Friday, October 4, 2013

Intercultural Communication

A couple of weeks ago, I was given the opportunity to present a lecture to one of the University's "Intercultural Communications" classes. The large majority of those students are "TEFL" (teaching English as a foreign language) majors, but I hope that many aspiring missionaries are also taking advantage of that very relevant course.

Intercultural communication is something I hadn't given much thought until around 2007 (two years AFTER moving overseas), when a friend recommended a book entitled "Foreign to Familiar."  Reading that book was like a breath of fresh air, and it began to change the way we looked at our work in Vanuatu. Sometimes we (myself included) think that so long as one knows the Scriptures well, he is equipped to share the gospel anywhere. To a certain extent that's true, because God's word is so powerful and He often acts in spite of our failures and inadequacies. But at the same time, we "jars of clay" can sometimes be guilty of getting in the way of the message. If we are offensive or ineffective in our presentation and communication of the gospel, we are hindering our usefulness in God's hands. I think the intercultural communication concept rings true regardless of context (religion, healthcare, retail, education, social, government, etc.).

In my lecture I basically gave a review of the aforementioned book, giving application/examples from our experience in Vanuatu. The author breaks the world's population down into two main groups - hot climate and cold climate cultures. She provides insight into the generic differences between these two groups under seven categories: Relationship- vs. Task-Oriented;  Indirect- vs. Direct-Communication;  Group Identity vs. Individualism;  Inclusion vs. Privacy;  Hospitality Differences;  High- vs. Low-Context;  and Time & Planning. Since I come from a traditionally "cold" culture and am living in a "hot" culture, I can really relate to each of these areas. It was fun to really consider these categories and see how true her analysis was in our experience - I was able to come up with several examples in each category (both successes and failures!). 

This book has blessed our ability to minister in a foreign culture, and hopefully its introduction was beneficial to the students as well.  If you are planning any type of intercultural communication (even something as simple as a vacation overseas or interaction with foreign nationals here at home), I would highly recommend this book by Sarah Lanier. It's an easy read and might prove to be very helpful.

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