10th Anniversary of Cultural Detective!

Cultural Detective 10th Anniversary

Do you know that 2014 is Cultural Detective‘s 10th anniversary year? It’s also the 25th anniversary of my company—Nipporica Associates, and the 35th anniversary of my work in the intercultural field! Help us celebrate! Show our authors some love! Send us a greeting and win a one-year subscription to Cultural Detective Online.

The Cultural Detective Worksheet was born back in the early 1980s in Japan, emerging out of the need for a real-time multicultural conflict resolution tool. The Values Lenses came shortly thereafter—what are today termed “negative perceptions” were then called “the dark side,” echoing the Star Wars popularity of the day.

I used Cultural Detective tools in my proprietary work for about ten years with enormous success. Then, around 2002, Shell Oil began saying that Cultural Detective gave them the most highly rated global management training they’d ever experienced—from Nigeria to Malaysia, The Hague to Houston. They told us they wanted us to develop packages for every country in which they did business. While I envisioned nothing so ambitious, I did ask ten of my most esteemed colleagues to develop five “test packages”—Cultural Detectives England, Germany, Japan, Sweden and USA. They were so enthused about this Method and material that more and more admired colleagues asked if they could author packages. Today, the Cultural Detective series includes 65 packages (with several more to be released in the next few months) and an online subscription service.

Our vision was to provide theoretically sound, practical development tools, easy for the lay person to use, effective for beginners and experienced interculturalists, at accessible prices. Our goal was to help build respect, understanding, justice, collaboration and sustainability in this world of ours. Bless you for accompanying us on this journey thus far!

Thank you so much, to all our authors, our customers, certified facilitators, users, colleagues and friends! What a grand adventure it has been! Growing faster than we ever imagined possible, and building intercultural competence in areas we never dared dream of: spiritual communities, universities and study abroad programs, professional associations, NGOs, governments, and business. Over the last ten years, the Cultural Detective Method as been refined, deepened, and broadened—thanks to all of you!

A group of Cultural Detective authors will gather this month—February 2014—in Mazatlán, México to celebrate the project’s 10th anniversary. Other authors are planning events in their locations around the world to commemorate this auspicious occasion. We have started to receive greetings, and I thought you would enjoy seeing a few of them. I’ll post a selection below.

Would you like to get in on the action? Share your greetings? Thank our authoring team? Thank the person who first introduced you to CD? How about if we make it fun?!

Share your greeting with us, and the authors of our favorite submissions will receive a complimentary ONE YEAR SUBSCRIPTION to Cultural Detective Online!

As you already know, Cultural Detective Online is a terrific personal development too. But what you may not know is that the user agreement allows you to project the contents for your students, trainees or coaches—as long as you tell them Cultural Detective Online is a publicly available tool to which they can subscribe, too. As a colleague told me yesterday,

“Why would any intercultural trainer NOT pay $150 for a TWO YEAR subscription to this tool? It gives me access to over 60 packages, allowing me to conduct such a breadth of quality training!”

How to enter? Record a video and upload it to YouTube, then send the url to ten@culturaldetective.com. Alternatively, you can send a photo greeting to that same address. Here’s the first photo we’ve received. It’s a good one, don’t you think? Many thanks to our partners at the International Educators Training Program, Queens University, Canada.

Allison10thCome on, join in the celebration! Your greeting can be as short as you like, funny or serious. We’d love to hear what Cultural Detective means to you, what difference it’s made for you, what impact it’s had on the field. Perhaps you can share a funny story of cross-cultural miscommunication, or share your success—a Cultural Defective or Cultural Effective! We can’t wait! If this series has meant something to you, please take a moment to let us know.

Send your entries by March 15th, 2014. We will contact the winners by email with instructions on how to redeem their prize of a full year’s access to all the content in CD Online, to use on their own or with their students. We can’t wait to receive your message!

Following are a few of the video greetings that we’ve already received, with a bit of background about each:

Microsoft uses Cultural Detective to coach their international support engineers. The first year they used it, they attributed a 30% increase in customer satisfaction directly to Cultural Detective. The Culture and Communication Program staff is truly inspiring. In the clip below, Shalini Thomas shares her greetings with the Cultural Detective community.

AFS, the international exchange organization with operations in more than 50 countries, has long used Cultural Detective with staff, volunteers, students, and host families. Nearly everywhere I travel, anywhere on our planet, there is almost always someone from AFS in the audience. We are thrilled to know that our leaders of tomorrow are developing intercultural competence through our partnership with AFS! I first met Hazar Yildirim in Istanbul, where he and the AFS contingent there gave me a very warm welcome. Now he’s based in New York. Here is what Hazar has to say:

The Intercultural Development Research Institute (IDRI) is committed to longer-term, sustained development of intercultural competence. Their motto is “coherent theory generates powerful practice.” Thus, it means a lot to me when the co-founder of that Institute, Milton Bennett, says Cultural Detective is a tool that truly translates theory into practice and carries on the heritage of the founders of the intercultural field. I met Milton back in 1982, at the Stanford Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC).

The last greeting I’ll share with you here comes from another customer, Atieh International, specialists in emerging and risky markets. “The world of today comes filled with new opportunities hidden in a sea of uncertainty and risk. It is our job to assist our clients to understand and be prepared for the tides and waves, the ebbs and flows in each market, to appreciate the beauty and depth of cultures and diversity and to build sustainable strategies founded on reliable intelligence and trust.” We are privileged to be associated with them. Managing Partner Pari Namazie shares her remarks, below.

Please block some time now to make or record your greeting and send it to us! We are looking forward to hearing from you, and we would especially love to share a gift subscription with you! Our authors work hard, not to pursue monetary wealth, but impassioned by a commitment to the vision of everybody having a voice, sharing their gifts, and realizing their potential. Let them know they have made a difference!

We will post the video greetings we receive to the playlist below. Take a look at those we have so far, including greetings from CIEE, Korn Ferry, and EDS. They are very heartening to watch! We look forward to hearing from you!

Living Your Ideal Global Life Summit

SummitCollage-Website-FixedHave you been wanting to launch your ideal global life, but you are unsure where to get started, how to make it happen, or how to figure out what your ideal global life even looks like? 

Cultural Detective colleagues, Cate Brubaker and Sabrina Zieglar, have put together a slate of 20 experts who will present and chat with you free-of-charge during the week of January 13-17, 2014. The five-day summit will be conducted virtually. The full schedule along with daily themes is now live, and registration is open. I am a speaker, several esteemed colleagues are also part of the summit, and there are quite a few others that I don’t know but I am also very excited to learn from. Do not miss this opportunity!

As a supplement to the Summit itself, or if you have to miss some of the sessions, I’m excited to let you know of a value-packed resource of inspiring videos from the 20 experts, including life-changing tools like the Destination: Nomadtopia ebook, the Build Your Online Business ebook, a workbook on relaunching yourself after being abroad, and more. Click here for more information or to purchase the bundle.


Who you are, where you are, and what you’re doing can’t hold you back from living the rewarding global life you desire. Whether you’re a digital nomad, expat, work-at-home mom, or travel newbie, 2014 is the year to launch your ideal global life. And this is the only comprehensive resource available that covers everything for the newly global to the experienced digital nomad.

The bundle is only available for a limited time, so don’t miss out on this chance to launch your ideal global life with 20 experts and their communities supporting you. Through January 13th the bundle will be discounted at US$47; after that date it is forecast to sell for US$97.

I hope to see you at the Summit!

The Turkish Spring

Bosphorous Bridge ProtestI woke up with a message from Istanbul: “Mai! We are having a Turkish Spring!”

Bosphorus Bridge was captured with thousands of protesters flowing across the bridge that links Asia and Europe. My friend is probably among those people who are angrily demanding that Prime Minister Erdogan respect the will of his people instead of silencing dissidents, Islamizing Ataturk’s legacy, and blaming social media as the “the worst menace to society.”

With a population almost 100% Muslim, for me, strangely, Turkey has never felt like an Islamic country. Probably because the bedrock of this nation is firmly Greek and Roman, and because Istanbul used to be the pride of western civilization. Today the country is a meeting point of two powerful flows between East and West, presenting to the world a wonderful concert conducted by the elements of two most terrific symphonies: Asian and European cultures. The Bosphorus Bridge, glamorously lit up with colorful lights every night, connects the two continents and stands as a symbol for that reality.

Of course, living up to expectations is not always easy. A perfect balance is not always the case, especially when contrasts, sometimes radical contrasts, seem to be the very points that make Turkey attractive. For my friend, she is acting to gain back that balance. The protests at the moment are about that momentum as well, balancing ideologies, adding on, taking off, gaining and losing here and there to keep that balance of contrasts to the point that it does not topple the whole system, but rebalances it safely and interestingly enough to sustain itself and continue to attract people.

I dug up a picture of the Bosphorus Bridge in its peaceful times, sending a message to my friend with a quote from none other than Napoleon himself, who put his Parisian pride in the back room and declared to everyone: “if the world was a country, Istanbul would be its capital.”

Oldie but Goodie: Comprehensive Expatriate Support System


Moving overseas is an exciting yet stressful time for all involved: the person transitioning to a new position, the expat’s family who is relocating, and the organization—both the office dealing with the loss of a valued employee, and the receiving organization. We all know there are a myriad of details involved in preparing someone to work abroad, but where to start and what to include?

Years ago, when Cultural Detective Online was not yet a glimmer in anyone’s dreams, I put together the above guide for a client. You are most welcome to use it if it can be of assistance (click through to view a larger version), though I ask that you retain the copyright and url of the original.

I was proud to work with that client. They valued their international assignees, desiring that the employee and the relocating family become stronger from international assignment, and that both the receiving organization and the organization as a whole learn and grow. They thus asked me to “map” a process to help make that happen.

Today, Cultural Detective Online is an excellent tool to use with expatriates, relocating families, and receiving teams and organizations, at each stage of the relocation process. It offers a process as well as information at your fingertips — anytime, anywhere — to help build bridges across cultures, to help each of us better understand those we work with, and to get to know ourselves better.

“The Cultural Detective Online product is a sound investment for my work as an intercultural and relocation coach. I suggest to my clients to get a subscription for themselves.”
—Maartje Goodeve, Nascence Coaching, BC, Canada

How might you update the process in the graphic above? How could you use Cultural Detective Online in combination with other tools, approaches and your own facilitation to enhance expatriate performance?

Two Values Lens Stories

©Cultural Detective, from Cultural Detective Self Discovery

©Cultural Detective, from Cultural Detective Self Discovery

The beauty of Cultural Detective Values Lenses?

A colleague was just telling me this morning that he had a class of students from France and Italy, and one Thai woman. The students had worked with Cultural Detective Self Discovery; they had reflected on their personal values and history, and created personal Values Lenses.

Next my colleague had walked through the French Values Lens with the class, and asked them to compare their personal Lenses with the national Lens, the country in which all of the students were residing and studying. The French students perceived a lot of resonance with their national culture, and the foreign students identified their experience in France as well.

Next my friend walked through the Italian Values Lens, and got the same reaction.

Finally, when he went to the Thai Values Lens, he realized he knew next to nothing about Thais, and that he couldn’t even pronounce the words on the Lens. Thus, he elected to ask the Thai student, blindsiding her or putting her on the spot if you will — he asked her to come up and introduce the class to the Thai Values Lens, which she had only just seen in that moment!

This Thai participant led the other students, and the professor, on a journey into Thai culture that took their breath away! She shared examples of Thai behavior and their meaning that built the other students’, and the teacher’s, respect for who she is and where she comes from.

Such can be the power of a Values Lens. It is not a stereotype. It captures the central tendency, the norm, of a group of people, in terms people can identify with. Thus, it is usually quite easy for a representative of the culture to introduce the values in a Values Lens, using stories from everyday life in that culture.

Second example, much shorter:

So many people nowadays tell us they are global nomads, TCKs, Blended Culture people. And they are. And, this does not mean that they don’t have a culture; it means they have more cultural strands woven into their identity than perhaps the average person!

The second story involves one young woman, who insisted she was nothing like her national culture. She was an individual, a global citizen: culture-less, in a way. In looking at her national culture Values Lens, she exclaimed out loud during class, “Oh my God! I AM Slovak!”

The goal of Cultural Detective Values Lenses as tools is to facilitate dialogue and understanding, both understanding of self and others, and thus enable collaboration that brings out the best of each of us. Please help us make that happen, by sharing your tips, techniques, and designs, and by encouraging best practice.

Happy New Year! New Year’s and Calendars Around the World


Happy New Year!!

Our greetings are sincere; we wish the best for our colleagues, partners, and friends. Intent is important. However, even the most sincere greetings, when unaccompanied by a broader mindset of cross-cultural awareness, can come out sounding neocolonialist, disrespectful or just plain ignorant.

Most non-Chinese know that Chinese New Year often happens in February and is based on a lunar calendar. Many non-Jews are aware that Rosh HaShanah is the Jewish new year, and that it usually occurs around September. But what about other nations, cultures and traditions: when do they celebrate their new year? And how can we demonstrate cross-cultural sensitivity when we wish to express appropriate New Year’s greetings?

The first step is to recognize our own Lens, our own cultural filters. A “happy new year” greeting focused on January 1, 2013 is based on the Gregorian calendar, use of which was ordered by Pope Gregory XIII in 1592. Even Protestant Europe was slow to adopt this calendar, but over the centuries it has gained widespread use to become today’s de facto international standard. Most countries in the world now use it as their sole civil calendar, with exceptions including Saudi Arabia, Iran and Afghanistan. Countries that use another official calendar alongside the Gregorian include India and Israel. To detach the Gregorian calendar a bit from its Roman Catholic roots, it is also called the civil calendar or Common Era (CE) calendar.

Having a recognized international standard is a major change. Thirty-five years ago, when I first started working with a telex machine in Japan, I had to convert dynastic dates to CE dates as part of my daily tasks (I also used a HUGE kanji typewriter that provided me a daily physical workout, prior to the advent of word processing). Now, the general acceptance of the CE calendar is a sign of how much cultures that did not traditionally use the Gregorian calendar have adapted in order to more easily collaborate. Of course, another point of view is that this adaptation shows the success of the Christian colonialists imposing their standard on the rest of the world.

Either way, there is a great need for those of us comfortable with the Common Era calendar to learn a bit about other world calendars, to gain a basic knowledge about and be able to communicate respect for them. Thus, the second step in building cross-cultural competence is to develop our curiosity and knowledge about world calendars.

While the CE calendar is in popular use, alongside it and sometimes instead of it people around the world use solar calendars, lunar calendars, lunar-solar calendars, arithmetic and astronomical calendars. You may see dates you don’t recognize in newspapers when you travel, or in official government or religious documents. Non-Gregorian dating is commonly used to determine holy days, holidays and festivals in many of the world’s traditions. These local, regional, and religious calendars are frequently used to report birth and death dates, and major life and world events. It can get confusing for the international traveler or global nomad, not to mention the unwitting blogger or small business person with an Internet site! There are seven billion people on our planet, and according to my quick calculations, fewer than 10% have primarily used a Gregorian calendar for even most of my lifetime.

How can we navigate the multitude of calendars in our world? Surely we can not be expected to understand or be fluent in all of them. How can we show sensitivity, respect, and a bit of knowledge, rather than arrogance, ignorance, or insult? The third step is to bridge the differences — to understand and learn to work with our partner’s or customer’s traditional calendar.

6 Tips for Partnering with People Who Use
Calendars Different from Yours

  1. Remember that the Common Era calendar is not the only calendar in the world.
  2. Realize that it’s origins are in western Christianity. Avoid the use of “BC,” which refers to “before Christ,” and “AD,” the Latin term Anno Domini. Instead, use “BCE” (Before the Common Era) and “CE” (Common Era).
  3. Do a bit of research about your major customers and partners. What are their spiritual practices? Their ethnic backgrounds? Where are they based geographically? Once you’ve done your homework, you’ve acquired a very basic level of cultural literacy regarding possible calendars your colleagues might use.
  4. Ask them. Asking how an organization and a community dates documents, and how they calculate and observe holidays, shows that you know there are many ways of doing things, that your way is not the only way. It demonstrates a respect for other traditions and helps to build relationships based on mutual trust.
  5. Respect your colleagues’ holidays. If you are told that business closes on certain days, don’t try to undo centuries of tradition. I have so often seen this error committed during my career. An executive insists that employees work on a day that is usually a holiday, as the organization is on a deadline. In the short term, this strategy may be successful. But the long-term negative consequences, in terms of lost loyalty and reputation are immeasurable. Better to focus on outcomes: how can we meet this deadline? Brainstorm with your employees and partners to find mutually acceptable rather than unilateral ways forward.
  6. Offer New Year’s and other holiday greetings as appropriate to your colleagues’ traditions. That usually means that a New Year’s greeting on January 1st will be well received, and often means that another greeting, on their calendar’s New Year, will be even more special. Make a note in your calendar to jog your memory. Such a practice is a solid and frequent reminder that our way is not the only way.

While far from a complete list, I did some research to produce a bit of a guide (below) to some of the world’s calendars in current use. Please note any corrections in the “Comments,” and we will edit as needed. Thank you!

  • Bahá’í (Badí‘): The year 170 BE in the Bahá’í calendar will begin on March 21, 2013 (spring equinox), the 1st (or Bahá) of the month of Bahá in the year Abhá. The Baha’i calendar begins with Bab’s declaration in 1844.
  • Chinese (Mainland): The first day of the year of the Snake 4711 will be February 10, 2013. Legend has it that the Emperor Huangdi invented the calendar in 2637 B.C.E.
  • Chinese (Republic, Minguo): January 1st will bring in the year 102 in Taiwan, Kinmen and Matsu. The calendar began in 1912, the year of the founding of the Republic of China.
  • Coptic (Alexandrian): The Feast of Neyrouz or New Year’s 1729 AM (Anno Martyrum or “Year of the Martyrs”) was September 11, 2012.
  • Eastern Orthodox (Julian): The first day of the year 2013 was on December 19, 2012. It may be worthwhile noting that both Coptic and Eastern Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas on January 7th (not December 25th).
  • Ethiopian (Ge’ez): Enkutatash, or the new year 2005, began September 11, 2012.
  • Hebrew (Jewish): The year 5773 began on the 1st of Tishrei (the 7th month in the Jewish calendar), or September 16, 2012 — Rosh HaShanah, the day Adam and Eve were created. The Jewish calendar has another New Year’s, the 1st of Nisan (the first month). It will be on March 12, 2013, and is used as the new year to order the holidays. It is seen as the anniversary of the founding of the Jewish people.
  • Indian National Calendar (Saka): The 1st of the month of Caitra, year 1935, will fall on March 22, 2013. The current Saka era began in 78 CE.
  • Indian Popular Calendar (Vikram Samvat): The year 2069 will begin the first day after the new moon in the month of Chaitra, April 11, 2013 — Hindi New Year.  In the Gujarati tradition, it began on the day after Diwali, on the 1st of kartak or November 14th. The calendar was created by the Emperor Vikramaditya of Ujjain following his victory over the Shakas in 56 BCE.
  • Indigenous, First Nations, and Native Peoples: There are many communities and much diversity worldwide. A lunar calendar is generally used and the year revolves around the seasons.
  • Islamic (lunar Hijri): The year 1434 AH began on the 1st of Muharram, November 15, 2012. The Islamic calendar begins when Muhammad emigrated from Mecca to Medina in 622 CE.
  • Japanese: January 8th will bring in the 1st of the year Heisei 25, which began when Emperor Akihito took the throne in 1989 (year one).
  • Mayan: A new baktun or cycle begins December 22, 2012.
  • Persian (solar Hijri): March 21st, or the 1st of Farvadin, will greet the year 1392 SH. It is determined by the spring equinox. Norouz or Persian new year has been celebrated for at least 3000 years and is rooted in the Zoroastrian tradition. The calendar marked its beginning in agreement with the Islamic calendar based on Muhammad’s emigration from Mecca to Medina (Hegira). Due to the Persian solar adjustment to the Islamic lunar Hijri calendar, the year count between the two calendars has diverged.
  • Thai (Suriyakhati): January 1st will bring in the Buddhist year 2556 of the Thai solar (legal) calendar.

Additional Resources:

Two handy calendar converters:

Readers, we look forward to hearing you tell us about your New Year’s. What greetings do you prefer, and when? How do you celebrate?

Whichever calendar you prefer, the Cultural Detective team wishes you all success, health, and joy!

El candidato ideal

(English follows the Spanish)

En un mundo cada vez más interconectado y globalizado, las asignaciones internacionales suelen ser más frecuentes para empleados de empresas multinacionales. Dado lo anterior las empresas han dispuesto de grandes esfuerzos y recursos para optimizar su selección del candidato ideal para las vacantes que surjan y poder iniciar el proceso de expatriación (traslado laboral a otro país con beneficios para el empleado y su familia).

Los llamados departamentos de personal o recursos humanos han alineado sus procesos de reclutamiento y selección con el fin de optimizar la búsqueda y el tan ahnelado hallazgo de quien cumple con los requisitos del cargo y adicionalmente sea capaz adaptarse a un entorno que puede ser similar y muy distante del actual.

A priori se consideran el dominio de los idiomas o experiencias previas en otros países y culturas, lo que podríamos denominar un bagaje intercultural. Sin embargo esto no siempre resulta, ni para la empresa ni para el expatriado.

Conozco dos casos contrastantes de primera mano. Los dos llegaron aquí a Bogotá, de dos países diferentes y para dos asignaciones igualmente diferentes.

El primero venía de Europa, de uno de esos países con cultura monosincrónica, bastante rígido con el tiempo y de los que la puntualidad es un tema que no tiene discusión. Había vivido en Estados Unidos y varios lugares de Europa, incluyendo España por lo cual domina el castellano (con el ceceo que decimos los latinos, yo digo que los españoles hablan siempre con ortografía), soltero, sin hijos y sin pareja. Cambiaba de industria, pero su trabajo vincularía a partir del área comercial su país natal y Colombia como puerta de entrada a América Latina. Llegó con lo que los locales consideramos un muy buen salario, un apartamento en una zona lujosa de la ciudad (cerca a su nueva oficina) y todo el apoyo de su empresa para comenzar una nueva sucursal en mi país. Su tiempo estimado de dos a tres años inicialmente.

Por otro lado, tenemos a un hombre que venía de Israel sin hablar una sílaba de español, casado (llegó con dos hijos, hoy ya tiene tres ) quien vino por una asignación puntual de seis meses. Llegó solo y solamente a dirigir un proyecto de infraestructura en la ciudad. Se enfrentó a dirigir cien operarios y, si podemos decir, a golpes comprender por qué la cerveza es parte del presupuesto de muchas familias de estos empleados a su cargo. Tuvo que lidiar temas familiares, de rendimiento del trabajo individual y de grupo. Aprendió de primera fuente cómo era la contratación pública en Colombia.

Dos escenarios totalmente opuestos y con resultados igualmente contrastantes.

El primero a pesar de su buena voluntad, su dominio del idioma… no logró adaptarse a nuestro entorno, cultura e impuntualidad. Cuando hablaba con él recordaba mi propia vivencia cuando en el Caribe me era tan complicado sentirme fluir. Tuve amigos, pasé momentos muy especiales… pero siempre había algo que me decía, no es tu lugar. En fin, así le pasó a este ejecutivo que no completó el primer año de contrato y se regresó a su país. La última vez que nos comunicamos estaba de paso en Singapur, volvió a su anterior industria y por Facebook me entero de sus movimientos alrededor del planeta (Australia, Alemania, Francia, Estados Unidos…) no ha regresado a Colombia, espero que nos podamos volver a encontrar y disfrutar una buena copa juntos.

El segundo ya habla muy bien español, lleva siete años en el país y ahora ha fundado su propia empresa con talento en un 90% colombiano. Su familia vive con él, y su hijo menor nació aquí. A pesar de tantas diferencias entre su cultura y la nuestra, aprendió a nadar en nuestro rio y podría afirmar que se mueve como pez en el agua. Se proyecta como representante de varias empresas de su país en América Latina, y como dijo uno de nuestros políticos alguna vez… es como si dijera “aquí estoy y aquí me quedo”.

A primera vista el primero de los candidatos se perfilaba como el candidato ideal para quedarse (conozco por cierto muchos solteros que llegan, se casan y se quedan en mi país gracias a la buena fama de las mujeres), pero no fue así y el que parecía que no se quedaría más allá de su asignación regresó a su país por su familia para traerla consigo y quedarse indefinidamente.

No dudo que los departamentos de personal o recursos humanos asociados a cada uno de estos casos y sus esferzos de “relocation” fueron minuciosos, estudiados y abordados con profunda seriedad y profesionalismo. Pienso que a veces, el paso adicional nos corresponde a los que aplicamos y ser muy honestos con nosotros mismos y en la evaluación previa de las nuevas condiciones de vida.

Nuestro desafío desde el punto de vista intercultural es brindar las herramientas adicionales que permitan tomar la decisión más acertada según las condiciones disponibles y hacer el acompañamiento de entrenamiento para su nuevo destino desde el punto de vista de la vida diaria, cultura de negocios, la vida para el empleado y su familia, entre muchos otros.

Debemos entender que no es ni bueno ni malo sentirnos o no a gusto en otro lugar (país, región, entorno). Sin embargo sí debemos conocer lo que más nos impacta (a nosotros y cuando aplique nuestras familias) y por ende identificar en qué lugar nos podemos trasladar para cumplir con el trabajo y además llevar una vida a gusto con nuestra familia.

The Ideal Candidate

By Maryori Vivas, translated by Dianne Hofner Saphiere

In a world that is increasingly interconnected and globalized, international assignments seem ever more frequent for employees of multinational companies. Given the above, firms have invested great efforts and resources to optimize their selection of ideal candidates to fill job vacancies and to be able to initiate the expatriation process (job transfer to another country with benefits for the employee and family).

Personnel and human resource departments have aligned their recruitment and selection processes to optimize the search for those who meet the requirements of the position and who are also capable of adapting to an environment that can be at the same time very similar and very different from their home environment.

It’s considered logical that a successful candidate would have mastery of the new language or previous experience living abroad, but that is not always the case.

I have firsthand knowledge of two contrasting cases. Both transferees arrived here in Bogotá from different countries and for two very different job assignments.

The first person came from Europe, from one of those countries with a monochronic culture, fairly rigid about time, with the belief that punctuality is not a matter for debate. He had lived in North America and various places around Europe, including Spain, and for that reason spoke Castilian well (with the lisp about which Latinos say, “Spaniards always speak with good spelling”). He was single, had no children and no partner. He had changed industries, and his new job involved commercially linking his birth country with Colombia as a gateway to Latin America. The position came with what locals would consider a very good salary, an apartment in an upscale area of the city (near his new office), and the full support of the company to start a new branch in my country. His assignment was estimated to be two to three years, initially.

The contrasting case was a man from Israel, who arrived without speaking even a syllable of Spanish, married (when he arrived he had two children, and today has three), who came for a short-term, six-month assignment. He arrived alone with the single objective of directing an infrastructure project in the city. He needed to manage one hundred operators and, if I might say so, via the school of hard knocks he learned to understand why beer is part of the family budgets of so many of those he supervised. He was thrown into managing employee family issues, individual performance issues, as well as group dynamics. He learned firsthand about public contracting in Colombia.

These were two scenarios that were totally opposite and with results that were equally different.

The first gentleman, despite his goodwill and language skills, failed to adapt himself to our environment, the culture and the tardiness. When I spoke with him I was reminded of my own experience living in the Caribbean, where I found it so complicated to get in the flow of things. I had friends, I had some very special moments, but always there was something telling me, “this is not your place.” In the end, what happened is that this executive returned home before even completing the first year of his multi-year contract. The last time I was in touch with him he was passing through Singapore. He had returned to the previous industry in which he had worked, and I found out via Facebook about his travels all over the world (Australia, Germany, France, USA). He has not returned to Colombia, though I hope we can meet up again some day and enjoy a good drink together.

The second gentleman now speaks Spanish very well. He has spent seven years in country and has now founded his own company with 90% Colombian talent. His family lives with him, and his youngest son was born here. Despite so many differences between his culture and ours, he learned to swim in our river and I can affirm that he moves here like a fish in water. He acts as a Latin American representative for several companies from his country, and as one of our politicians once said, it’s as if he said, “I am here and here I’ll remain.”

At initial glance the first candidate seemed to have the ideal profile for a long-term stay (I definitely know many bachelors who arrive, marry and stay in my country thanks to the good fame of our women), but it was not to be. The one who it would have seemed would not remain beyond a short initial assignment ended up returning to his country to collect his family and bring them back with him to stay here indefinitely.

I have no doubt that the personnel and human resource departments associated with each of these cases engaged in thorough and studied relocation efforts, discussing them with deep seriousness and professionalism. I think that at times, however, the extra step needed is for those of us who apply for overseas assignment to be very honest with ourselves about our life conditions, needs and desires.

Our challenge from an intercultural perspective is to provide additional tools that allow people to make the right decisions according to current realities, and to accompany that with training on daily life, business culture, and personal and social life for the employee and family in the new destination.

We must understand that feeling at home or not in another place (country, region, environment) is not in and of itself good or bad. The key is that we need to know ourselves and our families, what most affects us, and thus be able to discern where we can move in order to conduct our work and maintain a comfortable life with our families.


Cultural Detective Online is LIVE!!!!!!!!

Cultural Detective is proud to announce the new product launch of Cultural Detective Online! This tool is like having a virtual coach in your back pocket, successfully guiding you through the all-too-common missteps of cross-cultural negotiations and communications. Please check out the four videos on the home page. Today only (15-16 October, depending where you are on the planet) there is a 25% launch discount; enter promo code:   CDO-blog25  during checkout.

Huge thanks goes out to each of you who have worked with and incorporated the Cultural Detective Method into work with your clients or employee populations globally, as over the past eight years this tool has become a significant contribution to the intercultural field. Because of our clients and team, Cultural Detective has become globally recognized as one of the premier developmental tools of our time. Now we are on the cusp of very exciting and broader use of the tool through Cultural Detective Online! This new product launch furthers our mission of encouraging communities globally to prosper through intercultural understanding and collaboration.

Cultural Detective Online is useful in a broad range of contexts including global business negotiations and multicultural team effectiveness, international assignments and study abroad, and for successfully communicating within our families and communities, and within and across faith traditions.

A subscription to Cultural Detective Online offers the opportunity to explore the concepts of “culture” and “values” and how they impact communication in everyday life. It provides access to dozens of culture-specific Values Lenses and topic-specific Challenges Lenses, hundreds of real world cross-cultural incidents, and the easy-to-use Cultural Detective process for improving the ability to collaborate successfully across cultures, both on individual and organizational levels.

We are excited to announce that subscriptions are now available for individuals or groups, and we invite you to subscribe to Cultural Detective Online today by visiting http://www.culturaldetective.com/cdonline/ ! Subscriptions start at less than US$100/year, and are less for larger groups of subscribers. You will rarely find more value for your money.

Appearance Can Be a Life or Death Matter

Immediately when I heard about the attack on the Sikh temple in Wisconsin (USA), the first thought that came to my mind is that the shooter must have confused Sikhs for Muslims because they wear turbans and grow beards. There have been many similar incidents, one of them in 2002 when four teenagers burned down the Sikh temple Gobind Sadan in New York. The teens told authorities that they believed the temple was named “Go Bin Laden” (!!!)

Similarly, Christian figures and nuns may be mistaken for Muslims, with their loose outfits and head coverings. A picture taken in Jerusalem may confuse many, for it can be very unclear who is Jewish, who is Muslim and who is Christian. I have asked lots of my friends and they often think that the three Morrocan Muslim girls in this picture look more like Jewish women because of their headscarf style and their dress.

Almost everwhere I go in the world, people on the streets mostly call me Chinese. I have embraced a business idea of producing millions of T-shirt that say, “Everything is made in China. NOT ME!” and sell them to desperate and angry Japanese, Korean, Singaporean and Vietnamese tourists. I’ll probably be rich and earn enough money to travel more.
When I was in Syria lately, immediately upon stepping into a neighboring house, Abdullah my friend shouted out even before the host could see my face: “She is not Chinese!” Very wise of him, because the man we were visiting belongs to the opposition, who is of course very pissed off with China and Russia for their support towards Assad’s government.
Looks do matter, regardless of how superficial they are. Of course no one should be killed, and most religions have love and respect at their core. It can be detrimental and become a matter of dealth and life in this age of speed, in which people only have time to watch, not to think, and news is more important than knowledge.


This article by Vijay Nagaswami, “Culture vs. culture,” was sent to us via the marvelous Cultural Detective certified facilitator and current SIETAR India President, Sunita Nichani. She says, “Here is an interesting article published this Sunday in one of India’s leading newspapers, The Hindu. With the slow erosion of the custom of marrying within similar communities in India, intercultural competence will be vital for making marriages work.”

Lots of work to do in this world, in so many ways and places. Let’s get started, everyone!