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.

Theater Facilitates Difficult Conversations

American DreamsIncreasingly US American families are split between red and blue, torn over how to deal with issues ranging from immigration to women’s bodies to world trade. Young and old report that they no longer talk politics or religion with even their closest friends; there seems to be no space for the crucially important task of discussing and thinking deeply in community about important yet delicate matters facing the nation.

News feeds now have razor-thin aim, reinforcing what we already believe, hardening and emotionalizing beliefs into convictions so that we feel anger towards our neighbors. Amidst this reality are frequent revelations about foreign powers feeding the frenzy of hatred; their active fomenting of division within US American society is the newest weapon of mass destruction.

How do we reclaim our public spaces for civil discourse? Can we think things through together, deeply and constructively, without degenerating into insults? One new hope has presented itself in the form of an extremely well-reviewed interactive play called “American Dreams.” According to the website, “American Dreams” is:

“An immersive, interactive theatrical event that imagines a world where the only way to become a U.S. citizen is by competing in a nationally-televised game show run by the U.S. government.

The live “studio” audience votes after each of the five rounds, determining which contestant will win the ultimate prize — citizenship to the “greatest country on earth.”

Weaving multiple levels of audience engagement with up-to-the-moment questions about immigration and citizenship, this playful participatory performance invites us to explore who and what we choose to believe — and how those choices shape who we are as people, communities, and nations.

Click on any photo to enlarge it or view a slideshow:


“American Dreams” creates a relaxed atmosphere with plenty of critical thinking as well as a bit of learning about the laws of the USA and the rights of its citizens and residents. CPT’s Executive Artistic Director, Raymond Bobgan, says the play captures the fact that:

“To live in the Unites States now is to always live in that tension between desire for freedom and equality for all people and at the same time the desire to protect what we have achieved.”

The performance will be making a “Red State Swing State Tour” in summer 2020, and the next important step is to bring “American Dreams” to your community to help recapture civil public discourse and critical thinking; enough of the “dumbing down” of the USA by outside powers and our own laziness or righteousness! Click here to learn about bringing the show to your city!

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.

Think One Person Can’t Do Much?

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Stroke order for capital letters in Adlam, photo from The Atlantic

How about two? This is the story of a childhood dream and lifelong passion and perseverance.

We start our story when two Guinean brothers—Abdoulaye and Ibrahima Barry—are 10 and 14 years old. They loved school, and were frustrated that their native language, Fulani, didn’t have its own writing system.

Fulani is a traditionally oral language spoken by about 40 million Fula people across western and central Africa. Like so many oral languages worldwide, people end up transcribing them using an existing script—they superimpose a foreign alphabet onto an existing oral language. This type of practice is rather imperialistic and it usually doesn’t work very well. Such was the case with Japanese, an oral language written in Chinese characters until Prince Shohtoku invented two indigenous syllabaries for the language—hiragana and katakana—in the tenth century. Today Japanese remains a complicated written system of four different scripts, if we include the Chinese kanji, the two kana syllabaries, and the Latin romaji to which it’s often transliterated.

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Distribution map of major populations of the Fula people, Wikipedia

In the case of Fulani, it was usually written using Arabic script. But, just like romaji, or Latin characters in Japanese, there were no consistent rules, so reading was difficult. It meant that every Fulani reader had to learn Arabic in order to read and, to make matters worse, the Arabic letters didn’t capture the Fulani sounds. The Latin alphabet is even worse with Fulani pronunciation. According to Kaveh Waddell, author of the wonderfully written Adlam: The Alphabet that will Save a People from Disappearing, “Neither the Arabic nor the Latin alphabets could accurately spell Fulani words that require producing a ‘b’ or a ‘d’ sound while gulping in air, for example, so Fulani speakers had modified both alphabets with new symbols—often in inconsistent ways.”

The Barry brothers loved to draw, so they took it upon themselves to create a script for Fulani—and it only took the school boys six months! Their new alphabet spread quickly and came to be called “Adlam”—its first four letters. The script’s name is also an acronym for a phrase meaning, “the alphabet that will save a people from disappearing.”

Adlam is written right to left, and Fulani’s five vowels each have their own letters. “One of the things that’s really hindering progress in Africa and Guinea in particular,” Ibrahima told Waddell, “is we spend so many resources learning new languages even though we already have languages that we can use to develop our countries.”

The boys taught Adlam to friends and family, and had the inspired idea to ask each student to teach three others. They transcribed school books using the new script, and in junior high started teaching larger groups of people in markets and neighborhoods. Their father’s relative, an official in the local government, came to the house for a demonstration. He was impressed when he found that the boys could consistently, independently, and accurately transcribe one another’s speech from separate rooms.

In 1993, as a high school student, Abdoulaye, traveled to Conakry, Guinea’s capital city, and wrangled his way onto a popular radio show to promote the new script. “That’s how the whole country learned about Adlam,” Adboulaye said.

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A group of students learn Adlam in Sierra Leone. Photo from The Atlantic

Many Fula people are nomadic, so the script spread quickly among traders and farmers—from Guinea to Senegal, Gambia, Sierra Leone, and the Ivory Coast. More and more books were converted to Adlam, but they were written by hand and copied by machine, a very cumbersome process. The process of propagating a new script wasn’t always easy; Ibrahima was imprisoned for a time after police officers raided his Adlam study group at university. Upon graduating, Ibrahima started a Fulani-language newspaper, also written by hand and photocopied.

New writing systems aren’t created all that often. The most widely used scripts in the world today—Latin, Chinese, Arabic, Devanagari, and Cyrillic—are all thousands of years old. In 1959, Hmong spiritual leader Shong Lue Yang created the 81-symbol Pahawh script, though RPA romanized characters are still very popular. The Cherokee syllabary is a success story: Sequoya created the script in 1821 and seven years later a Cherokee-language printing press published the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper. Cherokee was added to the Unicode standard in 1999; in 2003 Apple created a Cherokee keyboard; and Google has recently helped implement Android support for the alphabet.

To take Adlam to the next level, the Barry brothers figured they could skip the printing press and go directly to computers. They both ended up emigrating from the west coast of Africa to the west coast of the USA—to Portland, Oregon—pursuing their educations and working. They paid for the development of an Adlam keyboard and font. In 2008, they were thrilled to finally be able to type Adlam for the first time. However, because Adlam wasn’t yet supported by Unicode, readers had to have the font installed on their system.

Several years later, after Ibrahima presented at a type design conference in Colorado Springs, the brothers were introduced to Deborah Anderson, a linguistics researcher, who leads a program called the Script Encoding Initiative, at UC Berkeley. Along with Michael Everson, one of the co-authors of the Unicode Standard, the SEI has added more than 70 scripts to the Unicode standard since 2002! Kudos to these incredible Cultural Detectives!

SEI’s site tells us that over 100 scripts remain to be encoded, and asks for donations to support the effort. UNESCO, the USA National Endowment for the Humanities, and Google all support the Initiative. The effort includes historic scripts, such as expanding the set of supported Egyptian hieroglyphs, as well as focusing on scripts used by religious and linguistic minorities—to promote literacy and education in native languages.

Waddell tells us, “I asked Everson if any of the alphabet’s quirks presented challenges—the fact that it’s written right to left, for example, or the fact that the letters are connected to one another—but he said it was nothing new. What was new was that the script wasn’t yet set in stone. Mr. Barry had learnt calligraphy and was working really hard on optimizing stroke order. I was saying, ‘You have to stop tinkering with this.’ If he wanted this to be stable he needed to stop altering it.”

In 2014, at a meeting of the Unicode Technical Committee in Sunnyvale, California, yet another milestone was achieved—Adlam was approved. It was included in Unicode 9.0 which was published this past summer. However, you won’t yet find it on your cell phone; technology companies haven’t leapt on the Adlam bandwagon.

One hope is “Noto,” an enormous font family that aims to support 100% of the scripts in Unicode 9.0. Finding Adlam on your operating system won’t happen overnight, but hopefully it won’t be much longer. A second hope is that Fulani speakers have started creating their own apps: one to text in Adlam and the other to learn it.

Twenty years on, the Barry brothers are now 36 and 40 years old, and Adlam is taught in over ten countries. Ibrahima recently finished writing a book on Fulani grammar, and he plans to create a dictionary as well. Both brothers want to open more schools in Guinea and nearby countries that teach children in their native languages.

Martin Luther King, Jr., had passion, a dream, and perseverance. Gandhi had those three qualities as well. Fortunately for speakers of Fulani, so do Ibrahima and Abdoulaye Barry.

The original article in The Atlantic is much longer than my summary here; be sure to read it if this has piqued your interest. And be sure to log into your subscription to Cultural Detective Online now, to help define and preserve your culture!

Women in Leadership and the First Public Use of Cultural Detective

women-in-workplace-2016Cultural Detective is all about supporting equality and justice, and one of the ways we’ve supported gender equality — and particularly women in business leadership — just might surprise you! It involves the very first person to use Cultural Detective after it launched to the public in 2004…

“Women are less likely to receive the first critical promotion to manager — so far fewer end up on the path to leadership — and they are less likely to be hired into more senior positions. As a result, the higher you look in companies, the fewer women you see.

This disparity is especially pronounced for women of color, who face the most barriers to advancement and experience the steepest drop-offs with seniority.”

— From Women in the Workplace 2016 report

I had a longstanding training contract with Texas Instruments in Dallas. One of the secretaries there, an administrative assistant we’ll call Ana, was Mexican American. She reported to four “white guys”: US American Caucasian men, all of whom helped manage TI’s business in Mexico and Latin America. Ana had worked for TI for six years; she knew all the stories of success and failure between Dallas and Mexico.

Ana was so excited when we launched Cultural Detective Mexico! She knew our materials are written for lay people, and she knew the business would benefit from using them. So, Ana got her bosses to agree to participant in a Lunch-n-Learn she would lead, during which she would teach them about Mexican culture. They of course were skeptical, but they agreed to humor Ana. And it would only last three hours…

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Ana conducted the short workshop for her bosses. Using the Cultural Detective Mexico Values Lens, Ana told a Texas Instruments’ story for each of the values. Each time she told one of the stories from her and her bosses’ experience, she asked them how they could have done things differently had they known what she was explaining to them. Her bosses were amazed. Two of them called me to praise Ana and the Cultural Detective, and tell me they couldn’t believe how practical our approach is.

So what does Ana’s story have to do with women in leadership? Re-read the pull quote above…

Two and a half weeks after the Lunch-n-Learn, Ana was promoted OUT of her administrative assistant role and INTO a management role! Her bosses not only realized, thanks to her efforts, the business value of cultural savvy, they also gained recognition of the power of Ana’s insights and experience. They knew she could be a terrific asset to the Latin American operation, and, indeed, she has been. But it took her taking on a leadership role for them to begin to picture her in that role.

Cultural Detective, when used regularly over time to reflect on one’s own experience, builds intercultural competence. In that sense our Method and materials help build equity for women, as well as others who all too often lack access to power. We have two terrific packages that focus on specifically on gender: Cultural Detective Women and Men and Cultural Detective LGBT.

But Ana’s story also shows how using the Cultural Detective Method can build credibility for the facilitator and establish the importance of cultural competence, justice and equity in our organizations and communities.

Learning to use the Cultural Detective Method to build intercultural competence has never been easier with Cultural Detective Online at your fingertips 24 hours a day. You, your staff, and those you coach can develop a habit of exploring cultures, studying critical incidents and uploading your own real-life stories to hone your skills on the way to your next promotion.

The pull quote at the beginning of this post is taken from “Women in the Workplace 2016,” a survey conducted by McKinsey and LeanIn.org. of 34,000 men and women at 132 companies in the USA that employ 6.4 million people. The survey was designed to uncover attitudes on gender, job satisfaction, ambition, and work-life issues. The 31 page 2016 report is available via free download, and includes some excellent Cultural Bridges for helping organizations, managers and individuals understand paths to “getting gender diversity right.” The report’s findings make an excellent companion piece to use with Cultural Detective Women and Men.

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Sikh Captain America

Vishavjit Singh in Central Park NYC as Sikh Captain America, photo by Fiona Aboud

Vishavjit Singh in Central Park NYC as Sikh Captain America, photo by Fiona Aboud

I recently came across the best “Cultural Effective” (yes, that’s a play on “detective”) I’ve seen in a long time! He has my deepest respect, and he has me rolling on the floor laughing, as well.

I found him via an article that had a photo of a skinny, long-bearded Sikh man posing as—wait for it—Captain America! He had his shield, tights, and turban on, and was ready to fight for justice. Of course it got my attention. I absolutely loved it! The article was an interview with Vishavjit Singh, an engineer, writer, educator, activist, costume player, and the artist behind the terrific series, SikhToons.com.

totally biased avengersIf you think Sikh Captain America sounds interesting, how about a complete set of Totally Biased Avengers, fighting for justice and equity in our world? They are the brainchild of the talents over at Totally Biased, and include Asian Thor, Black Black Widow, Gay Hulk, and brown Jesus Christ. You readers know that Cultural Detective is awfully cool and helpful, but these Avengers may have us beat, lol. Do yourself a favor and watch the video below. But be careful, you will laugh out loud.

Getting back to Sikh Captain America, however, you have got to check him out. He, er, rather, his alter-ego, Vishavjit, is doing wonderful work in the world! Take a look at his terrific flip book on turbans, for example. Visit his website or follow him on social media to see his latest cartoons and other ventures. I especially appreciate how he teaches people to respond to bias respectfully, rather than sinking to the same level of ignorance or, worse, anger. He demonstrates patience, intelligence, empathy, humor, and both visual and verbal communication skills—definitely a superhero combination!

Vishavjit made a cartoon explaining the road he followed to get to where he is today. Those of us interested in the pathways to reconciling Blended Culture identity will no doubt resonate with it. The lightness yet levity with which he operates in the world is especially impressive when you consider he survived the civil unrest that resulted in the deaths of so many Sikhs in India.Autbiography_Perspectives_DA_edit

Way to go, Vishavjit!!!! Bless you! It is a pleasure to be with you on a journey to build intercultural respect, understanding, and justice in our world. And you seem to be having so much fun doing it!

This post is part of the #MyGlobalLife linkup.

She’s Been in 68 Countries in 21 Years

CarouLLou-LOGO What??!!!

I have been fascinated with CarouLLou ever since I met her online about a year ago. She and her husband have been global nomads together for 21 years (and on their own before that). They are, however, unlike any other global nomad I have ever met. Initially they would live two years in a given location—fairly normal, expatriate-type stuff. Over the years, however, as the internet came into being, as communication became easier, as it became possible to rent furnished apartments online, and as visas became more complicated (e.g., non-EU citizens may stay in Europe for six month per year, but only three months in a six-month period), CarouLLou and her “mystery photographer” became more and more nomadic, living in each location for shorter and shorter periods of time. Nowadays, they often stay in a place one-to-three months.

Do they feel like tourists? Well, they do some touristy things; they see the sights, particularly when a place is new to them. But, that place, at that time, is their home. Their only home. What they love is feeling like locals: eating where locals eat, discovering hidden treasures that only locals know about, and doing things even locals wish they could do.

Sound familiar? I know it’s true for me, and I’m confident it’s true for many of you readers as well. How often have we been told we are more Japanese or Mexican than many born to that nationality? Untrue, of course; a metaphor, of course—but a compliment that reflects a desire on the part of the global nomad to put ourselves in the shoes of other people.

In the video below, CarouLLou answers my question about feeling like a tourist vs. being “at home,” what home means to her, and she tells us an interesting story about their life in Venice.

Why do CarouLLou and her husband choose this lifestyle? Isn’t it difficult? It surely isn’t “normal”! To hear her tell it, the global nomadic life is almost addictive, with the constant stimulation of new experiences and learning. Below she explains why they live the way they do, and the advantages and downsides of their extreme global nomad lifestyle.

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Photo courtesy CarouLLou. Click on the photo to learn her packing tips!

CarouLLou and her love travel with one medium-sized suitcase and one carry-on each—65 kilos of luggage. Remember, those suitcases contain everything they own. It definitely puts the quantity of “things” I have in my 3-bedroom condominium to shame. And my stuff has been actively downsized for several years now! So many of us want to live simpler, lighter lives. CarouLLou definitely lives lighter, if not simpler, than most of us.

I am fascinated that all her belongings fit in one medium-sized suitcase and a carry-on, because CarouLLou always looks so gorgeous, so put-together, and so in her element—whether she is in Mexico City, Tokyo or Rome. How in the world does a woman look that great and own so few pieces of clothing and accessories? Her response seems a good guide for many of us.

I well know that the life of an entrepreneur, local or global, can get lonely and isolated if we’re not careful. We don’t have an office full of people to work with everyday, so we have to reach out and actively build community more than some others. The very creative CarouLLou found an innovative way to connect with like-minded people in new cities in which she lives: “brainstorm lunches.” Click on the link to read a full article about these, or view the video clip below to hear her talk about the fit between treasuring friends and family, and the life of a global nomad.

CarouLLou speaks four languages, but obviously she has visited a lot of places in which she doesn’t speak the language of the place. How does she get along? I asked her to share some tips with us on how to communicate and get what we need when we don’t speak the local language.

There are so very many countries in the world, and even though CarouLLou and her husband choose to live mostly in metropolises, how do they choose where to live next? How do they decide whether to go to a new place or revisit a previous “home”? And how do they agree? I love her answer; based on decades of experience, it provides a sound guide for any traveller or sojourner.

Are you curious to know whether, after 21 years of nomadic life, CarouLLou still experiences culture shock? Here is what she says about this challenge.

The Facts This couple has been in 68 countries by the UN nation-count, 82 countries according to the “Travelers’ Century Club.” They like urban areas, and tend to travel East to West, following the seasons. They have twelve or so absolute favorite cities in which they feel at “home” and revisit regularly, and they rotate favorite places with places they’ve never before been to.

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Photo courtesy CarouLLou

In 1994, CarouLLou and her husband began traveling, subletting their Montreal apartment, but in 1996 they announced to their family and friends that they were “jumping into the unknown!” They sold all of their belongings—minus a couple of suitcases full of personal items—and a FAX machine—to make their home portable.

How does CarouLLou support herself? She became “location independent” years ago with her marketing business, and then with her coaching business, because she could meet with her clients via fax and phone. (CarouLLou actually gave her clients and collaborators prepaid phone cards so they wouldn’t incur extra charges to communicate with her; how fast technology has changed!) She got her first email in 1998—quite late to the technology world, in my global nomad experience—and started a few online businesses as well as a photo site for her family and friends.

Currently, CarouLLou provides consulting on life potential, for start-up businesses, and marketing strategies, has several websites, some information funded by publicity, and others with affiliate partnerships (among them her travel site, as well as hotel booking and apartment booking sites). She loves fashion; in her blog and Facebook photos she always looks perfectly put together, and her looks are her own, yet change with each city in which she lives. She also has an online jewelry store to enable us to share some of her “finds,” and shares her inspired “looks” for various cities and sells clothes online. She is an investor, engages in currency trading, and has passive income from international organizations she’s set up over the years. CarouLLou also has several paper.li papers: Style, Nomads, and Travel.

Her philosophy includes:

  • “When we travel with an open heart, our world is full of hearts.”
  • “Don’t try to spend less, try to find ideas to make more! The more you spend, the more people benefit.”
  • “Remember the word currency comes from ‘current,’ so be in the current!”
  • “Work a little everyday, and do something special every day… and you will feel on vacation all your life!”

You can subscribe to CarouLLou’s blog, or follow her on most every social media. Like Cultural Detective, she has about 20,000 followers on social media, and she definitely shares our passion for cultural diversity and competence.

Kids Skyping Around the World

tumblr_mqvsd7ij1c1rkz363o1_1280Remember the goal of intercultural communication? To help us be able to better understand one another, talk to each other, collaborate, and make our communities and our world a better place in which to live?

Sometimes, however, I get discouraged that my beloved intercultural field has lost its way. It’s great that we now have so many PhD and MA programs, but when did intercultural communication become all about dimensions and theories? Or about exercises and activities without an underlying coherent design?

Yes, perhaps these are expected mid-life or late-career gripes. Then I come across a movie entitled, “The World Is As Big Or As Small As You Make It,” showcasing a most excellent-sounding project called “Skyping Around the World” by a group called “Do Remember Me: Connect, Dispel, Build,” and my faith is restored. The project gathers youth aged 12-15 at neighborhood recreation centers in France, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, Uganda and the USA for a series of workshops that use art for social advocacy and to motivate activism.

Kids connect with one another via Skype to engage in positive dialogue and dispel the myths of hopelessness, overcome media stereotypes, and bridge cultural differences. Their mission is to delve deeply to find their common ground, to share experiences, and to work toward actively supporting one another. They encourage activism and advocacy for issues such as peer violence, the absence of leaders and heroes, and many other pressing issues.

Regular readers of this blog know that the “contact hypothesis” tells us that merely bringing kids together via Skype isn’t enough to achieve these lofty goals. The meaning they make of their Skype experiences must be facilitated, and that is apparently done, at least in Philadelphia, by two teaching artists, Sannii Crespina-Flores and DJ Lean Wit It.

The 12-minute film is most definitely worth viewing. It is embedded it below. Come on, get your cup of tea ready, and prepare to smile and be encouraged.

“The World Is As Big Or As Small As You Make It” | Sundance Institute

These kids use their phones and iPads, which they would normally use to text local friends, take selfies, or make social plans, to enlarge their worlds by forging friendships with peers across the world. For young people who have often never left their hometown, these exchanges prove to be both touching and surprising, giving them exposure to new corners of planet Earth and encouraging them to witness to the great (and sometimes unfulfilled) potential that exists in their own back yards.

The film came to be when it was the winner of a 140-character story entry in the Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge, designed to help put an end to extreme poverty in creative ways:

“As technology advances, our world grows smaller. Yet, while we are more connected than ever before, we remain separated by the lottery of where we are born. Around the world, people just like you – with the same beliefs, dreams, and aspirations – have drastically fewer opportunities due to extreme poverty and hunger.

Through the universal power of storytelling, the Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge will put a spotlight on our similarities—showcasing stories that communicate how we can support one another to end poverty and hunger once and for all. There is a more hopeful future for millions of people around the world, it’s up to us to inspire a positive change together.

In 2015, storytellers from around the world will gather to showcase how creativity can change the world.”
–Sundance Institute Short Film Challenge website

Obviously a very noble cause—ending poverty—though the Film Challenge is taking a  Minimization (in DMIS and IDC terminology) approach to intercultural competence. A Minimalist approach, of course, is probably most appropriate to build critical mass; while it by no means stretches us to the levels of intercultural competence needed to end poverty, it can, at least, help build momentum to get people on-board and helping to accomplish the goal. The Film Challenge is an impressive global partnership of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Sundance Institute, and the following organizations:

partnership There is some connection to Global Citizen as well, though I can’t figure out from the website exactly what that affiliation is. The Global Citizen is a platform that advocates for the achievable goal of ending extreme poverty in the world by 2030; it was created in 2012 by the Global Poverty Project. Kudos to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Sundance Institute, as well as all the sponsors and participating organizations!

Some of the other films in this challenge are also very interesting; all highlight successful attempts to bridge cultural differences in order to end world poverty. Watch them here.

Thank you for joining with Cultural Detective on this journey to build intercultural competence. We are thrilled to be able to share projects like these that parallel our goals: better understanding of others and ourselves, and innovative and meaningful collaboration. Together, we can transform our world. As Dr. Seuss, the children’s author, wrote in The Lorax: “Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.”

Four Steps to a Happier Life: Actions Don’t “Create” Reactions

Potato-PotahtoDuring our monthly webinar, attended by people working in academia, NGOs, private enterprise, and a religious community, and geographically from Russia to Egypt to the USA and quite a few points in between, one of the participants summarized for us what she had learned. Cultural Detective had taught her, she said, “that actions don’t ‘create’ reactions; interpretation of actions creates reactions.”

Yes! That is brilliant and powerful learning! And it is crucial to understand this idea if we are to develop intercultural competence. It is a prerequisite to implementing the four steps to a happier life.

“Actions don’t ‘create’ reactions.
Interpretation of actions creates reactions.”

Your Story/My Story
To understand the concept better, think about a time when you had a painful miscommunication with someone, the type of miscommunication that haunts you for days or longer. The example I’ll share with you involves a family member, but yours might involve a friend, family member, important client, or colleague. Got your example? Okay, here’s mine.

Recently, a family member took exception to a text I sent him. It was classic miscommunication. He felt I had jumped to conclusions about him, specifically, that I had falsely accused him of wrongdoing. His negative judgments and assumptions about me made me sad. This is common; there is a downward spiral that so often happens in miscommunication. We want our family, friends, colleagues, and clients to give us benefit of the doubt, to assume we have their backs. It is upsetting when, instead, they think the worst of us.

Communication is a shared process. We send our messages and usually assume that the receivers of our messages understand us. But does our intention, the meaning, as conveyed by our message match the other’s interpretation? This, of course, is the crux of successful communication!

Think about your own example. What happened? How did each of you perceive the miscommunication? How did each of you feel? What was the outcome?

My relative’s upset was real, as was mine. We can’t and shouldn’t deny our feelings and our reactions. Yet, it was especially important to me that, as a family member, we not feel negatively toward one another. One good outcome of the exchange was that I learned something new about him, and now understand an area of sensitivity for him. That knowledge will inform my future interactions, and hopefully help me to communicate with him in ways he finds more supportive. I am confident that he learned something that will inform his future communication with me, as well.

So, did my text “cause” him pain? Did his response “cause” me sadness? Did our differing communication styles “cause” frustration? No, of course not! It is the manner in which we interpret differing communication styles that can cause us frustration and can waste our time, energy, enthusiasm and resources. Your mother may have told you when you were young that your friends can not make you angry; it’s your choice to become angry or not. Differing communication styles can actually strengthen teamwork, and they can add delight to friendships.

Now, think about your example of miscommunication. Did your behavior “cause” negativity for the other person? Did their behavior “cause” it in you? Or, rather, was it the way each of you interpreted the other’s behavior—the meaning you gave to it—that caused the grief?

In my example, there was no negative energy or assumption embedded in the initial text; I had no thought of accusation. Many times, however, our innocent actions result in hurt feelings or negative perceptions, just as they can also help people feel good. In hindsight my text could have been worded better. A lengthier, more explicit text from me (or, better yet, a phone call) may not have “caused” the reaction it did.

However, it was not the text itself but, rather, my relative’s interpretation of the meaning behind my text, that provoked his reaction. We cannot control how others will perceive us, though we can do our best to improve our communication skills. The distinction between behavior causing a reaction versus our interpretation of the behavior influencing us to react in a certain way is an important distinction for cross-cultural and intercultural communication effectiveness.

THE FOUR STEPS TO A HAPPIER LIFE
So, what are these four steps to a happier life, to improving your communication with others?

Step One
The first point to remember is that miscommunication happens—every day, even between loving couples, family members, and friends. How much more frequently can miscommunication happen, then, between strangers or those who come from very different cultural backgrounds?

When we find ourselves in an uncomfortable communication situation, we need to remember not to place blame. It’s happened; miscommunication is natural and normal. But we can use it as a learning opportunity—a chance to understand more about ourselves and others.

Step Two
As the Cultural Detective Method shows us, when we find ourselves involved in miscommunication, or feeling a bit frustrated or judgmental, we are wise to take a look within ourselves. What are my assumptions? What beliefs am I using in my interpretation of events? What does the way I feel tell me about what is important to me? What values do I hold in relation to this situation, and how do I link them to appropriate behavior?

Our past experience and “common sense” (really “personal cultural sense”) cause us to interpret actions in certain ways. Becoming aware of those filters, the ways we view the world, can help us know ourselves better, to be better able to understand and anticipate our own responses, and better able to explain ourselves to others.

Step Three
Once we’ve taken a look into ourselves, it’s time to try to put ourselves into the shoes of the other. Even though we might perceive behavior as negative, let us temporarily, while we think this through, give the benefit of the doubt. What might be other, positively intended reasons that the person did what they did?

Of course, I can also consider whether I know this person to “have it in” for me. Does this person have a history of attacking me, or of acting unprofessionally? If not, the above “positive intent” exercise becomes even more important.

Step Four
Finally, it’s time to reach out and take action to resolve the miscommunication. Preferably,  this includes a combination of apologies for discomfort, questions that seek to understand, explanation of intent, and summary of what has been learned. It should, also, ideally culminate with a path forward: how we’ll try to communicate more effectively with one another from this point on.

Looking at the above four steps, you will see they incorporate the three capacities that the Cultural Detective Model teaches us:

  1. Subjective Culture: Knowing ourselves as cultural beings
  2. Cultural Literacy: Empathy and the ability to “read” the intentions of others
  3. Cultural Bridging: The ability to bring out the best in ourselves, others, and the organization or community

If you haven’t yet joined us for one of our monthly webinars, please do. Those attending receive a complimentary three-day pass to Cultural Detective Online, a tool that can help you integrate these four steps so that they become second nature in your daily life. And, please, share the invitation with your friends, colleagues, and clients! Let’s make this world a happier and more interculturally effective place!

Part of the #MyGlobalLife Link-Up

Clean House and Change the Bedding to Greet the Lava

Photo by Pahoa-based photographer Sean King/Caters

Photo by Pahoa-based photographer Sean King/Caters

The gem of a video clip below offers a glimpse into an aspect of native Hawaiian culture of which many people may be unaware. As lava flows on the island, there are vast cultural differences in how the native and immigrant cultures view the event. While native Hawaiians prepare to welcome a guest, others talk about ways to change the course of the lava to flow in a more convenient direction.

I am so proud of what the government in Pahoa, district of Puna, county of Hawaii is doing, and not doing, to “divert” the lava flow that is destroying homes, businesses, and lives. The clarity, patience, and wisdom they show in their answers to community members’ questions make me wish they worked in my county.

In the video, you will see Pi’ilani Ka’awaloa, an INCREDIBLE cultural resource person!!! She demonstrates wisdom in her people’s truth, and openness to teaching as well as acting in collaboration with others. She tells us that the native Hawaiians have adjusted to western culture, in that they now “buy” their land. But she also tells us they will never “own” it; it belongs to the goddess Pele.

“We would never tell Pele to go here or there in her own home! If she feels she needs to clean her house, then let her clean her house!”

I believe you will very much enjoy the cross-cultural differences visible in this Question and Answer session after a county informational meeting on the lava flow. What a challenge to bridge two such vastly different cultural orientations, on such a very sensitive subject as saving our homes and businesses.

 

I learned about what is going on in Pahoa from a friend I have only met virtually, Tim Sullivan, who lives there. Some people say that online “friends” aren’t real, but I can assure you that via social media I am now connected with many people whom I respect and learn much from. Tim recently wrote an extremely insightful and powerful blog post on the cross-cultural aspects of the lava flow in Pahoa. Be sure to check it out.

I think this short video clip would be an excellent piece of material to debrief using a Cultural Detective Worksheet. Give it a try and let us know how it goes! And may blessings be upon all those who make Pahoa their home.