I have been curious about how you come to work in the intercultural field and have continued my conversations with people who are doing it. One thing I realise now after talking to several people is that there are many ways into an intercultural career.
Here for example is Dawn who was based in Ethiopia and formed Broads Abroad, a support group for expatriate women, based on the conversations that used to happen after the Zumba lessons she started giving.
And Franklin Yartey, a professor of intercultural communication at Dubuque University, Iowa, worked as PR manager of a dance school in his native Ghana before ending up in the US to continue his education.
And once you are doing it, it seems that intercultural work is its own reward as Joe Kearns describes!
So this show is the second in our series on how to get into the Intercultural field. Thanks to everyone who agreed to participate.
Another thing I noticed about today’s contributors is that they all had a connection with Africa, two with Ethiopia and one with Ghana. Listen to find out which is which.
We always try to find stories that carry a message either because they demonstrate strategies how we could make our own lives more intercultural or how you can develop a better understanding and heightened awareness of the intercultural needs and worries of those people around us who have chosen to or have to live between different cultures.
Today we ask the question: are expats always experts? When you live in a foreign country for a while, people expect you to know the language and at the same time they expect you to keep your native language on a high level. Apparently the same is true for cultures. When you have lived in a country for a couple of years people expect you to know about the politics, the everyday life or television shows in that country. However, they also assume that you keep in touch with your native culture and know what is going on there. Is it fair to expect these migrants to master two languages on a high level and even be knowledgeable in two cultures? Fair or unfair, we simply seem to expect these people to speak two languages and know a lot about our culture without ever losing touch with their own – because we will always see them as experts on their home countries.
I decided to discuss this phenomenon with a lecturer at our university, Jean Lennox, who has lived in Germany for a long time but is originally from England. I found out that she sometimes listens to Al Jazeera English radio station because they explain British politics from the outside which is easier to understand when you do not live in the country. I asked her whether the expectation that she should be knowledgeable about everything that is going on in Germany, but also in her original home country such as politics, television shows or even sports puts her under any pressure at all when she talks to friends in Germany or when she returns to her home town Manchester in England.
Many people notice that when they are far from home they are expected be able to talk intelligently about politics, geography and everyday life in their home countries, or in some cases even about the continents they come from. This also happened to Francis Benson, who is from Ghana in Africa. He left his country and went to live and work in Japan. At this distance everybody suddenly expected him to know things about the whole continent of Africa.
Thomas Brown grew up in the Austrian and British culture. He is a person who has actually managed “to stand up to the international expectations” and adopted not only two cultures, but also two native languages. Although his main language up until the age of five was German and he spoke German with his mother, brother and sisters he does not remember what it felt like to switch between the languages. He did not even notice that the language spoken at home was different from the one in the street and only started to appreciate bilingualism as a teenager when he first found out that his command of two languages could help him impress the girls.
The next show will be coming to you on 26 June from Anne Fox in Denmark.
Politically the different member states of the European Union have already achieved surprising synchronisations which would have seemed unthinkable 20 years ago. Culturally, however, most countries try to keep their own identity within the Union. Imagine you leave Germany and go South to Slovenia, Portugal, or Greece. In every single nation you can experience different cultural habits and, as a consequence, different working and life styles. Apart from reporting about how we had a Royal Visitor from Ghana (see on the left) in our classroom , in this show we mainly hear about some differences between the South of Europe and the North. How do the various cultural differences influence our working styles in joint projects or when students are studying in another one of these European countries?
absolutely philosophical? In show 57 we talked about how teamwork in internationally mixed groups is influenced by different cultural habits. In this show, we put the emphasis on how the work itself can be different and we hear, that often for people from Southern Europe the result is not the most important concern, but that the way how the result should be achieved needs more attention and discussion. Sometimes, in the eyes of the Northerners this can lead to seemingly endless “philosophical” discussions with uncertain outcome. For Germans, this often seems as if “they just like to talk and talk a lot”, because the function (e.g. trust-building) of this kind of communication is not so obvious. However, our interviewees also recognize, that all different ways are “kind of right” and that you just have to learn how to handle different styles so that in the end you can work successfully in all international environments.
absolutely quiet: Petros is an exchange student from Greece, the country of the ancient philosophers. He is now in Germany for his semester abroad and you could get the impression that he somehow enjoyed that there was not so much talking in public places and generally more discipline. Leaving the strike-ridden university system in Greece he stresses that he likes that German students are very quiet in the library and also very reliable when it comes to group work or presentations. It seems that Petros can confirm most of the stereotypes people around the world have about the Germans, that most of them are disciplined, reliable and punctual. He also tells us that he first had problems with “proxemics”, the attitude to personal space, distance and touching each other during a conversation, but that he learned a lot for his future in international work places.
absolutely royal: We speak to Georg Reifferscheid, a student at RheinAhrCampus, who recently made a real king from Africa visit our campus and hold a panel discussion with students about development aid. Herr Meickl is an architect from Germany, who was made king by a Ghanaian village, because he had invested so much of his time and energy in his development projects there. Mr. Meickl showed the students the difference between development and financial aid and also presented a video of his “crowning ceremony” in Ghana. Georg shares his initial worries and experiences with us telling us how this unique opportunity came up and what he learned on the event management side.
absolutely improved: In our last category we talk to Maria Koenen, teaching assistant on a Business English course, about various opportunities to improve your language skills. She tries to motivate her students not only to learn during the course, but to combine your hobbies with learning English at home or even on your way to work or to university. The result is, that all students now try out different things to improve their English outside the classroom
Absolutely yours: First of all, thank you to the listeners who got in touch after the last show. Grit Matthias was especially interested in Show 35 where we featured teacher podcasters. Grit’s class makes short podcasts in German. So if you are learning German why not have a listen?
When ‘Uncle Drew’ questioned why we had featured the Myers & Briggs personality test in the last show, I looked into it and found that the questionnaire has been tested across many cultures to check that its personality types are valid and that they had found that the distribution of personality types was the same across cultures although maybe not of the same order. Cultural differences do occur in how we are expected to express our personalities. At the Myers & Briggs blogfor example I found that there were more introvert British entrepreneurs while in the USA there were far fewer and the difference could be explained by the way in which we are allowed to express our introvert or extrovert personalities in the two cultures. So thank you ‘Uncle Drew’ for your comment.
Absolutely Educational: Our main feature in this show is the story of an educational project carried out by CV2 in Denmark with a Ghanaian company. We hear first how things did not go exactly according to plan and in the second part we hear what the Danish partners think is the reason for the difficulties they experienced. If you are familiar with Ghana you can probably see the story from the other side. And if you do then why not leave a comment here about it?
Absolutely Interactive: Are cultural differences apparent in blogs? That was a question I put to Trine Maria Kristensen, a corporate communications expert in Denmark.
Then I talked to Carla Arena, a Brazilian English teacher living in Florida, who agreed to be a mystery guest on my students’ blog. Who learned the most? Carla or my students?
The next show will be coming to you from Laurent Borgmann in Germany on November 30 and will be rather musical!