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Intercultural Sensitivity

Why do some cultures have more stuff, more things, aka a “higher” (more expensive) standard of living than other cultures?

gunsgerms_coverBecause their people are smarter? Because their people are physically stronger, genetically superior? Because their people work harder? Because their values are better? Because they got lucky? Why?

People in poor countries have lots of babies and short lives, right? Wrong. At least not anymore.

Hans Rosling’s 200 Countries, 200 Years, 4 Minutes (at Rosling’s Gapminder site where you can use or download his nifty bubble software)

Hans Rosling’s Debunking myths about the “third world” (at the TED site, which I highly recommend that you explore, if only for other Hans Rosling talks)

So why, then? Jared Diamond, a biologist who studies birds in New Guinea, was asked the Why question by Yali, one of the people of New Guinea who don’t have much stuff. Diamond’s answer to Yali is in a book Guns, Germs, and Steel, which was also a TV series, most of which is available on YouTube in three 6-part episodes.

Episode One: Out of Eden, Part I | Part II | Part III | Part IV

“Why is it that you white people developed so much cargo, but we black people had little cargo of our own?”

Diamond realized that Yali’s question penetrated the heart of a great mystery of human history — the roots of global inequality.

Why were Europeans the ones with all the cargo? Why had they taken over so much of the world, instead of the native people of New Guinea? How did Europeans end up with what Diamond terms the agents of conquest: guns, germs and steel? It was these agents of conquest that allowed 168 Spanish conquistadors to defeat an Imperial Inca army of 80,000 in 1532, and set a pattern of European conquest which would continue right up to the present day.

Diamond knew that the answer had little to do with ingenuity or individual skill. From his own experience in the jungles of New Guinea, he had observed that native hunter-gatherers were just as intelligent as people of European descent — and far more resourceful. Their lives were tough, and it seemed a terrible paradox of history that these extraordinary people should be the conquered, and not the conquerors.

To examine the reasons for European success, Jared realized he had to peel back the layers of history and begin his search at a time of equality — a time when all the peoples of the world lived in exactly the same way.

Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions

The most comprehensive, long-term study of culture is Geert Hofstede’s 35-year study based on a survey of IBM’s managers worldwide in the early 1970’s. Subsequent broad, long-range studies have confirmed and focused the findings. Hofstede has a terrific web site and several books, of which I give Culture and Organizations my highest recommendation. He makes his moneyconsulting with multi-national corporations, but the information is as applicable to what study-abroad students will find.

Americans studying abroad will tend to hang out with other international students. It takes more effort to venture out among the locals. Thus, while you must be sensitive to your host culture, you will also be relating to students from many different countries.

English will probably be the common language in a large, multi-cultural group. There will be side conversations in various other languages. But the English will be what native American English speakers might call broken English. There will be lots of “mistakes” that you will have to account for. In the other direction, you will become aware of how idiomatic your English is.

Geert Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions

International Business Etiquette and Manners’s applications of Hoftede’s dimensions to almost all of your countries or regions:AfricaBrazilChileChinaColombiaEgyptIndiaItalyJapanMexicoSaudi ArabiaSpainEurpoean Union – EU,AsiaEurope/RussiaLatin AmericaMiddle EastNorth AmericaSouth Pacific.

Michigan State’s International Center

A Conversation with Chinese & American Students

Navigating U.S. culture

Dubai court sentences couple for sex on beach
By Jeffrey Fleishman
Los Angeles Times, October 16, 2008

A British couple whose drunken escapade led to sex on the beach, tabloid headlines and a clash between Western permissiveness and Islamic values were sentenced today by a Dubai court to three months in prison.

Some General Differences Between Chinese And American Cultures

How Can I Help My Adjustment?

further results of search for < cultural differences between u.s. and [ your country ] >

India vs. China vs. Egypt
by Thomas L. Friedman
NY Times, February 5, 2013

What cultural features do people in foreign cultures need to be sensitive to?

  • Academic Standards and Practices—school system, courses of study, roles and responsibilities of students and teachers, level of family support, disciplinary procedures, literacy rate; comparison to our schools
  • Behaviors—how to handle oneself in social and emotional contexts; eye contact, communications, touching, friendship, loyalty, honor, age differences
  • Climate—weather patterns, seasons
  • Diet—foods, delicacies, dining etiquette, recipes
  • Ecology—native plants and wildlife
  • Family Structure and Values—roles and responsibilities of family members, “typical” households
  • Gender Roles—social and private, men and women’s role and responsibilities; work, dress, concept of beauty and modesty
  • Health and Medicine—personal hygiene, attitude toward doctors and medicine, types of health care, exposure to diseases and other health concerns
  • Inventions—famous scientists, contributions to the field of science
  • Judicial System—crime and punishment, criminal process
  • Key Words—Hello, Goodbye, Please, Thank you, Yes, No, How are You?—and other words of praise; phonetic spellings for pronunciations
  • Languages—written and oral, orthography
  • National Heroes—role models for children and/or adults
  • Occupations—work ethic, employment opportunities
  • Politics and Economics—current events that shape the personal identity and the world view of people of other cultures; economic status in the world; currency
  • Religions and Holidays—beliefs, dates and traditions
  • Sports—favorite sports, teams, and athletes; attitudes of fans; notable athletic events
  • Taboos—faux pas; the gestures and procedures that we use that people of other cultures may consider improper or insulting

Features especially relevant to this course:

  • Music—types of music and dancing, native instruments, influences on music of the world, famous musicians, performers
  • Visual Arts—types of visual arts, influences on art of the world, famous artists
  • Works of Literature—popular authors, popular stories and literature about or by the people of this country, types of poetry
  • Youth Culture—fashion, music, interests, trends and attitudes