In this lesson, we’ll introduce two internet tools that will help you navigate better in a foreign culture. Just as our computers need adapters to link IBM brains to MAC brains, we need to find the right tools to link ourselves to other cultures so we can properly understand each other.
One of these tools, the Hofstede Country Comparison, can help us examine how people in different cultures (including ours) are “wired”. We can see how we’ve all been socialized in different ways starting from an early age to respond in certain manners.
The other great tool is the CIA World Factbook, which contains a plethora of information about the country you will visit. You can compare your own country (USA or any other!) to your destination country to give you some essential reference points that will enhance your understanding of their history, economics, and demographics.
Understanding other cultures is critical when you are working in a foreign land. For many people, culture includes the ways people interact that we can see and hear, such as personal distance, hand signals, music, dance, and dress, as examples. Yes, it’s a good thing to understand all these issues when you land, so that you can embrace the culture and avoid offending. But these aspects are really only the tip of the iceberg.
What would really sink your project will be inability to understand the core values of a culture – how we are all socialized and solve problems, two core values that are set at a very early age. Only if we understand these core values can we effectively communicate interculturally.
Think of intercultural competence as a Global Positioning System (GPS). The GPS, developed by DoD, uses more than 25 satellites to precisely determine our location, speed, direction, time. A single reference point won’t help. To get clarity of position, you need at least two points of reference. In other words, we can understand another culture best by recognizing as many differences/similarities as possible.
The first thing we have to do in our intercultural positioning system is to locate ourselves, to develop our own cultural self-awareness through understanding our cultural patterns. Only then can we begin exploring the gap between our values, beliefs and behaviors, and those of others.
This is really challenging for LARGE cultures. Is the US culture LARGE? You bet! Everywhere you go in the world, you can hear English, watch CNN, usually use dollars. We don’t need to effect intercultural competence to “get by”, we can just expect others to adapt.
But think, what if you lived in a very small country, perhaps Lithuania (?) or Mauritius (?), you would more readily understand that you are just one out of 194 different countries in the world, each with its own lens for viewing society, interactions, and the rest of the world.
The Hofstede Country Comparison
Let’s say you are planning a trip to Cape Verde, an island nation in West Africa. (see map)
Fortunately, a really fabulous tool has been created to help. Geert Hofstede, a Dutch sociologist, has spent his entire career studying national cultures. And he has created an amazing and nifty tool to compare.
As above, you do the Hofstede country comparison. The US is in purple, and Cape Verde is in blue. Well, there are markedly disparate scores in the three main categories. In Cape Verde, compared to the US, power distance is much higher, individualism is MUCH lower, as is masculinity.
What this means is that individuals in Cape Verde will often turn to their superiors before acting, they value the dynamic of the group rather than the individual, and they inherently appreciate more familial and societal interactions than do we Americans. This would be good to know as you are planning your deployment – be sure to pay homages to the supervisors, do not single out high performers in class, and be sure to drink the three cups of tea! Yes, again, oversimplifying, but you get the flavor.
So, now we will have you compare your own cultural values (US) to a country of your choosing.
Your mission (should you decide to accept it !) is;
GO TO the following website, and compare the US national culture to the national culture in your country of choice.
WRITE a sentence or two (or three) about how you might behave differently, after seeing the differences in the national cultures.
The website has a box that says TYPE A COUNTRY... as you click in it 2 or more times, you can select the countries you wish to compare...
LINK IN BELOW…
The other VERY IMPORTANT reference to review before getting on the plane is the CIA World Factbook. This is a TREASURE TROVE of information about the country you will be visiting and will give you oodles of info that will help you as you interact and develop your programs.
Go to the CIA World Factbook site (Click the GREEN box at right) and compare the US and your country for the following parameters: Average annual income (PPP); lifespan; literacy; GDP due to agriculture; percentage of the workforce involved in agriculture; or, any other of a myriad of parameters for comparison.
As an example, below are comparisons between the US and Liberia, just prior to the Ebola outbreak in 2014-2015. Is it any wonder this disease was so difficult to control?
USA, $52,800 / Liberia, $700
USA, 99% / Liberia, 60%
# PHYSICIANS PER CAPITA:
USA, 2.4 / Liberia, 0.01
When you look at these figures, it is easy to see why people consumed bushmeat; they did not have the financial resources to buy meat at regular markets! And look at physicians per capita – Liberia had 200X fewer physicians per person compared to what we know. It should be no surprise that the healthcare system could not manage the disease sufficiently! Lastly, literacy – 40% of the population of Liberia cannot read, how the heck do you get the message out to safeguard human health?
As you learn more from Factbook use your intercultural GPS to connect in a more robust manner with your colleagues and partners in the new country. Use these tools to create a better global lens for helping to improve animal health when deployed.
LINK INTO THE CIA WORLD FACTBOOK HERE...
Your second mission in this lesson (again, should you decide to accept it!), is to check out the CIA World Factbook site and look at the country to which you may deploy, and compare a few key parameters of your choice with those of the US:
DESCRIBE (briefly) how some of these differences might influence your approach to working in that country.
Hooray for completing these modules and good luck to you all!
This site is based on the experiences of Corrie Brown, DVM, PhD, DACVP, founder of Lifestock International.
This site is supported by Lifestock International. Inc.
This site and its illustrations are Copyright 2020 by Corrie Brown, USA.
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