Though life of interculturalist
More great proof that there is room for development of cross-cultural competences in this world!
Recently I attended an interesting event where a speaker presented her book on their experience in the start-up environment in Silicon Valley. It was in fact very useful to learn about a world so foreign compared to my own.
I was amazed that the discussion afterwards led to cultural differences between the UK and US! The event took place in London, the audience who attended it was multicultural and experienced in various places around the globe, and the speaker herself was American. I assume it was purely out of people’s curiosity to ask such a question.
My goal is not to go into detail of the discussion, but rather presenting my thoughts as a conclusion of what happened.
The first one is very optimistic - as an interculturalist I usually feel a pressure to explain in detail exactly I do and that I don't deliver training in any specific culture. I also often encounter situations when people ignore a need for understanding cultural differences, just take them for granted, phenomena that exist and need to cope with that, as simple as that! It happens more often when we talk about cultures that everyone think are similar, such as the US and UK, it may be because of common heritage, the same language, geography, you name it. People rarely acknowledge the differences. The discussion I observed proved that the awareness of the phenomenon has significantly increased. I hope it's not the case in London only, a place where the whole world is squeezed into one "small" city.
Another interesting thought I had in my mind... were opinions of people who spoke up. Inputs I heard were not quite the same as what I had experienced when being surrounded by the English or American culture. It also felt like it was quite opposite and unexplainable about various theories we are aware of that describe cultures.
It also feels like people have a big need to get an answer instantly. "Tell us why it is so! Tell us why they behave, react, and talk as they do? What is wrong, what is not? (Preferably tell us that THEY are wrong, WE are right).”
No culture is black and white. There are more than “50 shades of grey”, way more!
Yes, there are certain similarities that help us to differentiate cultures between themselves, shared at universal and collective levels. If we put 100 let’s say Norwegian people in the same room, they will have more similarities between them than in another room, full of let’s say Peruvians. However that does not mean that all 100 Norwegians will be the same, nor will 100 Peruvians.
The opinions exchanged in the meeting I attended prove that each of us is different and may approach cross-cultural situations differently. We are driven by our own experiences, motivation, personality and many other factors that shape us as human beings. And we have a right to differ, disagree, argue, but only if we respect each other and the right to disagree.
Any negative experience one may have had, may be neutral or positive for another person. It all depends what's there in their heads.
Here are a few questions I asked myself after the meeting that I want to leave unanswered, for individual reflections:
Should we comment on cross-cultural experiences as they were obvious, as they were the only right truth? What if they are “grey"? What if the situations presented are personal and should be considered as individual encounters rather than cultural? Can we give a definite answer to such questions, doubts, personal experiences?
A conclusion is optimistic. A discussion which had nothing or very little to do with cross-cultural aspects turned into a heated talk about intercultural differences and proved a general awareness of the above and a need to learn more in order to understand it deeper and better, and not only cope with it but most of all benefit from cultural differences. More to come!