World travel: the best way to get culturally competent

  • Posted on March 25, 2014

This is a guest blog post written by Avanade alum, Eddie Pate.

I think a lot about being culturally competent, which essentially means having the capacity to function effectively within the context of multiple cultural beliefs, behaviors and needs. I also spend a lot of time helping others understand what it means and takes to be culturally competent.  I ‘talk’ to my organization via trainings, dialogue sessions, etc. about the value of being culturally competent in an increasingly multicultural work environment and marketplace.  Seriously, this is a passion!

In the last three months, I’ve finally been able to experience an epiphany.  Yes, I experienced a multi-layered epiphany.  I’ve always understood conceptually that being culturally competent would be enhanced by experiencing difference first hand and globally.  This made total sense to me.   Although I never liked being away from my family, I have been able to travel to four different, but very cool, places for work in the last three months.  I went to Shanghai and Singapore last December, Sydney, Australia at the beginning of February and to London at the beginning of March.  In fact, I’m sitting in my hotel room in London as I write this blog post.

I’ve come to realize I really love experiencing difference.  I’m fascinated by everything from driving on the other side of the road, the language differences and/or the slang used, the food variations, having to learn to order a flat-white instead of a drip coffee, and so on.  It was amazing to see on the one hand how immense, colorful and vibrant Shanghai was, but on the other hand, how parts were clearly old, traditional, and, frankly, more of what I expected to see.   I was amazed at how utterly orderly Singapore is and come to understand via a great sociological conversation with a taxi driver about how this order came to be.  What we talked about can be learned via great tools like GlobeSmart, but capturing the nuance, the associated emotions, and the perspective of someone living it can’t be learned via reading.  Eye-opening!  I can go on but you get the picture.

Eddie Pate in London Eddie Pate in London

Another layer of my epiphany is that immersing oneself in situations of difference—being there—is a huge multiplier for developing cultural competence.  Look, I fully acknowledge that we are never done becoming culturally competent.  There will always be more to learn, more to experience, and more to take in but I’m 110% convinced that my understanding and appreciation for the power of difference has been propelled forward by actually experiencing the differences THERE while in Singapore, Shanghai, Sydney and the multiple places I visited in and around London.

I do not want anyone to think that they can’t learn about different cultures and people by reading, watching videos or using tools like GlobeSmart.  You absolutely can and I would obviously encourage you to do so.  My big ah-ha moment to share with you is in whatever form or fashion you can—whether in your backyard or globally somewhere—you need to get out of your comfort zone and experience difference.  It will be at that point that you will grow even more as a person, be able to help your organization understand the power of diversity even better or simply create an opportunity to experience an epiphany.  It is cool stuff.  My final advice is don’t wait, just do it or as I’ve learned to say while experiencing Sydney and London….just crack on!

Janna Carter

I absolutely agree. I would add that individuals who wish to grow in cultural competence should not spend mass amounts of time at tourist traps if the do get the chance to go somewhere, but to immerse themselves in the local culture and visit establishments where locals can be found. Thank you for this post and I encourage you to speak more on this often underappreciated topic

March 25, 2014

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