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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?

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.

Using “What If” Questions to Prepare International Travelers

davidlivermore | May 21st, 2013 3 Comments

My 15 year-old-daughter is preparing to travel to Thailand by herself next month. Emily has often heard me say that international travel is more likely to increase adolescents’ cultural intelligence (CQ) when they travel without their parents or friends. So she decided to see if my wife and I really believe that. I’m thrilled and her mother is a little freaked out. But we all agree this will be a great learning experience for her. In a few weeks, Emily will be flying to the other side of the world without us.

  • Many companies rotate high potential leaders from one global assignment to another, as preparation for being senior leaders in the organization.
  • University and high school students study abroad as a way to get an edge on others in the college and job market.
  • And volunteers travel overseas with the hopes that they can combine service with a life changing opportunity.

But is there any evidence that international travel will increase CQ? Absolutely! But there’s also evidence that international travel can decrease CQ. What makes the difference?

Few things have greater potential to increase CQ than the hands-on experience of international travel. But it’s a correlation, not a causation. How you travel, where you spend time, the nature of your interactions, and the way you make meaning from the experiences makes all the difference in whether international experience improves your CQ or not. In fact, international experience can actually decrease CQ and perpetuate ethnocentrism if not done well. Have you ever met an expat or short-term missionary who didn’t have high CQ? Enough said.

It starts before ever leaving home. I’m actually not too worked up over whether people should spend vast amounts of time doing pre-departure training and orientation. It can certainly be helpful. But what’s most important is some thoughtful anticipation about the cross-cultural experience and how to learn from it.

Emily scores pretty high on our CQ Assessment when it comes to CQ Drive—the level of interest, drive, and confidence to adapt to intercultural situations. She grew up traveling internationally, she loves to be immersed in different cultures, and she’s been learning about Thai culture and studying the language. But our way of orienting her for her overseas experience has been a bit different. I’ve been throwing her a series of “What if” questions.

What if you arrive at the airport and our Thai friends’ who are supposed to meet you aren’t there? “That’s easy” she said. “I’ll just text them.” To which I said, “Okay. But what if your phone doesn’t work?”  “Then I’ll use a payphone,” she replied.

My next challenge: “Okay, but you don’t have any Thai money.” To which she said, “I’ll just exchange some.” But I kept pushing her: “The person at the currency exchange tells you they aren’t allowed to exchange money to minors. Then what?”

I’m trying to get her to come up with solutions for the kinds of things she could experience cross-culturally.

Emily is crazy about animals. In fact, at some point during her visit to Thailand, she’ll be joining a group to learn how to provide veterinary care to animals after a natural disaster. I asked her, “What if you’re visiting a hill tribe village and they serve you dog? What will you do?” She decided she would push the meat around for awhile and make it look like she had eaten it. But she couldn’t live with herself if she actually ate it. I’m not sure that strategy will work but it’s not a bad response. I want her to know that cultural intelligence doesn’t mean abandoning everything she values and believes.

“What if a group of your peers start making fun of a Buddhist monk walking by. What will you say?” We talked about the importance of applying cultural intelligence to both her peers and the local culture. And she practiced some responses of what she would say and how they might respond.

I’m less concerned about the precision of her answers. And I’m more interested in getting her to see that there are very real cultural dilemmas she’s likely to face and to give her some practice anticipating how to respond.

This has been a fun, engaging way for our family to interact together about Emily’s upcoming trip. And it taps into our research findings that cultural understanding is more likely to be improved and applied when it’s relevant to the individual and situation. This is why groups like McDonalds have reduced the amount of training they do before their global leaders are assigned overseas; instead, they provide them with a CQ coach after they arrive who meets with them regularly to interact about the real-life cultural dilemmas they’re encountering.

We continue to research how business travelers, study abroad students, and charitable volunteers can best use international travel to increase their CQ. If they simply stay in establishments where the staff have been trained to adapt to our every whim, it’s unlikely they’re getting a true glimpse of the local culture. And when they travel with friends, peers from school, or family, it takes extra effort to have any meaningful interaction with people outside the built-in networks brought along. And if the people they spend time with when they’re abroad offer a skewed interpretation of what’s going on, they can come home with a very inaccurate perspective.

But when international experience is combined with active engagement (e.g. jumping on public transit, walking through the market, and having dinner with locals at their favorite haunt) and thoughtful reflection (e.g. looking for what is similar/different from home; suspending judgment about what certain behaviors mean, having a cultural coach who accurately helps you process what you experience), it’s the most powerful way to improve CQ.

How do you leverage the potential of international travel?

Tips for Overcoming Jet Lag

davidlivermore | November 8th, 2012 4 Comments

Fatigue is one of the greatest roadblocks to cultural intelligence. When were exhausted, we’re much more susceptible to functioning an autopilot, a dangerous way to navigate culturally diverse terrain. And jet lag fatigues many of us when we travel.

Overcoming jet lag is more an art than a science but here are a few basic tips to share with the novice traveler:

1. Set your watch to the new timezone as soon as you board an international flight. If at all possible, attempt to follow the “new sleep” and eating patterns even on the trip over.

2. Eat half of what they give you on the plane–if that. And drink all the non-alcoholic beverages you can get out of them. Go easy on the alcohol. You’re already getting dehydrated.

3. Force yourself into the new sleep patterns immediately upon arrival. No naps if you arrive in the morning or mid-day.

4. 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.

5. Drink a lot of coffee or tea before noon.

I always love hearing other traveler’s strategies. Feel free to add to the list!