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A Guide To Asking Culturally Intelligent Questions As You Travel

davidlivermore | May 26th, 2020 No Comments

Guest post written by Emily Livermore, Content Developer, Cultural Intelligence Center

I was 10 years old the first time I visited China. I had spent significant time in Southeast Asia before that, but my family’s trip to Kunming was one of the first times I remember noticing the significant “Otherness” of the food, city, and culture. My parents always sought out opportunities for our family to engage with culture no matter where we were. This trip to China was no different. 

Upon arrival in Kunming, I’m exhausted and already missing my friends back home when my dad tasks each family member with coming up with 10 observations about this new place by dinner. (It really wouldn’t be a Livermore family trip without some sort of CQ® homework assignment.)

On the drive from the airport to the hotel, I stared out the window collecting observations. I remember observing the overwhelming number of street dogs, the masses of motorbikes, and cars that had every window tinted black. The great thing about actively making observations is that they inevitably lead to questions. Why are there so many stray dogs? Why is the motorbike the preferred mode of transit? Why are drivers allowed to tint all of their windows? 

The nice thing about being 10 years old is that you aren’t expected to have a filter yet. loved asking questions, and being in an unfamiliar place was a breeding ground for this innate curiosity. It was a constant cycle of observing my surroundings and asking whatever popped into my head. 

Today at 22 years old, so many of my questions can be directed to Google but, for the ones that can’t, what’s the etiquette for asking questions as an adult when you’re in an unfamiliar place?

Though my parents don’t “assign” my sister and me cultural exercises anymore, observing and asking questions is still core to how we continue to explore the world together. But there are new approaches I’ve learned as an adult to ensure this practice is both meaningful and culturally intelligent.

What are the right questions to ask? 

In my experience, the most meaningful questions open dialogue or lead to additional questions. A meaningful question has answers that give you value beyond a tidbit of new information. 

Let’s say you are working in Indonesia with a Muslim colleague who is gay. You may be wondering about this colleague’s experience as a gay individual in the most populous Muslim country in the world. This is definitely a meaningful question, but it’s also tricky because it can be a sensitive topic. To address this, try de-personalizing the question. Instead of asking about their personal experience coming out, start with something like How do most parents here respond when they learn their child is gay? If this colleague is an indirect communicator, you may want to distance the question even further by asking What’s something you wish more people realized about your culture? And you can always give your colleague an out by adding No need to answer if it makes you uncomfortable

The other thing to keep in mind in asking meaningful questions while you travel is making sure the question you are asking does not make an assumption of its own. We make assumptions all the time without even knowing it. 

For example, one of my first times in Costa Rica, after a couple of meals out, my family noticed that the servers were bringing the check to my mom instead of my dad. This prompted my mom to ask, I wonder if the woman is considered the head of the family here?  The question was prompted after only two instances. In my mother’s defense, this is extremely easy to do. We all actively look for patterns to learn more about the culture surrounding us when we travel, and when something unusual happens a couple of times in a row, it can prompt some assumptions. One way to turn this kind of observation into a more meaningful insight is to take a step back. Try asking your server or another friendly local, So in my culture, the bill often goes to the most senior person at the table. Is there any standard practice regarding who receives the bill here? Alternatively, you could broaden the conversation to other Ticos you meet throughout your trip. What assumptions do people make about who pays the bill at a restaurant? Does the type of restaurant influence the custom? What if it’s a foreign family versus a local one? The answers will reveal more about the culture and may even teach you some local customs as compared to if you had stuck with my mom’s original question, in which case the only takeaway may be that you just jumped to conclusions too quickly. 

Knowing the right questions to ask is just half of the challenge for the culturally intelligent traveler. It’s just as important to understand…

When is it right to ask them?  

Determining the right and wrong moments to ask your questions falls almost entirely on one key factor: Context

What’s your relationship with the individual(s) you want to ask? Are you at a business meeting or in a social setting? Are you in a cultural context where gender may make a significant difference? How familiar are you with the cultural context? 

These are all questions you should be asking yourself to determine if and when you are in an appropriate context, ask someone a cultural question. 

Questions can make people feel defensive, but without them, we learn little from our travels. There are no hard and fast rules about the right and wrong moments to ask someone a cultural question, but there are some guidelines you can follow to help you distinguish between safe and risky contexts for your questions. 

Here are two lists to help you:

Safe Contexts for Asking Questions

  • You are with a small group of locals or one-on-one
  • You are with peers
  • You have established a friendly relationship with the individual(s) 
  • The context is relaxed, low stress
  • You are aware of communication style differences in the room
  • The individual(s) you are with are already discussing their culture/customs

Risky Context for Asking Questions

  • You are with a large group of people
  • You are with professional superiors or elders
  • You just met the individual(s) involved 
  • The context is high stakes (e.g., negotiating a business deal)
  • There is a language barrier, and you are not sure you can communicate your question clearly

Cultural intelligence allows you to pick up on social cues and body language to give you the information you need to decide when to ask your questions. And even if you misjudge a situation, usually the worst that will happen is an awkward moment that makes for a good learning experience. I’ve certainly had my fair share of miscommunications but not nearly enough to cancel out the cultural insights I’ve gained from persistently asking questions as I travel around the world. 

This article is inspired by some of the content in David Livermore’s newest book, The Curious TravelerFilled with anecdotes and practical advice, the book discovers the links between curiosity, CQ®, and travel. Available for purchase now. 

Read more from Emily Livermore here

For more information about the book check out this Q+A with Dave below!




Cultural Bloopers & Misgivings from an Experience in America

davidlivermore | April 11th, 2018 No Comments

Guest Post By Helga Evelyn Samuel

So, you speak English and you think a trip to an English-speaking country cannot be that hard, right? Surely not, because you’ve been there several years ago. On a recent work trip, I discovered, however, that such assumptions are quite careless at the least.

After a couple of days in a room full of North Americans (well, almost!), eating out with the group and socializing in the process, staying at a Canadian-Venezuelan’s place, and navigating through unfamiliar streets, here are some observations from my brief tryst with the American culture:

1. Assumptions are unwise. Never assume that everything is going to be like back home just because the people in the country presumably speak the same language as you! Expect everything to be different: right from the pedestrian crossing symbols to the way people cross roads to the food habits to mannerisms and customs, to the way people mean and interpret the same English you speak!

2. A little preparation goes a long way. Do your homework! So, you think why should you go prepared for a short work trip? What could possibly go wrong in just a few days, right? Actually, anything could go wrong depending on what the purpose of your trip is, who you are meeting, what important deals you are signing et al. When you go abroad on a work trip, you represent your company, and often times your country. You need to do some homework on what you could expect: talk to others who have been there before you, take some reading material on the country you are visiting with you on your plane ride. Also: know enough about your host country you are currently residing in if you are an expat.

3. Allow room for little surprises. How do you lock the bathroom door in your host’s old apartment? Which way do you turn the knob and why doesn’t it lock when you do it the way you do in Europe (panic attack!)? Step into the shower–now, which way does this knob turn? After fumbling a while and breaking into a cold sweat in the process, you manage to solve this great mystery! You later discover after a demo from the host on locking the bathroom door, that the last couple of times you had actually been very unsuccessful! Thankfully, nobody was home at that time! (Phew!) In the kitchen, you debate whether the water from the faucet is safe to drink, and when you reassure yourself that it cannot go wrong, you look in disgust at the very murky, gray-white liquid you’ve collected and are unsure if drinking it is going to kill you! (your gracious hosts later inform you that although water from the tap is safe, they filter it in this fascinating looking water container- and presto, that murky effect magically disappears!) Then you decide to make a sunny side up for breakfast, only to find that the mechanism of turning the knob on the stove is slightly different from what you do back home in Europe. Because within seconds you are nauseous by this overpowering smell of cooking gas. Not intending to set the host’s house on fire, you decide to safely settle for a banana for breakfast that morning! Fast forward to the day of conference. You need a coffee fix, and wander around looking for a stirrer. You find these strange, narrowly constricted white hollow tubes with bright red stripes that resemble straws. Surely these couldn’t be stirrers. They remotely bear any resemblance to the wooden, flat stirrers you are used to. Not wanting to look like an idiot, you politely ask a new friend where the stirrers are: he informs you that those narrow straw-like things are indeed the stirrers (hot flush of embarrassment!) Later you find out that the very same hotel has placed the familiar flat wooden stirrers on a shiny, jet black tray carrying your all-day coffee/tea (aka caffeine fix) supplies! Ha! You look at the familiar with a large toothy grin and run your fingers down the wooden stirrer and go ‘Sigh, just like back home!” The familiar somehow makes the heart very happy. Even something as small and silly as a mundane coffee stirrer! (tears of joy!)

4. An overdose of friendliness. The contrast is so stark that you simply cannot miss it! In The Netherlands, smiles are only reserved for people you know, people do not normally smile at strangers and very rarely exchange small talk. Those travelling by public transport always appear solemn and seldom indulge in any chitchat. A train/bus/tram ride to anywhere can be eerily silent (comfortably if you are used to it!), unless friends or family members ride together. Then you travel to the United States where everyone right from the doorman, the chauffeur, the Target store shop assistants, to even random strangers on the street are SO friendly and warm! On your first day, you are a bit suspicious since this behavior is not normal to you. By the end of the week however, you enjoy the warmth of the people so much that you suffer a temporary memory lapse at Schiphol airport in Amsterdam: you flash a big smile and offer a ‘Hey, how are you?’ to a total stranger waiting in line at the immigration. However, your polite overture is met by a shuffling of feet and a suspicious sideways glance (Ha, she probably thought you were nuts!)

5. Unfamiliar pedestrian signals. At first you are confused by the unfamiliar ‘white man walking’ and ‘red hand’ road crossing signals. In The Netherlands, these are a ‘green man walking’ and a ‘red man waiting’. And what does the countdown after the red hand mean? That this is your last chance to run for your life across the road? You look to fellow pedestrians for cues and find some sprint across quickly. You step forward to follow suit when you notice a car turns into your road during the countdown. A bit baffled and shaken, you adamantly decide to freeze in position on the sidewalk till you see the safe ‘white man walking’ signal again (shudder!). You do want to make it home in one piece after all! In The Netherlands and particularly in Germany, most people adhere to the pedestrian crossing rules. People respect the ‘red man waiting’ signal that they rarely cross–not even when there are no vehicles on the road!

6. Shocking supermarket facts. You wander around in Target trying to spot familiar groceries, let out an audible gasp at the unbelievably overpriced feta cheese, peppers, and salad ingredients. You are surprised by the numerous bread assortments–everything appears intriguing and some look rather unappetizing. You are impressed by the very friendly woman at the counter who even bags your grocery contents. In The Netherlands, the customer must hurriedly transfer her grocery contents into bags, so the next customer can be served immediately thereafter. A newcomer to the country has to learn to quickly shove grocery contents into shopping bags or be prepared to meet some impatient, disgruntled customers waiting in line. (Don’t tell anyone but you recruit your kids to bag the groceries with an ice cream bribe. It works like a charm every time!)

7. A warning to the foodies. Oh, the food! You are utterly delighted by the sinful array of culinary indulgences in the U.S. and eagerly dig into the large portion sizes. This is foodie H(E)AVEN (caps on intentionally)! Having been raised Indian, it is unconsciously ingrained in your mind to never waste any food on your plate (“Remember the many starving poor in India!”, your parents solemnly reminded you while growing up) and you gladly oblige–this is good stuff, after all! A week later though, when it is time to fly back home, you discover when your jeans tightly hug your lower body like a boa constrictor how quickly those extra pounds add up. Yikes!

8. Now, did you say English is universal? After a wonderful few days of getting to know new acquaintances and friends, you go around saying your goodbyes. Remember those familiar yet vital four and a half words that you reserve only for people you really like and want to sincerely make an effort to be in touch with? The magical “Let’s keep in touch!” You generously dish it out to a couple of people in the room with absolute genuineness. Only to find out much later that this sentence actually means “Goodbye, I DON’T like you that much!” in America! You recoil in horror at the subtle message you’d sent that week to the amazing, warm, friendly people whose company you had thoroughly enjoyed! (Oh nooo!)

9. Are colleagues friends? You learn that in America, colleagues rarely socialize or stay in touch as friends. They make acquaintances easily but rarely make ‘friends’ among colleagues. Such a stark contrast to The Netherlands where colleagues socialize every Friday night over the famed Dutch ‘borrel’: when drinks and conversations freely flow over raucous background music. Even strikingly different from your experience with former German colleagues you briefly worked with, who have been in touch since nearly twenty years when life took you places and are cherished friends. Some so close that you fondly call them ‘family’. Now, how do you define the connections with these delightful people you briefly hung out with in America? Colleagues? Acquaintances? Friends? How do you follow through on your word to ‘stay in touch’ with them? Your brain is certainly muddled dealing with this.

10. A little lesson on culture. Now, what do you do when the opportunity arises to travel back into the same country? A culturally intelligent person learns from previous mistakes, mentally readjusts to expectations, and applies past learnings to new experiences while still keeping an open mind to learn something new. It is important to remember, however, that your past experiences are not standards for others to gauge theirs against. Your experience does not necessarily have to be similar to another’s. It is also absurd to base your opinion on a country or its people from a few subjective experiences, so don’t be too hasty to translate your experiences into a “Do’s and Don’ts” list for that country. Be open to the sights, sounds and sensations that a new place brings. Dive in fearlessly, be prepared to fall on your face a couple of times, laugh about it, and learn from it. Have an open mind and a receptive heart. Savor the similarities. Respect the differences. Embrace the change.

Note: This article is purely based on personal experience and is merely written to entertain. However, some generalized content offers insight into learning how to deal with new and unfamiliar cultures.

  Helga Evelyn Samuel is the Founder & CEO of Curry & Culture Company based in The Netherlands, as well as a CQ Certified Advanced Professional.

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.

How Stress Can Lower Your Cultural Intelligence

davidlivermore | August 11th, 2016 No Comments

Working with people from highly diverse backgrounds is rewarding but tough. Even those of us who are energized by cross-cultural work have to work harder when we work with people who have a different way of thinking and behaving than we do. And the more you’re under stress, the harder the work becomes. What begins as simply an interesting consideration of how different cultures approach queuing in a line or expressing an emotion, suddenly becomes irritating.

Even the most culturally intelligent among us may see our CQ Drive plummet when stressed. CQ Drive is your level of interest and motivation for working and relating with people from diverse backgrounds.

Try these 5 steps to build your CQ Drive in the midst of stress and fatigue:

1. Be aware of your triggers

The first step lies in being honest with ourselves. Grandiose, politically correct statements about being colorblind or viewing everyone the same do little to improve cultural intelligence. Instead, we need to be aware of the behaviors that are most likely to trigger our frustration and consider which cultures we most often associate with those behaviors. For example, how do you feel when you encounter these behaviors?

  • Someone speaking too fast/slow
  • Use of profanity
  • Cutting in line
  • Multi-tasking in a meeting
  • Never speaking up on a global call
  • Introducing one’s self with a formal title (or not doing so)

Many of these behaviors may not faze you when you’re well rested and have a positive outlook. But the same behaviors can strike a raw nerve when you’re tired and under pressure. Being more self-aware of your triggers is the first step to avoid behaviors like these dictating your mood and response.

2. Recognize your limits

Working on a project with a group of diverse colleagues requires more emotional and cognitive effort than doing so as part of a homogenous team. You have to adapt the way you present your ideas and accommodate the preferences of others. And that adaptation demands a different degree of self-regulation and willpower.

The more we must adapt to the perspectives and styles of others, the more it depletes our energy. This is one of the reasons why underrepresented groups find such great relief in coming together through employee resource groups or settings that are uniquely theirs (e.g., a gay bar, an African American worship service, etc.). At last, they’re in a space where they can let down their guard and reduce the amount of filtering and code switching they have to do.

In the very same way a rigorous, physical workout uses up some of our physical energy, the same is true for the emotional and mental energy that’s used for working and relating cross-culturally.

3. Don’t eat the second donut

The good news is, the more you exercise the self-control required for intercultural situations, the more you’ll strengthen those muscles for future encounters. One of the most highly regarded researchers studying self-regulation is Roy Baumeiester, who notes that willpower is like a muscle. The willpower muscle gets tired after being used for an extended period of time. However, regular and increased use over time also increases the strength and endurance of your ability to regulate your thinking and behavior.

One of the most encouraging findings from Baumeister’s research is that exercising the willpower muscle in one area appears to carry over to other areas. So when you exercise willpower by doing your morning workout, or resisting the second donut, or staying off email all evening, that same willpower will help you persevere through cross-cultural challenges in the midst of stress.

4. Recharge

Next, be aware of what builds up your motivational reserves and what depletes them. My initial research related to cultural intelligence was focused on the experience of short-term, itinerant travelers—including study abroad students, business travelers, and short-term missionaries. I used to urge North Americans to stay away from McDonalds when traveling abroad and instead, only eat at local establishments so they could truly experience the culture. However, over the years, I’ve observed how a familiar meal can do wonders for helping a traveler reboot.

Figure out what’s most important for you in recharging your batteries physically, emotionally, and mentally—whether it’s a familiar food, planning some alone time, or ensuring you get some time with people more similar to yourself. And recognize the importance of building up your reserve for the perseverance required to relate and adapt effectively with people from diverse backgrounds.

5. Plan ahead

Finally, be proactive by anticipating the kinds of encounters and responsibilities that will be most draining for you. When I go overseas, I try to build in an extra day at the front end to get acclimated to the time zone and my surroundings before having to jump into whatever I’m there to do. One of my colleagues prefers to do the opposite. She builds in a day at the back end of work trips and by doing so, it helps her persevere through some of the hard work by knowing what she has to look forward to at the end. If you’re going to be teaching a class with a diverse group of students and know you will need to significantly adapt your typical teaching style, plan ahead for how to build in additional time to refill your emotional tank.

Sometimes, diversity and global management professionals take our CQ Assessment and they’re surprised to see they didn’t score higher on CQ Drive, the indication of their interest and motivation for relating and working cross-culturally. After all, this is a crucial part of their jobs! But after additional reflection, these individuals often recognize that while they’re deeply committed to the value and importance of intercultural relationships and work, they may have underestimated how taxing the work has been on them, particularly if they continually experience resistance from others.

Your emotional and physical health plays a critical role in your cultural intelligence. Create a plan for how to do strength training for working and relating cross-culturally. And be gentle with yourself when you find you’re more irritated than usual from seemingly minor differences. Take a deep breath, go for a walk, or curl up for a nap, all in the name of improving your CQ!

When Does Cultural Immersion Go Too Far?

davidlivermore | April 18th, 2016 8 Comments



It’s easy to travel far away from home and experience very little of the local culture.

Study abroad students are encouraged to get off Snapchat and soak up the local culture.

Business travelers are told to go beyond the hotel lounge to meander through the local streets.

And staff and students are told to move outside their in-groups and interact with peers who are different from them.

This comes pretty naturally for me. I describe myself on my Twitter bio as “insatiably curious” and my family shares my curiosity for all things cross-cultural. Whenever we travel together, we try to encounter the local culture up close. We prefer to stay in locally run hotels or better yet, we usually rent an apartment or house in a local neighborhood.

We did this a couple weeks ago when we took a brief vacation together in Panama. We stayed in an apartment in Panama City and rented a little house in Bastimentos, a coastal village on the Carribean side of the country. We asked locals to tell us their favorite places to eat and we used public transit. When the water stopped running for awhile in Panama City, we asked our neighbors what to do.

As much as I loved being in the cosmopolitan world of Panama City, I particularly enjoyed visiting Bastimentos, a sleepy island that is only accessible by boat taxi. Soon after we arrived in Bastimentos, we headed into Old Bank, the little town on the island that has a mini supermarket, a few cafes, a couple churches, a police station, and no cars. I felt completely alive. This was a curious traveler’s dream! Most everyone we walked by appeared to be locals. And given that there are no cars or roads, it was pretty tough to walk around without seeing the culture up close. While trying not to stare, it was impossible not to get a glimpse right inside people’s homes where men were chasing chickens, women were bathing their children, and teenagers were heading off to school up the hill.

Whoa! And all of this was just a short flight away from the U.S.! It was intoxicating!

But then…I started to wonder if we were intruding. The pathways around the island went right alongside people’s homes. Our home in Michigan sits alongside 11 acres (45,000 m2) of public woods and I was trying to imagine how I would feel if I looked out my window and saw a Panamanian family strolling by our house with smart phones in hand.

Bastimentos has only recently been discovered by travelers like us. We had lunch one day at a local café. We were the only foreigners there. We started talking with the grandmother who runs it. She’s lived on this land her entire life and we asked her how she felt about people like us coming to her village. What’s she supposed to say, right? But in between her hospitable welcome, we picked up on her growing concern that gringos are taking over the island. She was grateful for the new opportunities for business—though she said most of the foreigners simply stay and eat at other foreigner’s businesses. And she wonders what her homeland will look like in the years ahead.

These same realities happen closer to home. A neighborhood near us is often lauded as a compelling picture of revitalization. It’s gone from having little more than a liquor store to being filled with hip boutiques, coffee shops, and foodie haunts along with lofts and condos. A woman who has lived there her entire life recently said, “I don’t feel comfortable walking around my own neighborhood anymore. I suddenly feel like an outsider and like I’m invading the newcomers’ community.”

There’s a lot of useful research that analyzes the complexities related to tourism and gentrification. We ought to resist easy answers and I’m certainly not suggesting we should all stick to ourselves and leave others well enough alone. But for curious travelers like me, our CQ Drive—the interest and motivation to engage with different cultures, must be combined with CQ Strategy—the ability to plan accordingly in light of the cultural context.

Vincent Mattox, an administrator from Kentucky State University attended our CQ Certification program last week. Vince introduced me to the idea of “delayed curiosity”. He suggests that while curiosity about other cultures is a good thing, it runs the risk of being offensive and may sometimes need to be restrained. Vince agrees that political correctness is not the way to create a culturally intelligent environment, however, he sees the importance of tempering our expressions of curiosity when we aren’t sure how our questions and observations might impact others. Just think of the wildly-popular video where the Caucasian runner asks an Asian-American woman, “Where are you from?” Curiosity is a huge asset for creating the necessary interest and motivation for working and relating with people from different cultural backgrounds; but it needs to be guided by the other three CQ capabilities—knowledge, strategy, and behavior.

I will continue to advocate for getting to know a culture up close and moving beyond surface-level encounters. But I’m going to think further about when I need to delay my curiosity or even give up some of the cultural experiences I’d like to have because they may do more harm than good.

When has your curiosity gone too far? How do you encourage others to get outside their comfort zones without needlessly making another uncomfortable? My curious mind wants to know!

Growing Up Between Smalltown USA and Singapore

davidlivermore | June 9th, 2015 5 Comments

[Guest Post by Emily Livermore]


The feeling of a plane’s descent hits me one of four ways. One: I’ve just arrived at a new destination and can’t wait to immerse myself in the multisensory experience. Two: I’ve just returned home and I can’t wait to be in my own bed. Three: How am I going to kill several hours during this layover? Or four: Panic sets in. I might not make my next flight!

These sentiments have become extremely familiar to me because my family has spent a lot of time travelling and living overseas. Our travels have taken us all over the world, but whether we’re there for a few days or several months, we make every effort to live like the locals and bring a part of every place home with us. From learning to make Argentinian stew in Buenos Aires to creating stationery from elephant dung in Lampang, Thailand or riding public transit in Sydney, I always come home a different person than I left. But the thing that usually causes me the most culture shock is arriving back home.

The place I call home is East Grand Rapids, Michigan. This quaint little town is where my family lives between our overseas adventures, and it’s a stark contrast from most of the other places I’ve been. Consider, for example, the contrasts between life in East Grand Rapids with life in Singapore, the other city where I’ve spent the most time growing up. East Grand Rapids is a quaint little town of 11,000 people, 96.3% of whom are white. Winters are long and cold, the biggest event of the year is the high school football season, and the restaurants mostly serve comfort foods like burgers and pastas. Singapore is a massive, cosmopolitan city-state with a population of 5 million people made up of mostly Chinese, Malays, and Indians but with over a million people from other places around the world as well. The weather is tropical, the city never sleeps, and the eating options are truly endless with a side of chili sauce available for most every dish. Being in both places feels “normal” to me, but I haven’t always felt that way.

For awhile, I hated leaving Michigan to go back to Singapore. I had to say goodbye to my friends, our Michigan home, and my favorite Western foods. But in middle school that changed. Our trip to Singapore included some side excursions to China and Malaysia and it was the first time I remember really enjoying the novelty of each place we went. I tried whatever foods I could, learned to use chopsticks, and picked up some Mandarin and Malay. When we returned to the States, I made a 180-degree turn. I was suddenly thirsty for more diversity in my middle school and I didn’t want to be surrounded by all the familiar faces and language of East Grand Rapids! I moved from hating Singapore to hating East Grand Rapids and I couldn’t wait for another chance to leave home. It wasn’t until much later I began to realize both cities are rich with beauty.

East Grand Rapids has a culture of its own; it just took me a while to see it. There’s a history and way of doing things that I missed during my years of loathing life in Michigan. But I’ve come to see that understanding other cultures begins with understanding my own. This realization helped me become more open minded at home as well as overseas.

Learning to understand, appreciate and embrace the vastly different worlds of East Grand Rapids and Singapore is core to who I am. I never feel entirely at home in either place because I’m always missing the other one. But I wouldn’t trade it for the world. It has shaped me to seek beauty and depth in the foreign and the familiar and to bridge otherwise seemingly disparate ideas, people and places. It seems to me, that’s what cultural intelligence is all about.


Emily Livermore is starting at University of Southern California this Fall to pursue a degree in cinematic arts. She has a passion to create meaningful films that speak to diverse audiences around the world.

10 Things Culturally Intelligent Travelers Do

davidlivermore | June 6th, 2014 6 Comments

Some have said, “International travelers are like dogs in an art museum. They see everything and appreciate nothing.” But it doesn’t have to be that way, In fact, when approached with intentionality and reflection, traveling abroad is positively related to all four capabilities of cultural intelligence. Here are ten things culturally intelligent travelers do before and while they travel abroad:

1.     Search the Web Intelligently
The culturally intelligent use the power of the internet to do a quick purview of the history of a place (start with BBC country profiles), the cultural norms (compare your country versus where you’re going using Hofstede’s tool), and look up hot topics in the local news (try searching only sites that originate from your destination; e.g. only search news stories from domains ending in .th if you’re visiting Thailand).

2.  Read Novels or Memoirs about their Destination
Culturally intelligent travelers look beyond TripAdvisor and Lonely Planet and read novels or memoirs for cultural insights about their destination. If you’re going to Cambodia, try Francois Bizot’s memoir, The Gate. If you’re heading to Paris, try David Lebovitz’ Sweet Life in Paris or if you’re heading to the world cup in Rio de Janeiro, try Memoirs of a Militia Sergeant.

3. Watch Movies
Films are another great way the culturally intelligent gain a more visceral understanding of a place they plan to visit. The traveler with high CQ is careful not to assume that A Fond Kiss can be generalized to all South Asians living in the U.K. any more than one should view Motorcycle Diaries as the normative experience for all South American youth; but movies like these are a great way to engage your mind.

4. Take Care of Themselves
Overcoming the physical and emotional drain of travel is vitally important. Culturally intelligent travelers understand that stress and fatigue make them unusually susceptible to culture shock and frustration. When crossing time zones, follow these basic rules of thumb, though this is more of an art than a science:

  • Set your watch to the new time zone as soon as you board your international flight. If at all possible, attempt to follow the “new sleep” and eating patterns even on the trip over.
  • Eat half of what they give you on the plane–if that. And go easy on the alcohol. You’re already getting dehydrated. But drink all the non-alcoholic beverages you can get out of them.
  • Force yourself into the new sleep patterns immediately upon arrival. Don’t take any naps if you arrive in the morning or mid-day.
  • After you arrive, walk or run outside and get as much sunshine as possible. Light is key. Again, stay awake when it’s light but not too late. When it’s dark, sleep. Light is the most important thing that impacts your circadian rhythms.
  • Drink a lot of coffee or tea before noon.If you already drink caffeinated beverages, caffeine can have a strong effect in regulating your wake-up mode. It’s especially effective if you go without caffeine for a few days prior to travel.
  • Consider taking Melatonin before bed. Many people find that melatonin, a natural nutritional supplement, really helps regulate their sleeping patterns.

Attending to your physical and emotional well-being will play a big role in helping you be more ready to fully engage in all that your intercultural experience has to offer.

5. Visit Grocery Stores
Culturally intelligent travelers stroll through the aisles of a local grocery store to see what items are sold, how their displayed, and what people are buying. This is a strategy to use even when traveling to different regions across your own city or country. While you’re at it, buy some of the items that are unfamiliar to you and try them. This is a simple, fun way to experience the day-to-day life of a culture.

6. Compare News Stories
Culturally intelligent travelers compare stories in an international paper like USA Today or the Financial Times with those in a local English newspaper. What gets reported and how? Notice the different perspectives on the same events.

7. Talk to Taxi Drivers
Culturally intelligent travelers look for ways to interact with their taxi drivers. Most taxi drivers have fascinating opinions and perspectives on current events, the places you should visit, their view on the local culture, etc. Learn from their insights!

8. Venture Beyond the Tourist Havens
The culturally intelligent do whatever they can to get beyond tourist haunts. Even if you’re in a major metropolitan place like Shanghai, you can walk out of Starbucks and get on a city bus and suddenly be immersed in the local culture.

9. Take in the Arts
Culturally intelligent travelers don’t only visit world renowned art galleries like the Louvre; they also pop into boutique galleries and museums and check out the art in places like Hanoi, Durban, and Dubai as well as Paris and Rome. One time I stumbled upon an art gallery in Siam Reap and it was the highlight of my visit to Cambodia. It gave me insight into some of the modern day perspectives of the Khmer people that I would have otherwise missed.

10. Laugh at Themselves
The culturally intelligent don’t take themselves too seriously. They try a few words in the local language, sample some foods, and expect to be disoriented at times. An ability to laugh at yourself and learn from your mistakes can make a world of difference in not only behaving appropriately but enjoying the whole experience.

Nothing has the potential of improving CQ like traveling across borders. As you embark on your next business trip, study abroad experience, or holiday, use your travels to learn more about yourself and the world.

What CQ travel strategies would you add?

Sit Still and Improve Your CQ: The Power of Reflection

davidlivermore | April 30th, 2014 4 Comments

The other day I almost missed my flight. I threw my stuff in the overhead bin, took my place in my bulkhead seat, and sat still for the first time all day. I welcomed the break for the first couple minutes but I got stir crazy fast. I boarded so quickly that I didn’t have time to grab any reading material and I had already read this month’s in-flight magazine. We took forever to taxi toward our takeoff and even once airborne, we had a lot of turbulence, which meant I couldn’t get out of my seat and grab my laptop. I didn’t even have a piece of paper where I could scribble down the “to do items” that were flooding my head. I was frustrated by how much time I was wasting.

Yet researchers suggest that had I handled my situation differently, I could have used the forced sedentary moment to get smarter, healthier, and more productive.  It sounds too simple but it’s true. Sit still, think, and you can improve all kinds of things, including your cultural intelligence (CQ).

Reflection is standing apart from our experiences to consider the meaning and interpretations of what occurred. It’s one of the most important steps for effectively relating across cultures. Last month I described the inadequacy of travel by itself to improve CQ and it needs to be stated here again:

  • The high school student who spends a day volunteering at the local food bank may come away making sweeping generalizations about the recipients of such programs based upon his one-day encounter. Without guided reflection alongside the experience, his one-day encounter may have little lasting impact on his CQ, or worse yet, lower his CQ.
  • And the project manager who interacts daily with colleagues from multiple time zones and cultures may be frustrated by the continued hassles and misunderstandings that occur on her virtual team. Without reflection, she may not understand and appreciate how the diversity of perspectives and viewpoints can be one of the greatest strengths to the project.

But when we take time to reflect upon an intercultural experience, it’s likely to improve our CQ. What does it mean to “reflect”?

1. Describe the Experience
When I frantically boarded my recent flight, I had just finished speaking at a one-day conference with leaders from several nationalities. Taxi and takeoff were ideal times to reflect on what the day had been like.  What happened, how did people respond, what was different from expected?

Or I could have just as easily spent the time trapped in Seat 1C reflecting on the interaction I just had with the Somali taxi driver who dropped me off…Or mentally describing the Latino gate agent who seemed unfazed by my urgency to catch the flight. The point is to ruminate on the intercultural experiences we encounter all day long.

2. Explore Deeper
All too often reflective experiences stop with “description.” This is particularly true when people are told to “journal”. They record what they did but the real benefit of reflective thinking occurs when we begin to examine the experience in light of other objectives, priorities, and assumptions.

One way to explore an intercultural experience more deeply is by asking ourselves several questions. We usually get lazy after one or two but the goal is to keep asking yourself questions about the experience and what it might reveal. At least five questions is a good goal. Keep going. And think about whether your answers are sound. Compare your interpretations with what experts have discovered based upon research. And talk with others. Dig deeper into the meaning behind your experiences.

3. Transfer Learning
Finally, see if you can extrapolate some kind of learning for future use. This might include goals for future action that can be taken forward in the next experience like this one or connecting it more broadly to other learning and work. You might ask:

  • What possible paths could I take from here?
  • What ideas might move this forward?
  • What are some different ways to tackle this kind of situation next time?

A great deal of my understanding of reflection is informed by Donald Schon, a foremost thought leader on the power of reflection-on-action to improve future behavior. This is at the crux of what we assess and develop in our work on CQ Strategy—your awareness and ability to plan for multicultural interactions.

Everyday Practices for Reflection
Here are a few simple practices for incorporating reflection into our frenetic lives:

1. Just Breathe
Mindfulness training and meditation courses always begin with the importance of paying attention to our breath. Stop for three minutes and breathe deeply. Listen to your breath. No one is so busy they can’t afford three minutes.

2. Retreat to Nature
A natural environment better conditions you for reflection. In today’s high-tech society, many of us sit for long hours in front of screens, sometimes doing boring activities that cause a level of mental fatigue that was unknown to our ancestors. Take a 15 minute break from an artificial environment. Go for a walk in the park and clear your head.

3. Dialogue with Others
Combine your inner contemplation with conversation with others. Be intentional about finding conversation partners who won’t always agree with you and who don’t see everything the same way. Describe, explore, and transfer learning together.

4. Write
Thinking and writing are different. Thinking is unstructured, disorganized, and chaotic. But writing  encourages you to create a story line and structure to make sense of what happened and work toward a solution. Even a few sentences, words images, or questions can be valuable aids for tapping the power of reflection.

5. On-the-Fly
Commute times are an ideal time to reflect before and after an experience. Instead of returning voice mails, reading emails, and surfing your smart phone, you’re likely to improve productivity (and CQ!) more by staying unplugged for a 10 minute commute rather than multi-tasking. Walking the dog, moving from one meeting to the next, and washing dishes are all built-in opportunities for reflection.

Many intercultural experiences are devoid of reflection and as a result, make little impact. But when we discipline ourselves to think deeply before, during and after an intercultural experience, we improve our CQ, increase our productivity, and broaden the horizons of ourselves and others.

Read “From Experience to Experiential Learning: Cultural Intelligence as a Learning Capability for Global Leader Development” for additional insights on reflection, international experiences, and CQ.

New Study Reveals International Travelers Receive More Job Offers

davidlivermore | April 14th, 2014 1 Comment

Augustine of Hippo said, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” Now, a new study led by INSEAD professor William W. Maddux reveals that those who travel receive more job opportunities than those who don’t.

Maddux et. al conducted a longitudinal study and discovered that an MBA student’s intercultural experiences predicted the number of job offers received, even when controlling for variables like demographics, personality etc. Students who adapted to and learned about new cultures engaged in job interviews more creatively and demonstrated more openness and initiative. They were seen as being able to bring seemingly unrelated ideas together into meaningful wholes. As a result, these students were able to successfully navigate the interview process and received more job offers.[1]

Some of the most promising correlations found between international travel and job prospects are:

1. Stronger Sense of Self
Travel provides the opportunity to become aware of your own values and priorities. You’re forced to differentiate between your culture of origin, the cultures you encounter, and your self-identity. Organizations want to hire professionals who are self-aware.

2. Increased Trust
Another study found that how much you trust a stranger is positively correlated to the number of places you’ve traveled. The job candidates who traveled most broadly were most likely to trust someone they didn’t know.[2] Companies want team members who can develop trusting relationships across virtual and international borders.

3. Creativity and Problem-Solving
Intercultural experiences provide a laboratory for improved creativity and problem solving. In a new environment, everyday tasks have to be done differently and there’s an opportunity to observe people using alternative approaches from what’s familiar.[3] A proven ability to innovate sets you apart from other job candidates.

But…not all travel experiences are equal!
Travel does not by itself ensure improved cultural intelligence (CQ) or increased job offers. Several important variables make the difference:

The nature of the experience
If business travelers spend all their time at international hotels and offices; and if study abroad students spend most of their free time on Skype and Facebook, travel may have little positive benefit for improving CQ and career opportunities. Or if charitable volunteers overlook the positive aspects of the locals they encounter, the exposure can perpetuate ethnocentrism and narrow thinking. But those who venture out on their own to discover the food, transportation and people of the places they visit are very likely to enhance their CQ.[4]

The number of experiences
Individuals with multiple experiences in a variety of places experience more of the benefits of travel than those who have only been in one or two places. And the more countries where you’ve lived for more than a year, the more positive connection there is between your international experience, your CQ, and your career development.[5]

Childhood experiences play less role in developing CQ than adult experiences where we make our own choices about travel, work, and interactions. But exposing kids can be very influential. The key is helping youth use the opportunity to build their own sense of self and view of the world.

The Cultural Interpreter
Whatever the age of the experience, a key variable is who helps you interpret it. If parents, faculty, youth leaders, or colleagues only point out negative aspects of a culture, travel might actually erode CQ rather than improve it. The individual who interprets what’s going on makes all the difference in whether the experience provides positive benefits or not.

Reflection and De-Brief
Many study abroad programs, expat assignments, and charitable mission trips emphasize pre-trip training. But the most important insights come from reflecting in the midst of the overseas experience and upon re-entry back home.

Simply listing international travel as a part of your resume is unlikely to yield many benefits in a job-search. But using travel to expand your view of self, integrate seemingly disparate parts, and creatively solve problems allows you to stand apart from other candidates who have traveled abroad without “seeing” anything.

In the words of Mark Twain, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

[1] W. Maddux, E. Bivolaur, A. Hafenbrqack, C. Tadmor, & A. Galinsky. Expanding Opportunities by Opening Your Mind:Multicultural Engagement Predicts Job Market Success Through Longitudinal Increases in Integrative Complexity, Social Psychological and Personality Science, December 2013.

[2] J. Cao, A. Galinsky, & W. Maddux, Does Travel Broaden the Mind? The Breadth of Foreign Experiences Increases Generalized Trust. Social Psychology and Personality Science, December 2013.

[3] R. Nouri,, M. Erez, M., T Rockstuhl, S. Ang, L. Leshem-Calif, & A. Rafaeli, A. (forthcoming). Taking the bite out of culture: The impact of task structure and task type on overcoming impediments to cross-cultural team performance. Journal of Organizational Behavior and R. Chua, M. Morris, & S. Mor, Collaborating across cultures: Cultural metacognition and affect-based trust in creative collaboration, Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes 118 (2012) 116–131.

[4] C. Tay, M Westman, & A, Chia, Antecedents and Consequences of Cultural Intelligence among short-term business travelers, 126-144; S. Ang, L. Van Dyne, C. Koh, K.Y. Ng, K.J. Templer, C. Tay, & N.A. Chandrasekar. Cultural Intelligence: Its measurement and effects on cultural judgment and decision making, cultural adaptation, and task performance. Management and Organization Review, (2007) 3, 335-371.

[5] E. Shokef & M. Erea, Cultural Intelligence and Global Identity in Multicultural Teams, in S. Ang and L. Van Dyne (Eds.), Handbook of Cultural Intelligence: Theory, Measurement, and Applications (Armonk, NY: M.E. Sharpe, 2008), 180.

How CQ could have kept a British expat from getting chased out of Singapore

davidlivermore | February 19th, 2014 No Comments

–Guest post by Philip Merry, Global Leadership Academy and CQ Certified Facilitator

British wealth investor Anton Casey recently caused a firestorm when he posted a picture of his son on the MRT (local rail system) with the caption: “Daddy where is your car and who are all these poor people?” He later posted a picture of his son in a silver Porsche with the caption: “Normal service can resume, once I have washed the stench of public transport off me.”

The Singapore public responded angrily and Foreign Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam described the posts as “deeply offensive“. Mr. Casey and his firm, Crossinvest Asia parted ways, and the company issued a statement saying Casey’s comments went against “our core corporate and family values that are based on trust, mutual understanding and are respectful of diversity“. Mr. Casey and his wife, former Miss Singapore and son fled to Perth saying they had received death threats.

 Having spent the last 24 years helping people live together better and understand cultural conflicts, I have a particular understanding of the recent furore in Singapore. I too am a Brit, married to a Singaporean and I’ve lived in Singapore for 24 years.

Was Mr. Casey’s behaviour reprehensible? Absolutely. Were Singaporeans correct to be upset? Absolutely. Does every culture (including Singapore) have ethnocentric and rude people? Absolutely. This case is a prime example of the type of behaviour from expats that causes outrage to host cultures. There are many such examples. PR executive (yes PR) Justine Sacco was sacked in 2013 following the upset she caused to a whole continent with her post on Twitter: “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just Kidding. I’m White!”

Let’s not underestimate Casey’s rudeness. This was not something said in the heat of a discussion, it was not a mistake made while in the middle of a sales pitch or while discussing an important project. This was active behaviour where he chose to post offensive statements. Singaporeans, a government minister and his employers have responded in an appropriate way. He has asked for forgiveness. Twice.

Why did his words cause such outrage? It’s because this was a reminder of a colonial behaviour that many Singaporeans have experienced. And this is not just a Caucasian issue. I know countless stories of other cultures insulting Singaporeans in subtle and not so subtle ways, like when patronizing foreigners tell Singaporeans, “Your English is sooooo good“.

To me this is a prime example of the need for enhanced cultural intelligence (CQ) for Singaporeans and non-Singaporeans alike. Although it may upset some Singaporeans to hear, let’s not imagine that Singaporeans don’t also insult other cultures when they venture abroad. I have worked with many regional cultures that complain about the “ugly Singaporean”. Diversity programs can involve learning the facts and figures about a country, but the cultural intelligence I’m talking about is not just awareness of other cultures. Awareness alone does not help with face-to-face interactions. Understanding that your new culture is collectivist, for example, satisfies the brain but does not help with day-to-day behaviour and it is behaviour that needs to change. We need to go beyond cultural awareness – it is our cultural intelligence that needs to be developed.

Drawing upon the four CQ capabilities based upon the joint research of the Cultural Intelligence Center in the U.S. and Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, it is likely that Mr. Casey had some understanding (CQ Knowledge) of Singaporean culture but probably had very low CQ Drive, Strategy or Action. Is it possible for him to develop the other three skills? Without knowing him this is impossible to answer because it all comes down to whether he has the desire to do so. What I can say is that when somebody has offended the host culture in such a dramatic way, it is best that the organisation reconsider before the person does any more damage.

In this global world where we all work face-to-face or online with people from different cultures, CQ can be the difference between success and failure for global leaders, teams, communities and countries. We must recognize that whether we are expats or locals, we are ALL guilty of making cross-cultural mistakes with foreigners or with our fellow citizens. These lessons also apply wherever you work in this global world.

 Cultural awareness is not enough. Behavioural change and cultural intelligence are essential for expats and their families to succeed.

Philip Merry a CQ Certified Facilitator, is a cross-cultural coach, consultant, and trainer who has spent 42 years conducting global team and leadership projects in 57 countries.