at home in... w| Gerald Zhang-Schmidt

Look Closer, Learn More, #GetAtHome In This World

Category: Cultural Intelligence (Page 2 of 3)

Avenue, Rio de Janeiro 1931

To Rio de Janeiro as an 8-Year-Old…

It was the year 1930. My grandmother was far from being my grandmother yet. She was only 8 years old, after all. Her father, a shoemaker, decided to join in the ranks of the many who sought their luck somewhere else – whether because he had fallen on hard times (which wouldn’t be surprising, given the economic situation in Europe at that time) or lured in by stories of success, we don’t know. In his case, the land of dreams was Brazil.

I wouldn’t normally talk about family history, but this story is old enough, and sometimes still influences enough, that it’s worth putting it up (especially, I find, on a medium that is as unawares of other times as the internet tends to be).

Also, there’s not much more to say, actually – my yet-to-be-grandmother had to return the following year already (alone, on the Cap Arcona liner, apparently), and her father returned a little later (having fallen ill, if stories are true).

There are, however, a few impressions to share:

The one missing image is one of the LZ 127 Graf Zeppelin airship which visited Rio de Janeiro in 1930 – but that photograph was, according to family history, passed on to an Austrian ambassador to Brazil.

What always strikes me – of course, given the themes I’m focused on – is how much of “globalization” and technology was already possible and ongoing at that time, and how many things we now consider normal were hardly even imaginable. It is an interesting vantage point from which to consider location independence and what may still be possible in an energy- and resource-constrained future, not least…

Couple at Chinese Uni

Be a Man… Or, What China Taught Me About Gender

They are some of those strange observations the foreigner makes in China:

Guy and girl sit next to each other in the park. They coddle each other, obviously very much in love.
Same people, same place, half an hour later: she has her back turned to him, sullenly plucks on some leaves, obviously irritated. He stands there, dumbfounded, obviously not quite knowing what to do.

Guy and girl walk down the road. She suddenly stops, pouts, “huhn”-s at him; he has to scramble for words to convince her that she’s the best and prettiest, and worth everything and anything, before she even takes another step.

Oftentimes, many such behaviors found widely among East Asian girls, along with a deep-seated fondness for everything cute and girly (not least in clothes and accessories), make their foreign observer incredulous.

Read More

Learning China. Of Intercultural Communication Workshops, Cultural Intelligence, and Regional Expertise

Since moving back from China to Austria, I’ve been thinking quite a bit about the ways (inter)cultural intelligence and area expertise are built.

After all, even as a cultural anthropologist, given how academic disciplines are organized here, I’m not quite supposed to work on the question of (Han) Chinese identity (as I am doing right now), for that’s the purview of Chinese studies.

There’s also the tension of in-country/out-of-country observation:
You can study a country all you want from afar, but it does not tell you anything much about the ways the people who actually make up that culture and society are going to react, let alone how you will interact with them. All theory is grey…

At the same time, being in-country can be too close for comfort; the very hustle and bustle that is real life on the ground does not necessarily make for a great situation in which to observe and critically interpret. Or even to study: Literature on China is so much easier to find at the university library here…

Read More

The Intercultural Double Bind

So, you want to be able to work effectively in different cultural contexts, not just your own… Good choice.

Even living in one place, we live in a world that is diverse and (seemingly) getting ever more so. Being at home, whether here or there, does work much better with some cultural intelligence.

All the intercultural competence training, in all its desire to be practical and politically correct, tends to forget about the power plays in the background of intercultural interactions, though.

Read More

Garden Fields on Xiangtan University's Campus, Hunan, China

Roots to Home – Gardens, Foods, Places

I’ve often heard it said that people who migrated to other lands brought with them their seeds and their songs. Even in these times of globalization, food continues to play a major role in making identities. It is particularly in the straight line from garden to kitchen, and particularly with vegetables, that connections both to a home and between places are created. No, not just created: grown.

Garden Fields on Xiangtan University's Campus, Hunan, China

Garden Fields on Xiangtan University’s Campus, Hunan, China

Read More

Intercultural Training: It’s Not The Bow…

If you’ve ever been abroad, even just for a vacation, you probably know that feeling.

You are somewhere else, and it’s all quite fascinating: new sights and sounds, people who are different – and yet it’s all the same, too. The sun still rises in the East, everybody still seeks to make a living, find some happiness… but something is bothering you, anyways.

Read More

New Localizing – Networks and the Human Touch

As an “intellectual going public,” I appear a bit too aloof for some people – but aloofness is necessary to have the distance it takes to see connections hidden by what’s (supposedly) just normal. Thus, even as I enjoy it once I get into talking with people (sometimes, only too much so), I like to hold my distance, and don’t seem to be a person who’d call for the importance of community.

Yet, especially as many still think that location is – or should be (made) – unimportant, that you can nowadays live by yourself, create an entrepreneurial lifestyle in which you sell to the whole world, there is a strong case to be made for localizing, for being in and of particular places. In different ways from how it is often conceived, though.

Read More

"Ethnic" Dancing in Beijing's Minority Cultures Park

Other Cultures, Understanding, and Interesting Lives

As I am still living in China, but just waiting for some formalities to get finished before this summer’s switch (back) to Austria, an issue is on my mind a lot. It feels almost impossible, at the moment, to do proper China-watching from the outside… or not.

Culture is a very peculiar thing to try and understand. Like a fish in the water – or us, surrounded by air – we naturally live in our own culture(s), and simply know what is proper and important. We aren’t usually aware of there even being a distinct culture, except when there is contact with an ‘other’. Only then is what seemed just natural shown to be convention, and thus thrown into starker relief.

"Ethnic" Dancing in Beijing's Minority Cultures Park

“Ethnic” Dancing in Beijing’s Minority Cultures Park

The fundamental issue in trying to understand a cultural other is founded in this same problem of closeness and difference. Such conventions, also of another culture, have to be experienced, observed and lived-in in order to be learned – but at the same time, closeness can make for a simple acceptance. Distance,  meanwhile, makes it easier to focus on the abstract, general concepts that inform the everyday, and are hidden behind its turmoil.

After all, back in Europe, there will be easier (to put it mildly) access to literature and online sources – let alone social networks to connect with others about, well, everything. And given that I do not only have an academic or similar vocational interest in China, but that my significant other is Chinese, I can’t lose deep connections to the country and culture, anyways.

On the other hand, the engagement with China will be less intimate; I will not be surrounded by the daily life of China and its people, of course. The daily observation of the doings in this country, and this particular place within it, thus is lost; most of China is reduced to an idea more than a reality of people.

As I’m starting to try and get back into studies (including of literature) I did not have the time for during my stay here, I think it’s really the usual problem that all of us who want an interesting life have: Excitement seems to come from the outside, from being in the midst of other landscapes, surrounded by people who are different, facing challenging situations, and trying to make some sense of it all. Or at least, to come back with some interesting observations.

That’s only a part of it, though, and oftentimes only an imagined one. Being there, you suffer from a bout of food poisoning, long for some familiar things, find the traffic only too disconcerting, and the people to be just people.

The excitement – and more importantly, the understanding of another culture (and one’s own) – really hinges on attitude.

If you just go to another country, visit three of the big cities and two famous landscapes in a few days, the deep  observation necessary to contribute to understanding isn’t there; if you only look at the books, angling for the deep roots of other cultures, you forget about the actual people and their lives.

The thing that always makes the difference is your attitude towards it. When you seek adventure – and equally, understanding – with an open and inquiring mind, you can find it in books and research as well as in stays within a place.

Just looking for excitement outside, you just wait for your life – and it may not deliver at all, or not in a way you imagined. Circumstances matter, of course, but it’s you yourself who will need to go and decide what excitement you seek, how much understanding you want to gain, and how to find it.

Marketing Cultural Knowledge

As some people like David Livermore argue, Cultural Intelligence is (one of) the next big thing(s) among management skills necessary for the contemporary world. Knowledge and understanding that enables us to successfully navigate between different cultural contexts is becoming ever more important even in our private lives, as we increasingly live between different cultures, not just in one context.

When a country and/or culture is so different and difficult, someone who wants to enter that country doesn’t quite know what to expect, then there’s lots to say about it – as you can see on these pages and many others. Trying to truly live in that country is like navigating a maze, and yet it makes you more alive than being at home, where everything is just the way you’ve come to know it.

When those who may want to enter that strange country are companies, and you have someone local who thinks they can help, it can be quite a boon to creativity, and result in funny ways of presenting just how different said country is.

I just stumbled across one such example, presenting the problem of cultural understanding. It’s on Russia rather than China, but many of the ideas actually feel a lot like all the things which are being said about China. Just substitute chicken feet for the борщ (Borscht), and 白酒 (baijiu) for the водка (vodka)…

Page 2 of 3

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén