In this blog post about intercultural communication, I will talk about one of the more impressionable experiences I had during the seminar programme in Tokyo that I was involved in, as that is probably the only time I witnessed intercultural conflict.
The setting was the seminar classes, which was conducted in the form of group discussions and each group had a fixed topic related to efficient energy use for environmental sustainability to work on. In the conflict scenario that I got to hear from Hailey*, a good friend that I made from the seminar who was also in the group with the conflict, some of her groupmates were unhappy with their groupmate, Rose*, and a conflict arose.
I shall start with a brief introduction of the main characters. Hailey was a Vietnamese who is also a good friend of mine that I made during the seminar. Rose was of Iraqi blood but grew up and studied in the US. Mark* and Dave* were both Americans who take their work very seriously.
One day while we were all left to be in our own groups to work on our project, I noticed that Rose looked upset yet it seemed she was trying to put up a brave front. After lessons ended, Hailey told me that Rose had earlier stomped off, saying, “Since you guys don’t care about what I say, I will go”. Apparently the two most vocal members of the group, Mark and Dave, had openly downplayed her contributions and made it obvious that she was not making constructive contributions to the group discussion, and it had upset her.
According to Hailey, Rose appeared unwilling to commit to the project and did not seem serious about her work as she was often unprepared for the discussions. Besides that, she speaks with a slur, wears thick, gothic-style makeup and rants about her Japanese boyfriends whom she met while working as a hostess at a Japanese bar.
Honestly, I had a mix of emotions when I heard about the unpleasant event. Even though I felt sorry for Rose that her opinions were not highly regarded by Mark and Dave, I felt that this actually came as no surprise to me, as I had ever worked with her on a pairwork previously. Having had first-hand experience of how she did her work, I can say with a reasonable amount of certainty that she did not regard what we all were doing in the seminar as important. Quoting Rose, “There’s no need to be so serious. This isn’t graded anyway.”
If I were to attempt to interpret Mark and Dave’s actions, I would think that they treated Rose with such hostility mainly because of her work attitude. Ever-prepared for discussions, Mark and Dave would always have facts and figures at their fingertips to support their points. On the other hand, Rose would make suggestions and claims without justification. I would believe that Mark and Dave came from a culture that emphasizes high work efficiency and reliability, whereas for Rose, it seemed very likely that she came from a culture that apparently did not emphasize on those work attitudes. Furthermore, as she comes across as liberal and speaks with a slur, this could have added to the impression that she was most likely not as academically capable as the rest of the students in the seminar.
To have a better understanding of Mark and Dave’s actions, I grabbed a chance to talk to them about the conflict. Indeed, they felt that she was being irresponsible and uncooperative, and “wasting everyone’s time”. Unfortunately, I did not manage to speak to Rose about it as I did not feel comfortable enough to broach the subject to her. However, as far as I know, Rose lost both her parents at a very tender age and since then had been working to support herself. I would think that perhaps because of that, she was more easily influenced by liberal cultures and hence behaved differently from the rest of us.
*Names have been changed for privacy.