Of Intercultural Incompetence & Chutzpah

chutzpah

My wife and I recently had lunch at a restaurant in downtown Hanoi.  It was after the 12 noon rush and there was only one other guest where we chose to eat, a middle-aged white expat man who was eating, drinking, and reading a book.  So far, so good, right? 

After a couple of very quiet telephone conversations, he asked my wife – in good Vietnamese – if she would please not talk on the phone because he was trying to read his book. (Being the bad boy that I am, I told her to go ahead and make some more calls.) 

After we finished our lunch in an atmosphere of tension, I got up, looked him in the eye, and asked him if he spoke English.  “Yes.”  I then asked him how long he had been living in Viet Nam.  He (proudly?) replied, “20 years,” to which I responded, “Your Vietnamese is very good but you don’t know Vietnamese culture,” the ultimate insult to an expat who thinks he knows the culture, in addition to the language.  My parting advice to this hapless fellow, sitting there looking dumb, mouth agape, was to stay at home, alone, if he wanted to read his book in peace.

That was the first time in the over 12 years I have been living and working in Viet Nam and the over 22 years since my first trip here that one person had the gall to admonish another for using a phone in a public place.  It wasn’t about speaking loudly, which is not uncommon here and in many countries, including the US, but about simply talking on the phone. 

This guy was a perfect example of someone who had mastered Vietnamese but who insisted on imposing his own code of conduct on others, something he had (has) no right to do.  Another recent example is of a young US American, also fluent in the language, who put both feet into his mouth when he insulted a national hero in a flippant Facebook post aka comeback in a snide expat game of one-upmanship.  (The backlash and blowback were fast and furious.)

Was it intercultural incompetence, white male privilege, a neocolonialist mindset, individual rudeness, or all of the above? 

MAA 

P.S.:  If he plans to repeat this cultural mistake in the future, he should be careful who he scolds.  The next outcome may not be as genteel.  He didn’t look like the type who was ready to “mix it up” in schoolyard fashion. 

Advertisements

Recent Discussion with US Students – United by Viet Nam!

DSC_1845

Twice a year, I have the opportunity, schedule permitting, to speak to a group of US students who are in Viet Nam for the semester under the auspices of the School for International Training’s Vietnam – Culture, Social Change, and Development program.

They come from a range of higher education institutions, mostly private liberal arts colleges, and are majoring in a variety of subjects, including Anthropology, Asian Studies, Biopsychology, History, Human Rights & Democratization, International Studies, Microbiology, Philosophy, Political Science, Psychology, Sociology, and Women’s Studies

While the students are based in HCMC, they travel from south to north as part of the program.  Some stay in Hanoi to do an internship, a program requirement, while their classmates return to HCMC, or go to another location to do the same.  

As I told them, it’s a rare opportunity for me to share my knowledge of and passion for Viet Nam with US students.  (Most of my interaction with US Americans is with colleagues from secondary and postsecondary institutions.)  My time with them, the better part part of a weekday morning, consists of a presentation, an overview of what I consider to be some of the defining characteristics of Viet Nam – a country I know from books, articles, reports, and personal experience – and discussion. 

I always ask them why they chose Viet Nam as a study abroad destination.  In 2015-16, the top 10 destinations for US students were the UK, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, China, Ireland, Australia, Costa Rica, and Japan.  (Not surprisingly, the top five were in Europe.)  There were 1,012 US students in Viet Nam, most on short-term programs.  To put that number in perspective 325,339 American students received academic credit last year for study abroad in 2015/2016.  One of the reasons mentioned was the opportunity to get out of their comfort zone.  I’m pretty sure that Viet Nam has not disappointed in that respect.

I also want to know which students have become passionate about Viet Nam in their short time here, and who plans to make this dynamic and exciting country a part of their academic, professional, and personal future.  There are usually two or three who fall into this category.  Amy Tournas, a Colby College student and aspiring journalist/writer, is one of them.  Below is an excerpt from one of her blogs, Does Anybody Know I’m here?, about the first part of her first day in Hanoi

d8c23d_344e9cfceb384399bf353c1f9c76f0e9~mv2_d_3456_2304_s_2

First Days of Hanoi

November 15, 2017

Amy Tournas

After arriving at 11 pm, driving to the hotel to be told there wasn’t room for all of us, and then having to walk 20 minutes down the road to another hotel, we finally were in Hanoi!

We classically woke up early and headed through the streets of Hanoi. On our first morning, we met a man named Mark Ashwill. Mr. Ashwill is the co-founder of Capstone Vietnam among many other things. We had a discussion about many different aspects of Vietnam, and talked a lot about his journalism and papers he has written in his life about many controversial topics. He really engaged us because a lot of it was centered around things we are all interested in. I was really captured by his view of the War, along with the books he recommended to us. He told us of the book titled Kill Anything That Moves, which is an extremely controversial book that reveals the horrors of the war in a way that explains parts of the war that many Americans did not want to know about. I haven’t started reading it yet, but my friend just finished it and said it was extremely difficult to get through. I’m looking forward to reading it but I am not looking forward to being further exposed to the horrors of the war.

Another book that he recommended to us which I actually started a few days before we met him was a book called The Sympathizer. Though I am only one hundred pages in, I am already deep in it. Its not the actual story that I think that I am in love with, though a story about a communist spy in America is extremely fascinating. It is the language in which the author speaks that really pulls me in further. It actually gives me shivers when the author, Viet Thanh Nguyen writes. When he says things like, “As the debacle unfolded, calcium and lime deposits of memory from the last days of the damned republic encrusted themselves in the pipes of my brain.” The way he speaks is just astounding. The Sympathizer is fantastic that I think anyone who is interested in the War should read.

The morning with Mr. Ashwill was pretty inspiring. He has such passion for both the world and Vietnam. The pieces he has written are incredible. I will attach some of them to this post because I think his words are provocative and inspiring, and he is someone I hope to be like when I am older; he is so passionate about his work.

MAA

Global Learning in a Time of Increased Xenophobia and Extreme Nationalism

nafsa logoThis is the title of an upcoming webinar that is the first in NAFSA’s Academic Programs six-part Architecture for Global Learning – Series II.  Here is a brief description:

Many institutions integrate global learning into curricula and co-curricular programming with the goal of producing graduates capable of contributing solutions to global problems. However, institutional leaders, faculty, and managers of global learning environments now face mounting anti-international rhetoric and policy.

Join NAFSA Academic Programs for the first session in our six-part Architecture for Global Learning – Series II. Listen to and discuss the perspectives of leading international education scholars and practitioners on the state of global learning as we enter a period of increased populist and anti-international rhetoric and action. Participants will have the opportunity to engage with experienced and informed global learning specialists who will answer questions of how and why extreme nationalism affects global learning. Presenters will provide their views and responses to participant questions on how to continue to support and implement global learning pedagogies and programs that are under attack.

I agree that it is a time of “increased xenophobia” in many countries but disagree that nationalism, extreme or otherwise, is anything new, especially in the US.  In that sense, the title is a bit misleading.  US nationalism, which I discuss in a 2016 University World News article entitled US nationalism – The elephant in the room and elsewhere, is nothing new and certainly didn’t begin to rear its ugly and exclusionary head when Donald Trump was elected president last November.  In fact, I have argued that the term is frequently misused by some of my distinguished colleagues when what they are actually referring to is nativism

I am pleased, however, to see that these issues are being debated. Nationalism in general and as an elephant in the room of the international education profession should be a key point, if not the centerpiece, of any consideration of intercultural competence, essentially a skill set, and global citizenship, also a mindset.  It is a discussion that should have been launched a long time ago.

MAA

 

 

Dealing with the Elephant in the Room: US Nationalism

aiea-2017-logo

I will be participating in a session, along with Ryan Buck, Texas State University, and Lee Lambert, Pima Community College (AZ) on US nationalism as an obstacle to the development of global citizenship at the 2017 AIEA (Association of International Education Administrators) annual conference, which takes places from 19-22 February in Washington, D.C.

Nationalism stands in the way of creating global citizens, but it is the subject few involved in international education in the United States want to speak about.  This session focuses on an essential yet neglected facet of international education, as it applies to both US American and international students: a mindset that transcends competencies and skill sets, how to overcome nationalism in pursuit of global citizenship.

Lee has been Chancellor of Pima Community College since July 1, 2013. Before coming to PCC, Lee was President of Shoreline Community College in Shoreline, WA. He also has served as Vice President for Human Resources and Legal Affairs at Centralia College in Centralia, Wash., and as Special Assistant to the President for Civil Rights and Legal Affairs at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, WA.

Ryan is Assistant Vice President for International Affairs at Texas State University.  Before joining Texas State University, he served as the Executive Director of International Student Affairs at Brooklyn College of the City University of New York. His portfolio included International Student and Scholar Services, International Education and Global Engagement (study abroad), international marketing and outreach, international admissions, the American Language Academy, and international partnerships, agreements and programs.

The 2017 AIEA Annual Conference focuses on the interplay between boundaries and connections in internationalization. International education leaders must negotiate boundaries due to cultural differences, wide-ranging institutional structures, divergent motivations and meanings, and distinct resource allocations – all of which vary from institution to institution, and nation to nation.

Boundaries create silos which, as Gillian Tett explains (in The Silo Effect: The Peril of Expertise and the Promise of Breaking Down Barriers, 2015, Simon & Schuster), present both problems and possibilities for advancement. Silos can create blinders and tunnel vision, discourage progressive thinking, reinforce status hierarchies, and foster skill sets that are epistemologically static and difficult to expand.

On the other hand, utilizing and sometimes repositioning silos can be productive by encouraging strategic thinking and avoiding inward looking approaches and proprietary impasses. (Source:  AIEA website)

MAA

 

Happy 5th Anniversary, An International Educator in Vietnam!

5YearsOver 500 posts and five (5) years of relative online freedom of speech after four (4) years of working for an employer that had a pre-approval policy for its employees’ outside writing and speaking activities.

Coincidentally (?), my first post on 16 November 2009 was about a book chapter I co-authored entitled “Developing Globally Competent Citizens: The Contrasting Cases of the United States and Vietnam,” which appeared in The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence, edited by Darla Deardorff.  (The contributors to this book, including the editor, are some of most outstanding scholars and practitioners in the field of intercultural communication in the world.)

handbook of ic competenceThis chapter was mildly censored by my former employer, whose slogan, ironically, is Opening Minds to the World.  That process gave me additional insights into the control of information and knowledge by an organization with close US government ties in a country that pays lip service to the constitutionally guaranteed right of freedom of speech. Sadly, post 9/11 America is not your grandfather’s (or grandmother’s) America.

As a side note, I have continued to grapple with issues related to nationalism/patriotism and intercultural competence/global competence both here and offline.  They are what I call the elephant in the room of the international education profession in the US.  To ignore them, especially in the US context, is to ignore what is arguably the most daunting barrier to the development of global competence and citizenship.

I began writing An International Educator in Vietnam for myself  – writing as sharing, writing as advocacy, writing as therapy – but it has since become a resource for people who have an interest in international education in Vietnam, US-Vietnam educational exchange and/or Vietnam.  It has been a labor of love and, I believe, has lived up to its three “Is” subtitle.  Thanks, dear readers and followers, for your interest and your feedback.  Raise your glasses to another five years of Information, Insights & (Occasionally) Intrigue!

MAA

Keynote Address: “Intercultural Competence as a Cornerstone of Innovation”

banner

I was honored to be invited to give the keynote address at the recent annual Conference of Business Innovation, organized by the FPT Leadership Institute.

First, a word about the parent company.  FPT, Vietnam’s leading technology company, was founded in 1988 as The Food Processing Technology Company.  Its first contract was  to provide computers for the Russian Academy of Sciences in partnership with Olivetti in 1989, which laid the groundwork for its IT department.  A year later, the company was renamed The Corporation for Financing and Promoting Technology and the rest, as they say, is history.  In addition to its dominant market position within Vietnam, FPT’s operations are global in scope, with clients or rep offices and companies in 16 foreign countries, including Laos, Cambodia, America, Japan, Singapore, Germany, Myanmar, France, Malaysia, Australia, Thailand, United Kingdom, the Philippines, Kuwait, Bangladesh and Indonesia.

Keynote Address

Since my topic was Intercultural Competence (IC) as a Cornerstone of Innovation (Mối giao thoa văn hóa là nền móng cho sự sáng tạo), I started off with some comments about innovation, which is a hot topic in Vietnam.  Just in the past week or so, I’ve seen media references such as “Vietnam Needs More Innovation:  Experts” and “Vietnam Needs to Foster Innovation to Sustain Growth, Report Says.”  I added that Vietnam needs innovation to foster sustainable development, which is more far important than growth in the long-term and for quality of life.  While there are many examples of innovation occurring in Vietnam, including at FPT, a copy and paste mentality is still prevalent, including in my industry.

conference graphic

During the remainder of my allotted time, i.e, one-hour, including 20 minutes for Q&A, which turned into a half hour, I briefly defined the concepts of innovation, culture, intercultural sensitivity (a mindset) and intercultural competence (a skill set), introduced the Developmental Model of Intercultural Sensitivity (DMIS), a framework that describes the different ways in which people can react to cultural differences organized into six “stages” of increasing sensitivity to difference, and offered an overview of a related tool that measures intercultural competence, the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI).  I also mentioned foreign language proficiency as an integral component of IC, discussed ways in which people can develop IC, referred to some recent research that proves overseas experience makes us more flexible, creative and complex thinkers, pointed out some ways in which the US and Vietnam differ within this context (i.e., to Vietnam’s credit and advantage) and shared some useful resources.

The US and Vietnam:  A Study in Cultural Contrast

handbook of ic competenceIn discussing the contrast between Vietnam and the US, I drew from a co-authored book chapter entitled “Developing Globally Competent Citizens – The Contrasting Cases of the United States and Vietnam” (with Dương Thị Hoàng Oanh), which was published in 2009 in The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence (Darla Deardorff, editor).  One of the points we make is that nationalism, which is predominant in the US, is a cognitive and affective barrier to developing intercultural competence and global citizenship.  In Vietnam, where national identity is rooted in patriotism, it is easier to create globally competent citizens.  In general, young people here are more open, interested and curious about the world beyond their country’s borders and are not burdened by a nationalist worldview, or ideology, which exalts one country above all.

A Great Leader of a Global Project with a Multinational Team

A “bonus” was an overview of a case study about Sir Ernest Shackleton, a Anglo-Irish explorer, who participated in four expeditions to Antarctica in the early 20th century, of which he led three:  A Great Leader of a Global Project with a Multinational Team.  The story is as much about leadership as it is about leading a multinational team.  While Shackleton’s Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition, 1914–17 failed, he succeeded in that he and his entire team survived the tragedy. (Source:  “Intercultural Competence in Business:  Leading Global Projects,” Robert T. Moran, William E. Youngdahl, and Sarah V. Moran; The SAGE Handbook of Intercultural Competence, ed., Darla Deardorff).

pm-1 (maa)
Making a point. Photo: Hoàng Anh Tuấn

In Conclusion

Among the conclusions were:

  • IC gives you the ability to work successfully with clients around the world
  • IC can play a valuable role as a catalyst for innovation, including with multinational teams
  • IC can give you a competitive advantage in working with foreign clients and partners

Participants ask a number of excellent questions, including some of my impressions of Vietnam after living here for nearly 10 years, ways in which Capstone Vietnam been innovative, some related to IC, others not.  I was gratified to see so much interest in IC on the part of FPT.  It’s not surprising, given the company’s international operations and its focus on innovation.  Just as FPT has been a trailblazer as Vietnam’s leading ITC company, it’s exciting to think that perhaps it will be a trendsetter in this area as well.

Article in Vietnamese:  ‘Giao thoa văn hóa thúc đẩy sự sáng tạo’ (29.11.14)  If you don’t read Vietnamese, just use a service like Google Translate to get the gist.

MAA

idi-cultural-competence-continuum

In Celebration of International Education Week (IEW)

Given the focus of this blog, I thought it was only fitting that I devote a few posts to International Education Week (IEW), “an opportunity to celebrate the benefits of international education and exchange worldwide. This joint initiative of the U.S. Department of State and the U.S. Department of Education is part of our efforts to promote programs that prepare Americans for a global environment and attract future leaders from abroad to study, learn, and exchange experiences in the United States.” 

To kick off the week was a post entitled Vietnam Retains 8th Place Ranking Among Sending Countries based on the 2012 Open Doors Report on International Educational Exchange, released by the Institute of International Education (IIE). 

There will be another post about Vietnam as one of the top four emerging markets for international student recruitment, based on a recent World Education Services (WES) report and, possibly, one about US students visas in Vietnam (The US Student Visa: It’s Not Rocket Science!).  I will probably close out the week’s celebration with some reflections on three years of blogging about issues near and dear to my heart and mind. 

MAA