Communicating Across Cultures

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Cultural differences provide the fuel for worldly conflict as well as the beauty for every day celebrations.

“I do not want my house to be walled in on all sides and my windows to be stuffed. I want the culture of all lands to be blown about my house as freely as possible. But I refuse to be blown off my feet by any.”

This quote, once uttered by Indian nationalist Mahatma Gandhi, was reiterated by Rudolf Heredia during the Center for Intercultural Studies Forum on Friday, Sept. 27 at the Saint Louis University Center for Global Citizenship.

The forum consisted of insight from four panelists on the topic of intercultural dialogue as they discussed the possibility of its success and important place in the modern global community.

“Is intercultural dialogue possible?” Dr. Michal Rozbicki, the coordinator of the event and director of the Center for Intercultural Studies, asked at the start of the forum. While the panelists concluded that it is possible, they also agreed that the challenges and factors of successful intercultural communication are extensive.

“Even within one culture there is a lot of differentiation,” said Rozbicki. “Dialogue is able to open doors and offer the other side [a chance] to learn about some else’s experience.”

Kara McBride, one of the panelists and an associate professor in the Department of Modern and Classical Languages, echoed his idea. She emphasized the time and effort that must be put in to overcome differences in perspectives and interpretations through a pet-owning analogy.

“You have to spend some time with dogs to understand what they do with sticks,” McBride said.

As an international university and a home to two new intercultural projects, the Center for Intercultural Studies and the Center for Global Citizenship, SLU functions as a catalyst for intercultural communication every day. According to Professor of Anthropology Chad Huddleston, such diversity creates a need for patience and cultural competency.

“It is important to create understanding between different groups… to communicate not just with language but with all cultural aspects in a way that is culturally appropriate,” Huddleston said. “[However] to be completely holistic in this understanding is probably impossible—you can’t know everything, but you can try to be at least somewhat aware.”

Huddleston provided the example that, regarding international students, he must take into account the fact that they may have been taught to act differently in a classroom setting than American students. While some cultures encourage and demand classroom participation, others frown upon and may even punish such participation from the students. This simple difference stresses the importance of an awareness and competency when regarding another culture.

On a larger scale, St. Louis City faces the growing necessity for a cultural awareness and dialogue. The International Institute of St. Louis is a local agency that works to help in this endeavor by fostering intercultural communication and providing assistance to immigrants in adjusting to the city society.

The institute serves a representation of up to 75 ethnicities on a regular basis, a number which highlights the immense diversity within the city. SLU itself plays host to students that span over 73 foreign countries, showing that Friday’s forum can be seen as applicable within both the SLU community and the broader scope of a local and global society.

“Cultural competency speaks to the continual need to develop and understand oneself within the context of others,” said Patrice French, program coordinator of the Cross Cultural Center. “It is never ending, changing and growing as individuals and society changes.”