My Top 10 Experiences in Cuba

davidlivermore | July 14th, 2017 No Comments

Guest Post By Giuliana Petrocelli

Last March, I left the country for the first time to travel to Cuba. Since I’m the kind of person who loves history and reading up on travel destinations, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what the trip would be like. But, as I learned, there is nothing like the real experience to gain new viewpoints.

Here were my top ten experiences:

1. Staying in a local home

We booked housing with a local resident in Centro Havana, which helped in our quest to live like the Cuban people. Our house “mom”, Maria, showed us our apartment and gave us directions to the local bank, currency exchange, restaurants, and stores.

Many Cuban locals choose to make their homes available for travelers to rent. Often, these “casa particulares” are much more affordable than hotels, and the fee directly supports the livelihood of the local population.

2. Eating at a casa particular

Some of the best food in Cuba can come from eating at casa particulares. Cubans open their homes to visitors and offer food for sale like a restaurant.

In one that we visited, we asked whether the family had ever traveled to the United States. A man spoke up and said that he had lived in the U.S. for three years. He said, “It was nearly impossible to get started in the country, with high rent and such a competitive work environment.” So, he moved back to Cuba, where he does not have to worry about being homeless and has more of a chance to enjoy himself in the culture that he loves.

We understood the friendly culture that he was referring to. When we asked where we could get some ice cream, he laughed at us and told us ice cream is for children, and that we should be going out to a bar. But then, he personally walked us to the door of a neighbor who sold scoops of ice cream from her home. Imagine opening your home to serve food to a foreign visitor! This was a welcoming way to experience the culture and community firsthand.

3. Talking to a local teacher

On one of our first days of travel, I must admit, we were cheated. We didn’t quite understand the exchange rate yet, so when a local schoolteacher invited us to his house for coffee, we didn’t understand that our “small donation” of 265 CUP (10 USD) that he requested was almost equivalent to the amount of money he made in a month. But still, talking to a local about his experience living in Cuba was worth the price. It was a small price to pay for his interesting insights.

Arriving at his home, we walked up an outdoor staircase and found a small group of rooms that his extended family shared. He showed us how to prepare authentic Cuban coffee, played us songs by Bob Marley, and turned on their box television to show us the limited channels they received. He explained that sometimes Cubans find a way to get channels like National Geographic, but that such piracy was illegal because it showed the outside world without the lens of the Cuban government.

Finally, he told us was hopeful that the relations between the United States and Cuba would improve to boost the local economy.

4. Learning about farming in Viñales

A popular destination for travel groups is the countryside, where you can visit tobacco farms. Cuba places a large emphasis on agriculture, since the island nation needs to support itself off the land as much as possible.

We toured beautiful acres of farmland on horseback, where the surrounding mountains of varied emerald hues were blanketed in a haze throughout the day. All the farmwork appeared to be done by hand with very little machinery, driving home the effects of Cuba’s limited modernization. The farmers showed us how to roll a cigar, and explained that they were able to keep 10% of their yearly tobacco harvest, while 90% was required to go to the government.

5. Seeing propaganda posters

As soon as we arrived, we were confronted with a large billboard right outside the airport that had a noose and the phrase “Bloque: El Genocido Más Largo de la Historia.” The message was clear.  The U.S. blockade on Cuba was believed to be equivalent to the suffering from a genocide. This was the most aggressive anti-American propaganda we observed. Many other posters had a positive message and were supportive of Cuban society, agriculture, and their political system. I remember looking out of the taxi and being shocked to see “Socialismo o Muerte!” (Socialism or Death!) painted across a wall.

6. Museo de la Revolución and Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes

These are two of Havana’s best-known museums, where we learned about the Cuban perspective of their nation’s history. It was interesting that at the Museo de la Revolución, Fidel Castro was painted as a liberator of Cuba, not the cruel dictator I grew up learning about.

At the Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes, I was surprised at the freedom of expression, as many of the artistic themes critiqued Cuban culture, political tensions, and liberation.

7. Watching a Cuban Movie

In order to understand the media environment, we watched a Cuban movie at a popularheater called Cine Yara. As expected, nothing playing in theaters was American content.

The film’s quality was similar to independent films in the U.S.. As a cinema major, I was intrigued by the fact that it centered around two older characters, since it is rare for Hollywood to give older actors starring roles.

Additionally, I was surprised at how often Cuban-American relations were addressed in the movie. Even in a film meant for entertainment, the characters joked about the differences between the two countries. Again, it drove home how intertwined our two countries are.

8. Old cars and American flags

A lasting effect of the Cuban blockade is a lack of imports, leading to many old U.S. cars being driven across the island. People say traveling to Cuba is like going back in time, but a better comparison might be that going to Cuba is like being in multiple time periods all at once. The streets were filled with everything from horse-drawn carriages to modern, shiny cars. This is paired with colorful street fashion, including Adidas and American flag apparel. To our shock, we saw more American flag clothing in Cuba than I ever have during a normal day in the U.S.

9. Wifi parks

One major concern for tourists traveling to Cuba is the limited internet access. It was interesting to observe the impact that this had on the culture. For one, when people used their phones without the internet, it was mostly for listening to music or taking pictures. This seemed to lead to more human interaction on the streets.

There were parks throughout the city where wifi could be purchased from “wifi dealers.” Many Cubans used the park to place FaceTime calls, although the hourly rate was expensive. We were also told that some people had internet access at their jobs, although little to no one had it in their homes.

10. Culture, period.

It’s hard to summarize exactly what makes up Cuban culture, but I was struck by the friendliness and happiness shown to us despite political differences. We feared that as Americans, we might not be well received in Cuba. But by the end of our stay, families that we had talked to greeted us on the street, locals offered to help us find food or salsa dancing lessons, and strangers even gave us a last-minute hitchhiking ride to the airport when we went to the wrong terminal.

Final Thoughts

Now, when I read about the new policy changes in relation to Cuba, I feel that I have a more educated understanding of the potential consequences because of my first-hand experiences. International travel has helped me understand both the commonalities and differences in the human experience, which I think is crucial to understand as an aspiring filmmaker. We observed the tensions between the local opinions of the U.S. and those of the Cuban government. We also came to understand the immense pride Cubans take in their country, despite its problems. From this first trip out of the U.S., I not only learned more about Cuba but also gained a new perspective of my own country. Seeing the impact the U.S.  has had on Cuba helps me understand our foreign policies as tangible realities rather than laws on paper.

As announced in June, U.S. travel restrictions are changing regarding Cuba. Despite requiring some research, you should make an effort to visit the island to learn about the culture and politics of this nation.

Giuliana is a 3rd year film student at University of Southern California.

A White Guy’s Humble Advice to Black Professionals…

davidlivermore | May 12th, 2017 No Comments

Last week I was at Indeed to speak to a group of black IT professionals about how to use cultural intelligence when trying to find their dream jobs. It’s one of those times when I was very aware of a question I’m often asked: “Isn’t it a little awkward talking about the topics of cultural intelligence and diversity as a white guy?”

It’s a fair question. Some of the things that emerge from our research and work are primarily theoretical concepts to me. I rarely worry about how my kids will be treated when they walk out the door. I never wonder if I was invited to speak somewhere so I can add a little diversity to the lineup of speakers. But I still have something to offer the conversation and so do you.

We’re never going to address the challenges of nationalism, cultural misunderstandings, and discrimination unless we all speak up. There are things I can contribute to the conversation that stem from my research and experiences. And there are things we need to hear firsthand from those who are often misrepresented or marginalized.

These realities were foremost in my mind as I thought about what to say to my colleagues of color at this recent gathering put on by Indeed, the number one job site in the world. Particularly in the world of tech, companies are chasing diverse candidates. But how can those candidates use CQ to help them find the kind of employer who will include their diverse perspectives as a critical part of their strategy rather than using them to up their diversity counts?

Questions to Assess an Employer’s CQ

I offered the following suggestions to my colleagues of color. I organized these around the four CQ capabilities with recommended questions for the job candidates to ask themselves and questions to ask their prospective employers.

  • CQ Drive: Your interest, persistence, and confidence during multicultural interactions

Ask Yourself: How can I leverage my ability to code-switch?

Although under-represented groups don’t automatically have higher CQ, most bring a lifetime of experience code-switching—learning how to change the way they speak and act based on the culture/s involved.  Understandably, some people of color resist the admonition to develop CQ. After all—they’re expected to be the ones adapting all the time and isn’t it time someone else did so? But consider how the ability to code-switch is a tremendous advantage. If you’re from an under-represented group, you can leverage this skill you’ve been developing all your life as an advantage to your career. In a world of mounting artificial intelligence, the ability to code-switch will set you apart.

Ask Employer: What are the characteristics of team members who are most difficult for you to manage?

Don’t ask whether your prospective employer is committed to diversity. Of course they’ll say yes to that, particularly when talking with someone who looks like you! But ask what characteristics are most difficult for them to deal with. Then ask them the reverse: What are the characteristics of team members who are easiest for you to manage? Pay attention to whether they primarily describe people like themselves and you’ll gain insight into their interest in adjusting to different cultures (CQ Drive).

And be sure to stalk your prospective boss on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.

How diverse are their social networks? Do they only follow people who look like and agree with them? Or is it hard to tell their political bent based on the diversity of people they follow?

  • CQ Knowledge: Your understanding of how cultures are similar and different

Ask Yourself: What do I know about the markets served by this company?

No job candidate can be expected to know the ins and outs of every culture. But take the time to see what key markets exist among the company’s customers. Even if you have limited direct experience working with many of those cultures, the cultural values of your own background may be much more similar to the cultures of these markets than what is true for other job candidates. For example, African Americans and Latinos place much greater importance on extended families and their communities than most Caucasians do. That means many African Americans and Latinos operate from a cultural value that is shared by 70% of the world (“collectivism”).

Ask Employer: What kinds of differences exist across the markets you serve?

Likewise, no boss can be expected to understand every culture either. But look for whether they have something more than a cursory understanding of cultural similarities and differences. For example, if your interviewer tells you that they design for Latino users differently than Caucasian ones, press further. How does that design further change when programming for a Brazilian user as compared to a Mexican one?

  • CQ Strategy: Your awareness and ability to plan for multicultural interactions.

Ask Yourself: How can I accurately identify biases without rushing to judgment?

When people of color are told that they’re “incredibly articulate” or have an “impressive resume” that’s often a signal that an interviewer is biased, and they may well be. But before you immediately assume your interviewer is making a biased statement, seek some additional information to test this further. Beware of confirmation bias in yourself as well as others—the tendency to look for and favor information that confirms what you already thought.

Ask Employer: Tell me about a project you managed that was different as a result of the diverse skill sets and perspectives involved?

Job candidates are advised to share concrete, specific examples rather than vague ones. Expect the same from your prospective boss and colleagues. Don’t settle for empty platitudes about the value of having a diverse team. How? What specifically has been different about an innovation or project because there were diverse people involved in the project?

  • CQ Action: Your ability to adapt when relating and working interculturally.

Ask Yourself: When should I adapt? Not adapt?

This is a tough one. Should an African American woman straighten her hair just to be “perceived” as more professional? Should you change your tone so others don’t interpret your communication as angry or militant? Each individual has to wrestle with what it means to remain true to one’s self while adapting just enough to be appropriate and respectful. And here’s where being a white guy can be a limiting factor because so many places I travel—even across the globe—people are quick to accommodate to my preferences. But it’s important for all of us to consider when adapting to others is a smart, strategic way to ensure our intentions are understood and when doing so is selling out. Find mentors to guide you through this discernment process.

Ask Employer: Whom have you promoted recently?

Don’t simply ask your prospective boss how they adapt their management style for people from different cultures. You have to be more coy than that. I recommend asking something more like the above question. The individuals they have promoted tell you something about what they value. Or you can ask them the reverse: Tell me about someone you hired that didn’t work out. Why? Listen for language like “She wasn’t a good fit.” “Fit” is often code for “She didn’t act like the rest of us.”

I’m well aware of my limitations in talking about how cultural intelligence applies to people of color. But I refuse to be a silent bystander and I’m continuing to learn what it means to be an ally.

Next month, we turn the tables and my colleague and friend, Dr. Sandra Upton will share “A Black Woman’s Advice to White Professionals.”

Wait, What? What Smart Phones do to our CQ

davidlivermore | April 13th, 2017 No Comments

Wait, What? What Smart Phones do to our CQ

Part of this article came together for me in the shower. Why is it that ideas so often come to us while doing mundane tasks? It’s because moments of boredom free up our mind to think creatively. And regular bouts of boredom play a powerful role in building cultural intelligence (CQ).

Yet who has time to be bored these days? As I travel across the U.S. and around the world rarely, if ever, do I see people who are bored. Thank you smart phones!

You can fast forward through the boring commercials watching your favorite show, pass the time waiting in line by scrolling through your social media feed, or sit through a religious service or class by surfing the web and texting. I’ve even seen security personnel and traffic cops using their phones to alleviate boredom. I recently stayed at a hotel in Kuala Lumpur where a VIP was staying. Security was everywhere. Yet several of the security officers were leaning against the wall scrolling through their phones every time I walked by them.

Our smart phones are an insurance policy against ever being bored. And granted, not everyone across the world has a smart phone. I still catch glimpses of elderly people in certain communities who are simply sitting outside doing “nothing.” But the reality is, most of us reach for our phones whenever there’s a minute to spare.

Boredom is directly linked to creativity and innovation. Researchers Sandi Mann and Rebekah Cadman conducted a study where a group of participants were asked to come up with creative ideas for how to use a pair of plastic cups. Prior to the brainstorming session, one group of participants was asked to copy numbers from a phone book while a control group was not given the boring task. The group who slogged through the phone book assignment came up with more creative ways to use the plastic cups than the others.

What our brains want is new input—fresh, stimulating, and social. But our smart phones spare us the hard work to get that new input and thereby lessen our creative insights. Creativity and cultural intelligence are directly linked. Accomplishing the same task with a group of individuals who have a different set of cultural values requires a creative, culturally intelligent approach, something described in our most recent book Driven by Difference.

But there are a few other seminal issues we need to consider when pondering the relationship between boredom, smart phones, and CQ.

  • Sense of Self

Without boredom, we’re less likely to think about our inner lives. The very starting point of cultural intelligence is awareness of one’s own background, implicit biases, and cultural identity. Sherry Turkle, one of the foremost social scientists studying the impact of technology, describes her observation from doing extensive research on how adolescents and young adults relate to their smart phones.  Most of the students she interviewed see their phones as an extension of themselves. They describe a sense of panic when their phone is dying and they don’t have a way to charge it. In her book, Reclaiming Conversation, Turkle writes,

I see how happy these students are [with their phones]. They like moving in and out of talk, text, and images; they like the continual feed. And they like always having someplace else to go. They say that their greatest fear is boredom. If for a moment students don’t find enough stimulation in the room, they go to the chat. If they don’t find the images compelling, they look for new ones.” (p. 10)

But don’t be too quick to pin this all on the younger generation. The average U.S. adult checks their phone every 6.5 minutes. There’s little need to pay attention to what’s going on within you when the world is at your fingertips.

  • Perspective Taking

Allowing for boredom increases the capacity for empathy and perspective taking. Perspective taking is the capability to step outside ourselves and imagine the emotions, perceptions, and motivations of another. It goes beyond the platonic admonitions of cultural sensitivity programs that teach “respect for everyone.” Instead, perspective taking steps into the shoes of others and realizes they may not want to be treated the same way I do. Sitting on a bus in a new place and watching the people around me offers me all kinds of insights I miss when my head is buried in my phone.

There’s mounting research that reports a 40% drop in empathy among college students in the past 20 years, as measured by standard psychological tests. Social scientists suggest this drop in empathy correlates with the spike in online, mediated communication by both students and the parents who raised them. Many kids are growing up in homes where parents don’t get through dinner without stopping to read and respond to text messages.

It’s tough to enter the shoes of another person when you’re phubbing—the skill of maintaining eye contact while texting. It’s difficult to understand your colleague’s point on a global call when you’re simultaneously emailing while “listening” to them. It’s difficult to fully engage with an unfamiliar culture when you’re still fully immersed in the world of email and social media updates from home. Boredom allows you to look around and observe details and nuances you miss when multi-tasking as you engage with others. And this leads to one more critical issue.

  • Face-to-Face Conversations, “Wait, What?”

Teens and 20-somethings told Turkle that the most commonly heard phrase at dinner with friends is “Wait, What?” And this is happening as much among 30 and 40-somethings as it is among teenagers. More and more conversations are extremely fragmented because everyone is in and out of the conversation at hand. Everyone is always missing a beat because of being available to everyone else who isn’t physically together.

The beauty of smart phones is the way they allow us to retain connection and relationship with people who are far away from us. It’s what our phones do to our in-person conversations that is a problem. Studies show that the mere presence of a phone on a table (even turned off) changes how people talk. If two people are talking and there’s a phone sitting on the table, each feels less connected to the other.

Being constantly available to everyone else means I’m only partially available to the people in my presence.  And cultural intelligence is best developed face-to-face, one conversation at a time.

  • You’re in Charge, not Your Phone

Rest easy. I’m not interested in launching a campaign to ditch smart phones…as if that would have any success even in my own household. But it’s time we consider more seriously the ubiquitous ways our phones are changing our lives, relationships, and ways of engaging with one another.

The ability to text my college age daughter from across the world makes me feel closer to her. And the fact that I can easily contact my aging mother, wherever I am in the world, is a gift I treasure. But we need to get serious about taking charge of our phones and putting them down to engage in real, face-to-face conversation, force ourselves to sit on a bus with nothing to do, and know when to fully unplug.

I just read an interview with Barbara Corcoran, Shark Tank’s real estate guru who said, “When I get home at night, I focus 100 percent on my family. There’s dinner, the usual homework, bedtime routines….but at night I don’t check emails or answer the phone. I plug the phone into the charger at the front door, and the next morning I grab it as I walk out the door. I realized a while back that the constant flow of emailing and texting was my personal enemy and I declared war.”

Wait, what? You can do that??

Hang on, I just got a text….