We’ve done 5 of the 6 sessions of our course in InterCultural Intelligence* and I love it. I love the content, mostly not novel, but at least good to get an overview; I love our group even more. What is a better group to learn about intercultural intelligence than one with people with roots in at least 4 different continents, with a large variety of professionals and personal backgrounds? It’s a great environment to practice our lessons of open communication, being curious, being respectful, asking when we don’t understand and being comfortable with ‘others’, even when we disagree.

Together we are learning about the cultural iceberg. Similar to a real iceberg, we often only see a small part of a culture: its food, clothes, language. But there is so much more: attitudes and behaviours, values (do we value personal or material growth, informal or informal context, direct or indirect communication, planning around people or around time?) and beliefs. Beliefs are the roots of our culture, this is how we have been brought up, how we are shaped by our environment and how we view the world. It is something we don’t often talk about, but if we do, it turns out that even when the top of our iceberg is completely different (e.g. we speak a different language), we often share similar worldviews.

One of the most interesting parts of the course has been to explore these beliefs. Before the course started, we all did an assessment, which measured our worldview along 3 dimensions: Innocence vs. Guilt, Honor vs. Shame and Power vs. Fear. For example, in a culture with a strong innocence/guilt component a child’s upbringing focusses on learning deductive reasoning and to follow rules. In a strong honor/shame culture, a focus in raising children is on their heritage and making honorable choices. In a strong power/fear environment children learn about hierarchy and how to use power to their own and others benefits. I read my test results. I read about how people with strong components of either of the worldviews tend to communicate. And a baiza dropped: in quite a few recent situations, I would have communicated better if I had known about this before. Now I can continu practicing.


FullSizeRenderIn our last session, we learned something that -I think- every wannabe-expat should get the chance to learn about before they set of on their adventure. The stages of culture shock. This is about the honeymoon phase, when everything still seems great, exciting and we’re looking forward to the adventure. Then comes the rejection phase, when the behaviour of others doesn’t make sense and our own behaviour doesn’t have the effect we expect. After adjusting to differences in worldview, learning to cope with behavioural differences, new expectations from the environment, the recovery stage sets in. In the course, we discussed how for many of us, we feel we are in this recovery stage, but we are also expecting a new cycle. We keep moving every few years and will go on honeymoon again, only to find out that also in our new environment, worldviews, attitudes and behaviours are different again. Our course leader Gerda even warned us that possibly, the hardest move will be the one when we go ‘home’. Why? Because ‘home’ is not ‘home’ anymore: we have changed, and the culture we mastered to live in, does not exist anymore because it also changed.

To some, this may seem scary. But I think this also provides new opportunities: it makes us grow and reach out again, make new connections and live a new life in our new ‘home’ that would not have been possible without the experience of living among so many cultures as we do, and indeed take courses with people from 4 different continents and learn from each other. I’ll regret having to say goodbye to the other participants, but I’m looking forward to the last session where we’ll learn about how each of us relates to the ’12 dimensions of culture’.

*I am writing about the InterCultural Intelligence course offered by Gerda van Loon, in association with Personal Development Network at Ras Al Hamra Recreational Centre, and developed by KnowledgeWorkx.