Q: Why is culture important?
Culture is the lens through which we view our world, every moment of every day. Culture influences our life in a variety of ways; including values, norms, customs, status, relationships, fears, and worries. In addition, belonging to a culture (cultural group) provides people with a sense of identity, purpose and belonging.
Q: Can intercultural competency be learned?
Yes. Cultural competence can be learned just like any other skills (language, sports etc…) can be learned. As with all skills, it is important for cultural competencies to be practiced, updated, and evaluated. Many intercultural skills will serve you well in any global environment, while others will need to be specifically learned and adapted based on target cultures.
Cultural competence is a lifelong project. Competence with one group doesn't mean you're competent with another. So, you have to keep finding ways to expand your learning.
Q: What is the best way to start building intercultural competencies?
The first step would be to begin thingking about your own culture. Examine your national, organisational, or personal preferences before beginning the process of looking at the other cultures with which you are interacting so that you can effectively pinpoint any relevant gaps in knowledge or skills. It’s also useful to familiarise yourself with what cultural competency looks like and the aspects that tend to differentiate cultures. This can be accomplished on your own through observation, reading, and cultural self-assessment tools.
Q: When is the best time for intercultural training - prior to departure or on arrival?
The ideal answer is both as there are advantages to be gained from training at each stage. Training in home country prior to departure prepares the relocatee for the demands of the first stages of adaptation. It calms initial fears, provides confidence and reassurance as well as evaluating and reviewing unrealistic expectations.
Training which uses research on value differences can discuss differences before the emotional context that may be attached when those differences have been experienced. Use of a cultural mentor who is experienced in the host country is important to add validity to the pre-departure training.
Training in the host country can ideally be in the form of follow up to the earlier training and provide on-the-spot explanations of aspects or situations the relocates have found confusing. While the relocate is immersed in the culture the trainer can provide support and encouragement in the behaviour and attitude changes needed to adapt well to working in the new location.
Q: What is the difference between cross-cultural training, intercultural training and diversity training?
Cross-cultural usually refers to training that involves increasing awareness about two or more cultures, perhaps where the trainee is moving from one culture to another and the training will focus on home and host cultures.
Intercultural training often refers to training which increases awareness between a number of different cultures, perhaps where the trainee will be managing a culturally varied group.
Diversity training is more often used where the different cultures are present working together in the same workplace or represented among the client base and focuses on increasing awareness and value of the other cultures.
Q: Why provide training for family members?
The most common reason for early return from overseas assignment is partner or family dissatisfaction. In asking your employee to relocate overseas they are committing to a major change for the whole family whether they choose to relocate or commute. Making the adaptation easier for the whole family means your employee is more able to focus on the new work environment and more likely to perform to the level of productivity you are seeking.
Q: What are the issues facing children moving to another country?
In many countries expat children live in compounds or apartments with similar housing conditions to home and attend international schools rather than local schools. Their need to adapt to the local culture is often comparatively low. However, they do need to adapt to the sub-culture that exists within international schools and expatriate communities and may be very different from the environment they are accustomed to.
The issues of making new friends, dealing with restricted freedoms, new peer groups with different standards of what is ‘cool’, tougher study and homework regimes, being a constant source of interest or curiosity to the locals around them, and adapting to servants can be issues the family and children need to manage.
Q: Is training really necessary for moving from one English speaking country to another?
Moving to an area of low cultural distance, where the amount of perceived similarity between the cultures (including language) is high is undoubtedly easier than a move that involves high cultural distance. Some relocates make these moves successfully without training. Many report a period of depression or anxiety as they go through the change adjustment cycle. Many also hold on to stereotypes, prejudices or values that impact on their ability to relate well to workmates or employees.
Training can ease the change process, speed the adaptation and mark the employer who is aware of the needs and acts to anticipate and prevent problems rather than responding later when damage has been done.
The Culture Map
by Erin Meyer
The Culture Code
by Clotaire Rapaille
Fish can't see water
by Lewis & Hammerich