How to Deal with Cultural Misunderstanding: Intercultural Thinking Training at the Amani Institute
October 1, 2013
This post was written by Loubna Sadiki, currently a student in our Certificate in Social Innovation Management program. Originally from Morocco but living in the United States, Loubna is passionate about addressing climate change and sustainable development.
Having been born and raised in Morocco and lived in America, working and living in Nairobi, Kenya, for few months has been a dream come true. But although I knew I might face some challenges living in Kenya, I didn’t think they would be related to cultural issues since I am an African myself. Thus, I was really happy when Aleksandra Tor (Ola), an intercultural trainer, recently visited the Amani Institute to deliver a workshop on how to improve our intercultural communication. Because I have, in fact, faced many cross-cultural challenges in Kenya, One of the major challenges I faced after my first month in Nairobi was time keeping. Kenyans like to do things at a slow pace while enjoying their time; they like chatting here and there and making jokes. If you try to rush them, they may think you are rude. In addition, if you have a meeting with someone, you might expect to wait for at least 30min (in my case, it was once 2 hours). This might come without any warning from the person you are waiting for. One reason for this punctuality issue in Nairobi is traffic. Many use it as an excuse but if you spend some days in the city you would understand that it is actually a major problem that keeps people on the road for few hours. Sometimes, you can spend 2 to 3 hours just in traffic; especially when it rains. These types of experiences, if you are not used to them, might get under your skin, and you realize that things will not get done on time. Consequently, you might have conflicts with people you are working with. Thus, to help us understand why we have cultural misunderstandings in a new environment, we have to understand that culture doesn’t have one universal perception or meaning. Culture is like an iceberg, as Ola reminded us; most of its components are below water. Some are understood and physically noticed such as food, music and clothes but others like religion and daily practices are not visible on the surface. We need to dive a bit deeper to find them. So here are 3 Tips on how to improve our intercultural communication:
- Keep practicing the 3 intercultural competencies: attitudes (how we react to things, adaptability, curiosity), knowledge (do your homework before visiting a country), and skills (photography, negotiating, etc).
- Learn to adapt to new situations.
- You will always have intercultural misinterpretation in a new environment, so try to minimize it as much as you can by avoiding traps that you can prepare for beforehand.