Cultural Intelligence

Hello everyone, Jess Montague here. I’m one of the sick students staying at the hotel today. I’m beginning to feel a bit better, so I’m going to address Prof. Pruim’s assignments.

First, course blog assignment #8.

#8: We’ve been learning about cultural intelligence. Reflect on the actions, interactions, and communication across languages and cultures that you experienced during the seminar. Discuss 2 or 3 ways you feel that your own cultural intelligence has improved because of this multi-national seminar experience: what did you learn about how to act, communicate or interpret across cultural boundaries OR react to the actions, communication and implied perspectives of others.  Please avoid identifying specific persons if your comments are negative.

Having spent the past two days at an international conference where the common language was English, I immediately became aware of what an advantage that gives to us Americans. Our deeper understanding of English can give us the appearance of being more intelligent (because we use proper grammar and elevated vocabulary) and we’re able to understand nearly everything being said. However, with this advantage comes responsibility. It was very important for us to speak slowly, so that the Koreans and Cambodians, regardless of whether they were fluent in English or not, would be able to follow our train of thought. Personally, I don’t think we did a good job of this overall, but it’s a difficult task to approach for native English-speakers. During the banquet, I met a Cambodian student named Lalune, and he told me that he had trouble understanding us when we talked fast. I immediately felt guilty and hoped that the rest of our listeners had had a different experience.

In addition, I learned a lot more about the relationship between students and professors across cultures. On one occasion beforehand, we encountered how a professor joking with a Korean student might be interpreted as the professor making the student look bad in front of his peers. Having this knowledge in mind, I was shocked when the Korean professors openly disagreed with one of their students’ central claims during their presentation. Both professors said that their idea was very bad, and gave a list of reasons why. My heart went out to the Koreans, because I can only imagine that they felt utterly mortified by their public denouncement from their own professors.

Cambodians and Koreans are very generous, respectful, and thankful. When I interacted with them, I tried my best to show them that I was genuinely interested in what they were saying by nodding, responding, and thanking them. Professor Prium instructed us to show great humility and thankfulness that we were invited to the conference, because the Koreans and Cambodians would expect something of the sort. It was important for us to communicate to them how much we respected them.

Tied into my experience of respect is the way Cambodians greet one another. When meeting, they clasp their hands together in a praying position, and hold their hands up to their nose. The higher one holds her hands, the more respect it shows. In addition, they sometimes give a slight bow when greeting one another. I found that when I followed their custom of greeting, along with saying ‘hello’ in Khmer, the Cambodian students were much more receptive to my attempts at communication with them.

Lastly, I was surprised by the lack of extroverted tendencies among the Cambodians. We Americans did our best to intersperse ourselves throughout the international crowd, providing ourselves with opportunities to talk with Cambodians. As far as I could tell, we were always the ones approaching Cambodians, not the other way around. They were very shy initially, but warmed up to us the more questions we asked them. I don’t know whether it’s a part of their culture to be more stand-offish or if they were insecure about their English skills.

All in all, I learned a lot about Cambodians and Koreans during the conference. I’ve grown a lot in my own cultural intelligence, and I’m so excited to continue learning more – but it can wait until I’m healthy again.

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