Participation in a formal cross-cultural training program will prepare people for a successful sojourn in another country. Given the number of adjustments and the amount of potential stress that overseas assignments can entail, this approach, rather than the “sink or swim” approach is recommended (Brislin & Yoshida, 1994; Landis & Bhagat, 1996). People who live temporarily in another culture, but plan to return to their own, are known as sojourners, while the citizens of the culture in which they are to live are known as hosts. Cross-cultural training can be adapted to prepare people to interact with residents of their own country who belong to different cultures (Mullavey-O’Byrne, rg94a.b). in addition to its uses for training the overseas traveler or sojourner.
Goals of Cross-Cultural Training
The general goal of a cross-cultural training program is to increase the chances of success when people cross cultural boundaries. The criterion of “success” has four aspects, the first of which is that sojourners enjoy their lives in the other culture, feel that they have good interpersonal relations with hosts, and that they are as well integrated as possible into the host culture. Second, it is essential that hosts feel that the sojourners are making a good adjustment, have developed good interpersonal and work relationships, and are respectful of cultural norms. Third, it is essential that sojourner goals are accomplished in an effective and timely manner. Goals will vary for different people: for example, overseas students will want to obtain college degrees, businesspeople may want to establish joint ventures, and technical assistance advisers may want to introduce and to complete engineering and other projects. Then again, there are people who take a year off from their work or education to travel and broaden their interests, gain maturity, or to develop self-insight. This category of sojourners would be judged as successful or not based on accomplishment of these goals. Finally, after a period of adjustment dealing with problems captured by the term culture shock, sojourners should experience no more stress than they would in their own culture. Culture shock refers to the total set of stressors, experienced concurrently, that always accompany a move to another culture (Bochner, 1994). So many differences are encountered in a short time that sojourners’ coping skills are challenged. Sojourners frequently report a sense of helplessness and childishness accompanying these stressors. The sense of childishness is reinforced when adult sojourners observe host 5- and 6- year-olds meeting their everyday goals and using the host language in a very efficient manner. Adults become frustrated when they think about themselves and their discomforts compared to the seemingly effortless effectiveness of young host children.
Audiences for Cross-Cultural Training
Given a concern with both international assignments and interactions with culturally different others within any one country, model training programs have been designed for many different audiences (Brislin & Landis, 1983; Landis & Bhagat, 1996). Training that involves international contact includes programs for overseas businesspeople, diplomats, technical assistance advisers, international students, and missionaries. Training within a country includes programs that assist immigrants and refugees, teachers from a rural or suburban background assigned to inner city schools (Cushner, 1994), executives and their employees in companies with a culturally diverse workforce, and clinicians and counselors who find themselves asked for assistance by people from cultures different than their own. A commonality within all these examples is that people will have extensive contact with people from other cultural backgrounds, that is, they will have numerous intercultural interactions. To be effective, people must be sensitive, knowledgeable, nonjudgmental, and they must be prepared to make adjustments in their own behavior.
Programs can be “culture general” or “culture specific.” Culture-general programs are more widely usable since they deal with issues that virtually all people face. These include dealing with the loss of familiar cues and guidance for behaviors from their own culture and culture shock. Other commonalities include dealing with unrealistic expectations, challenges to attributional processes, confrontations with past prejudices, and the more mundane issues of finding food, housing, transportation, and social activities in unfamiliar settings (Cushner & Brislin, 1996). Culture-specific programs are targeted for a specific audience in a specific country or culture; for example, overseas businesspeople in China (Fang, 1999) or Native Americans seeking educational and employment opportunities in large U.S. cities (Choney, Berryhill-Paapke. & Robbins, 1995).
There are advantages and disadvantages to both approaches. Culture-general materials are more easily available (e.g., Cushner & Brislin, 1996) since commercial publishers disseminate materials with a potentially large audience. Culture-specific materials address the needs of specific people facing identifiable adjustment issues, but materials may be so limited in their focus that there is no incentive for commercial distribution. Instead, if available at all outside the organization where they were developed, they become disseminated through an inefficient and unpredictable “underground press” based on photocopying machines, library retrieval systems devoted to fugitive materials, and e-mail attachments.
Structure of Cross-Cultural Training Programs
Cross-cultural training programs have a number of features in common. They are designed to prepare people to live and work effectively in cultures other than their own, and they are staffed by people who are knowledgeable and experienced in training, intercultural interactions, and the life changes brought on by overseas assignments. Programs have a budget, a schedule of activities, a time and place for their implementation, and (ideally) an evaluation process to determine both program effectiveness and suggestions for improvement. Beyond these generalizations, different training directors choose different ways to structure the presentation of information and present active exercises to assist people in their upcoming intercultural interactions (Brislin & Yoshida, 1994; Triandis, Kurowski, & Gelfand. 1994). In most actual programs, a combination of different approaches is used.
Placing an emphasis on knowledge and “facts.” cognitive training emphasizes giving people helpful information. It is often presented through lecture and media presentations, readings, and carefully prepared handouts that summarize key facts. Topics covered are more audience specific. Businesspeople would receive information on cultural differences in reaching decisions, ways of networking, and expectations of leaders. International graduate students would receive information on term paper preparation, ways of participating in class, and what steps mark “reasonable progress” toward degree completion.
When living in another culture, people need to learn previously unfamiliar information, and they also have to learn to deal with cultural differences in the ways others think and behave. When people make judgments about the causes of other people‘s behavior, they are making attributions. Intercultural interactions always mean that people will observe unfamiliar behaviors. They may be tempted to make inappropriate attributions given their ignorance of the cultural context of these behaviors. Attribution training emphasizes that people should integrate knowledge of cultural differences before making conclusions about others.
Time use is one of the most frustrating sources of cultural differences (Levine, 1997). An American makes an appointment with an executive in Brazil for 11:00 A.M. The executive does not show up until 11:45 A.M. What is the American’s attribution? If careless, the American might conclude that the Brazilian is unprofessional. With a knowledge of cultural differences, the American could conclude that the Brazilian is a participant in an “event time” culture where last-minute demands on a person’s time are more important than a “clock time” appointment. When all people in the intercultural interactions can interpret behaviors in a similar manner, they are said to be making isomorphic attributions.
For many people, participation in a self-awareness training program will be the first time they have been able to examine the influence of their own culture on their behavior. Americans might examine the cultural background of their belief in individual liberties, the value of speaking one’s mind, their distrust of centralized power, and their emphasis on individual achievements. Japanese trainees might examine the importance of group harmony, of not standing out as an individual, their deference to power, and the large distinctions made between the expectations of males and the expectations of females. Training sessions can become emotional given that many people, for the first time, learn that many of their behaviors are culturally influenced and that other people from other cultures regularly engage in contrasting behaviors influenced by their cultures.
At times, trainers can encourage program participants to “try out” a number of unfamiliar social situations that they are likely to encounter in another culture. The basic technique is role-playing: trainees act out various roles, with the support and encouragement of the training staff, and cope with different problems introduced by the trainers. Such experiential training is often more unstructured and can lead to negative reactions from participants if they are frustrated in trying to formulate appropriate responses. Such training can be general if the issues chosen are common to virtually all cross-cultural experiences. Examples include struggling imperfectly in one’s second or third language, being ignored given the inability to communicate effectively, experiencing loneliness, or trying to find information about transportation, housing, food, and schooling for one’s children. Experiential training can be culture specific if participants are about to encounter identifiable social situations. For international graduate students in North America, examples would be registering for classes and choosing electives, presenting ideas for thesis topics to possible committee members, and communicating a sense that one is an interesting person so as to be remembered by faculty and fellow students (Markus & Kitayama, 1991). For businesspeople in Japan, examples would be decision making prior to open meetings, downplaying one’s tendencies to express personal opinions if they might interfere with the group consensus, and learning to read subtle cues from executives concerning policy preferences (Brislin & Yoshida. 1994).
At times, trainers can introduce specific behaviors that are not naturally in a person’s repertoire. Further, trainers can argue that if participants engage in these behaviors in another culture, they can increase their chances of success. Since the behaviors are unfamiliar, they often have to be practiced during the training program. A trainer must make sure that participants are comfortable with the new behaviors, see no ethical qualms, and that they understand the rationale behind them. Returning to the example of punctuality or its absence in Brazil, participants might practice previously unfamiliar behaviors related to “waiting patiently” for the executive. Participants do not want to show irritation, and in fact want to show an understanding of the demands on executives’ time and resources. Participants can show an understanding of clock and event time by starting their own events. They might chat with and get to know others in the executive office suite since in many event time cultures, goals are accomplished and red tape is assaulted through the insiders that a person knows well.
Some behaviors will be more comfortable to some people than others. For example, trainers might explain that in some Asian countries, gifts are a social lubricant and signal the development of good working relationships. Gifts do not have to be extremely expensive. Ideal gifts are personalized according to the recipient: Compact discs or videotapes featuring a favorite singer or actor are possibilities. Practice would include ways of identifying such personalized gifts, presenting them with proper modesty, accepting gifts offered, and determining whether one opens the gifts now or later. Training can emphasize that there are not always simple solutions to decisions involving behavior change. In some countries, and for some individuals in countries where small gifts are often appropriate, much larger gifts of money will be expected. Returning to the discussion of attributions, large gifts will be seen as “commissions” by some people and as ethically unacceptable “bribes” by others. A good training program provides an opportunity for people to think about such ethical dilemmas and to receive guidance concerning possible responses.
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