Last week, at the International School of Nanshan Shenzhen, while waiting for the full administration team to arrive for my presentation, I was helping the team arrange chairs, when the Canadian Principal whispered, “Please stop.” I was puzzled. She whispered again, “You’re our guest. You working will offend our Chinese Principal.” So I sat at the front of the room and watched everyone else set up chairs. I felt uncomfortable, but at the same time I couldn’t help but admire the profoundly respectful culture of China.
This experience provided me with one of many lessons learned while I was in China. I was invited by Dr. Francis Pang, an entrepreneur from Hong Kong who raised his children in Toronto (they attended SAC and BSS). Years ago, he and Frank McKenna developed an agreement between New Brunswick and China. Dr. Pang, a visionary leader with endless energy, opened his first school 15 years ago, and is now opening schools all over China, as well as Cambodia and Dubai. His schools offer a dual diploma and teach the New Brunswick curriculum; his students visit Canada each year; and his teachers and administrators come from China and Canada. More recently, a couple of the schools offer the IB diploma. His commitment is to develop world-class students, and part of his strategy is to get his schools accredited and part of an association. It’s exciting that they are considering CAIS. And CAIS can learn much from them too.
The schools I visited are keen to emulate Canadian ways of teaching. During one presentation, I was asked by a Chinese administrator to provide an example for each skill identified by Tony Wagner in The Global Achievement Gap. This took forever, not only because everything went through a translator, but because the Chinese leadership team took extensive notes and asked follow-up questions. When I asked them why parents choose to send their children to this school, they responded: Chinese parents understand that their children learn best when they enjoy school and are active in the classroom. Sound familiar?
I was reminded of the value of international travel, but now back at home, I can’t help but wonder: can we gain a cross-cultural appreciation without getting on a plane?
David Thomas, professor of international management at Simon Fraser University, and Kerr Inkson, professor at the University of Waikato in New Zealand, offer a solution. They argue that as we become increasingly global, we must be able to deal effectively with others who are culturally different. In their book, Cultural Intelligence: Living and Working Globally, they describe this new competency as Cultural Intelligence, or CQ, which is the ability to interact effectively with people from different cultural backgrounds.
CQ consists of three parts:
- Knowledge of the culture and the fundamental principles of cultural interactions
- The ability to pay attention in reflective and creative ways to cues in cross-cultural situations (they call this mindfulness)
- Cross-cultural skills to be competent across a wide range of situations.
The challenge for all of us is to figure out how schools can best develop a CQ in students. When I was a kid, our school held Cultural Fairs where we would all gather in the gym around bristol board research projects and display tables, all focused on different countries. While I have fond memories of long bright ribbons on Ukrainian dance costumes and snacking on cannolis and perogies – in fact, it is one of my detailed memories from grade school! – we can do more to develop cultural intelligence.
Fortunately, research shows that schools can teach strategies to improve cultural perception in order to distinguish behaviours driven by culture from those specific to an individual. According to the Harvard Business Review, CQ strategies are gaining acceptance. You can take a look at a new websitededicated to developing and assessing CQ.
All CAIS schools are dedicated to developing globally-minded students, and I see many examples of both co-curricular and academic programs in my travels across Canada. Kids today are more international in their outlook; our collective challenge is to develop strategies to help them to achieve their goal to change the world.