used to up here, wandered up to the picnic area to share coffee, orange juice, lemonade, and the always-present Wisconsin milk and kringle.

Viva diversity and integration on a clear sunny day in the Heartland of America! Today my stereotypes of my beloved birth town were updated, and for that I am eternally grateful.

Haziz and Our New Iranian Friends

I am in Dubai to present at a conference directed by the author of Cultural Detective Arab Gulf, Abdulhamied Alromaithy. His wife, Layla Al Bloushi, will moderate my panel. It’s my first time here, so I’m excited. Today was my tenth anniversary cancer-free, and we planned to celebrate by going to the top of the Burj Khalifa. It was beautiful.

In the morning, however, we walked around the old part of the city. Greg and I were fascinated by the organized chaos of the port. Boats were anchored three to six deep. How in the world did they get out once they were loaded? Packages were stacked everywhere! How did they keep track of what was where? Aren’t there waves in the Gulf? Wasn’t the loading precarious? Here the longshoreman show up in pickup trucks, SUVs and small trucks, to hand-load packages of textiles, boxes of spices, and many, many appliances to be shipped around the Gulf. We even saw electrical transformers.

 

The boats themselves were absolutely gorgeous, wooden structures brightly painted with filigree and other details. They looked very old. And the men who were working them were so very welcoming, cheerful, hardworking and happy.

 

The highlight of our day serendipitously became the invitation we received to board and tour an Iranian shipping vessel at the port in Dubai Creek. Our visit was accompanied by tea, lunch, shisha, and some great non-verbal communication that bridged my non-existent Farsi with our hosts’ non-existent English. Thankfully a spice trader helped us out with some translation.

To board the boat we had to climb up a very rickety ladder, then crawl over the side and jump down quite steeply. Our hosts very politely watched out for our safety and were extremely hospitable. They got a kick out of our adventurousness and curiosity.

 

We learned that it takes 15 hours to sail from Dubai to Iran, and that they visit five ports there. Our hosts assured us that even with our USA passports we would be safe and happy. As I have work today, going with them wasn’t really an option to consider.

They showed us the captain’s bridge, the sleeping quarters, below deck where there’s a kitchen and stowage, the roof where there’s more stowage. We were told they bring gold from India to Dubai, textiles from Dubai to Iran, and spices from Iran to Dubai. All of them had been doing this their whole lives. There were also loads of household appliances bound for Iran: washers, freezers, and loads of things made in China.

I asked how they got in and out of the port amidst so many ships. “No problem,” was the answer, as Haziz pointed to a small opening between boats, through which none of the boats would fit. Leaving port obviously takes a lot of cooperation between vessels. I asked how they knew where everything was, to load an unload. “We know.” I guess a lifetime teaches you the order in that apparent chaos.

 

Many thanks to David Benson of www.goexploreae.com, who told us we could go up to the multi-level parking structure across from the port to get a bird’s-eye view of that organized chaos going on in the creek. Thank goodness we did! What a view of both the boats in the waterway and out the other direction!

 

It was a wonderfully full day of cross-cultural interaction. We spent time with Filipinos, Malays, Indians. Not many Emiratis yet, but there is always tomorrow.

We Want to Get Rid of You!

“The Power of Storytelling in Intercultural Communication”
Many thanks to Joanna Sell, a certified Cultural Detective facilitator, for this terrific guest blog post. Be sure to check out her new intercultural storytelling blog at http://www.interculturalcompass.com/blog/.

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It was early autumn when Martin, a German project leader, relocated to Mexico. At the beginning of his assignment he was very excited about the new challenge and curious about the host culture. His only concern was the fact that he was an introvert.

Every day before going to his company he threw a coin and “played heads or tails”. When he saw heads he would talk to the very first employee he encountered on his way. While seeing tails he would breath a sigh of relief that he did not have to “jump over his shadow” to practice small talk. Nobody knew about his habit and his team members were quite puzzled by his behavior, seeing that he did not talk to them as often as had their former leaders.

Pretty soon even those who had been very talkative at the beginning of Martin’s assignment limited their exchanges with him to the minimum. His assignment became challenging and Martin could not help feeling excluded, not only in the professional context but also in private life. Actually, he almost had no private life at all. Spending extra hours at work in the evening and during weekends resulted in isolation amidst a crowd of smiling faces in Mexico.

One late October morning, shortly after arriving at the office, Martin noticed a colorful skull made of sugar on top of his desk. He closed the door and slowly sat down. He remained frozen for half an hour or longer. He noticed that his colleagues barely spoke to him. Seeing the skull, he got terrified that they most probably wanted to get rid of him.

What happened next?

When Katrin Sihling—a dear colleague of mine from the Munich area who was raised by her Mexican mom and her German dad in South Germany—finished the story and asked that question, everyone in our group at Jena University smiled. Someone hurried with a possible explanation: “People in Mexico celebrate November 1st with parties to commemorate their ancestors and give one another sweet skulls to highlight the festive character of this feast”.

Listening to that explanation I sketched the following concluding scene in my head: Luckily, Elena, one of Martin’s team members, originally from Switzerland, entered his office and got concerned when she saw Martin’s pale face and absent gaze. When he indicated towards the skull without saying a word, she immediately noticed the cultural misunderstanding. It was she who had put the colorful sugar skull on his desk, as she did every year for all the people in their department. She explained the symbolic meaning of the sweet skull and asked Martin whether he wished to join the Mexican part of her family in celebrating El Dia de los Muertos.

That day both of them learned something new: not to take the world of obviousness (their world of obviousness) for granted, but to ask for new meanings instead.

The power of the storytelling approach in the intercultural context lies exactly in this attitude. Exchanging stories across cultures enhances curiosity and redirects attention from a focus on general, simplified assumptions and towards sense making and re-narrating the world of obviousness; that’s why the Cultural Detective Method is built around stories! Every critical incident in our series is a true story, sometimes a combination, involving real people in real situations.

“Culture is a set of stories that we enter” (Jerome Brunner) and exchanging facts and data about cultures without exchanging stories is a dead-end street.

“It is the stories we share with each other that help us to overcome cultural conflicts, cope with transition stress, and shape how we perceive the past and see the future. Thanks to an exchange of stories we become able to rethink our assumptions and change our behavior. Changing behaviors definitely requires mindfulness in order to recognize which behaviors are inappropriate and which are desirable in different cultural contexts.

To sum up why we need storytelling in the intercultural context, I would like to offer a short list (instead of a story) that includes the following issues:

  • Storytelling suppports zooming in and out effects and, therefore, enables perspective change.
  • Storytelling allows the discovery of cultural roots from multiple perspectives.
  • Storytelling offers insights into the complexity of multicultural identities.
  • Storytelling can be an eye-opener in new cultural surroundings.
  • Storytelling adds the emotional layer to the cognitive level.
  • Storytelling serves as a means of transmitting cultures.
  • Storytelling deals with new stories of belonging.
  • Storytelling initiates change processes.
  • Storytelling serves as sensemaking.
  • Storytelling moves hearts.

Sell, J. (2017): Storytelling for Intercultural Understanding and Intercultural Sensitivity Development in: Chlopczyk, J. (ed.) Beyond Storytelling. Springer Gabler, pp.234-235.

Made you curious? Please find more about the storytelling approach in the intercultural context with a focus on choice biographies and identities in flux, coping with the danger of a single story, new stories of belonging and a hands on compilation of storytelling methods that can be applied in intercultural programs in two of my chapters published in following books:

Sell, J. (2017): Storytelling for Intercultural Understanding and Intercultural Sensitivity Development in: Chlopczyk, J. (ed.) Beyond Storytelling. Springer Gabler.

Sell, J. (2017): Segel hoch und auf zu neuen Ufern – Eine Reise durch die Welt der Storytelling-Methoden im unterkulturellen Kontext in: Schach, A. (ed.) Storytelling. Geschichten in Text, Bild und Film, Springer Gabler.

Of Friends and Transitions

Living overseas seems to bring with it a mobile and transitory lifestyle of a caliber foreign to those who steward the home traditions. We become accustomed to a series of pronounced and frequent life transitions. In Tokyo foreign friends would transfer to assignments in other exotic locations every three to five years. It makes it nice for traveling, a privilege to be able to stay with friends around the world, but their departures leave huge holes in our lives. In Mazatlán there seems to be a frequent seven to ten year cycle to expat life, with beloved friends moving to the interior of the country or back home, closer to grandkids, so they can be an integral part of those children’s lives.

Transitions are a normal part of life; I know this. Life is comprised of cycles; I know and believe this from the depths of my heart. Yet dealing constructively with transitions is the reason I made a career as an interculturalist oh so many decades ago. I am not good at them. They hurt. Things change. They can even change for the better, open new doors and windows for which we’ll forever be grateful. But, they involve change nonetheless. Someone “moves our cheese.”

Read full article: Of Friends and Transitions