Planning for Progress
Dr. Orville Boyd Jenkins
Every individual or family moving into a new living/working situation in a new country needs a cultural guide. Each agency posting an individual in an overseas situation should be responsible for providing the resources necessary to settle in, adjust and adapt to the new host culture.
This would include the common practical matters like shopping, living situation, finances (bank, foreign exchange, etc.), but also language learning and cultural orientation.
The latter would obviously cover critical DOs and DON’Ts, but should also involve the deeper worldview beliefs which will affect relationships and decision-making. This is a level often missed in so-called diplomatic postings and even some business settings.
One cannot expect to be effective in another culture without some awareness and competence in the local culture and society. An initial person responsible for fostering this process should initially assigned by the sponsoring company or agency. Some agencies have used the term Language and Culture Coordinator. One term I am familiar with is Entry Orientation Coordinator (ENOC).
This person would plan general orientation activities to orient the newcomer(s) to the new living situation and cultural setting. One resources should be ongoing resources and individuals to guide the newcomer in the early months of the assignment.
The basic goal of the ENOC is to plan specific activities or provide specific resources which will foster progress of some kind for each worker. Communication, specifically cross-cultural communication, will be the reference point for deciding what will best enhance each foreign worker's effectiveness. The question asked should be, “How can this person become a more effective communicator?”
Language, of course, is a major factor in cross-cultural communication, but overall identification with the people, their cultural patterns and preferences, beliefs and practices, is even more important. We need to consider the multi-lingual urban setting in which most will find themselves working, set realistic goals and distinguish between language needed for tasks and language as a factor in the role and identity of the newcomer.
For rural or traditional cultural settings, language is even more important, because of worldview implications. This will be critical for educators and those involved in social change, like medical and community development.
Language as a channel of cultural-adaptation should not be overlooked, even for those in an “English-language assignment.” Role and communication style in the community should be in focus.
Cultural sensitivity, irrespective of task language, is also an important factor. Thus updates for improving Cross-Cultural Communication Competence might include time in a specific cultural setting with freedom from the work assignment. Another option might be specific readings in relation to particular people groups, history or economics, etc.
The specific activities, schedules, materials or even places are not as important, in themselves, as the progress that a learner can make. The problem here is that if specific requirements and accountability is involved, some supervisors cannot think beyond the specific legalities and mechanics of requirements, times, dates, and specifics.
Too often a mindless legalistic focus on the administrative mechanics takes over, rather than the intent of enhancing cultural sensitivity and relational skills. The process can then become a disincentive, rather than an incentive for the stressed newcomer.
It would be a mistake to prescribe too specifically from the home office in the home country or form some other “high-up” administrative control centre, what you should and should not do for people there in the real-world cross-cultural work situation.
Policy and implementation documents, or individual programs, are only as good as their implementation of the principles entailed. This means we focus at a deeper level than requirements and regulations, programs and reports, to foster progress towards communication effectiveness.
Based on an article originally published in EnoNet Notes, a resource newsletter for Entry (cultural) Orientation Coordinators, Nairobi, Kenya, May 1995
This article written for Thoughts and Resources and posted 17 December 2008
Orville Boyd Jenkins, EdD, PhD
Copyright © 2008 Orville Boyd Jenkins
Permission granted for free download and transmission for personal or educational use. Other rights reserved.