I distributed a detailed plan to the students in my writing class at Heinz College of Carnegie Mellon University and a student from Turkey objected to the plan saying, "We would never give that much detail in my country."
I suspected he wouldn't because of the difference between low and high context cultures. I told him that but he seemed confused because, I presume, he did not know the difference between high an low context (the Edward Hall theory).
I explained the theory as best I could and told him that in the low context USA executives need much detail. He was unimpressed and I had to pull rank saying, "Hey, if you're working with Americans, you need to give them detail." End of story.
I hated myself for that! On the same evening, I told the class they needed to "get a partner." The usual delay ensued as people who sit next to each other but seldom talk had to group up. After a few minutes one male student from Turkey still hadn't a partner, so I asked him again. Still he did nothing but look confused. A little irritated, I asked him, "Who is your partner?" and he said quietly and sincerely, "My wife." Didn't I feel like an %#@hole!
It made me wonder how many similar mistakes I have made over my ten years of teaching people from all over the world at CMU. I know I must have made many mistakes and the students were too polite to tell me. And, if I'm making them and I teach communication, how many mistakes are the rest of the faculty and staff making?
I may be making these mistakes because I haven't taken an opportunity at CMU to learn about our students, the many who come from India, China, Korea, Malaysia, Japan, Taiwan, Turkey, Mexico, Italy and many other countries whose cultures are unlike America. But, I'm not sure any opportunities exist in Heinz College. CMU has a learning center for the whole campus but most of us are too busy teaching to look around.
If it's not happening at CMU where he have programs with 75% of students from Asia, what is happening at UPMC, KFC, or at the little start-up down the street? I know of little such training. If it weren't often funny, it would be sad. For example, I just read about a company that tried to sell baby food in Liberia. The company put a picture of a cute baby on the food jar but no one bought it. Later, the company learned that packages in Liberia show pictures of the food inside the packages!
We are a global community with global problems. How will we ever cooperate if we can't understand each other? We need culture training!