Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Intercultural Observation

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.


  1. It is clear from your interpretation of the situation that Rose is one the persons at fault in creating such a conflict. It seems that her personal issues are interfering with her professional image.

    I guess every Rose has its thorns.

    However, I do feel that Mark and Dave could have handled the situation in a more professional manner. It is obvious that both Mark and Dave value the quality of their work and probably feel that Rose is dragging the quality of their work down. If I were in their shoes, I might have reacted the same way. However, before such a reaction is called for, perhaps they should have sought a reason from Rose for her lack of quality contribution. I am sure that if they knew of her issues, they would not have been as harsh in their criticism of her.

    Finally, I would like to enquire as to your interpretation of liberal cultures. You seem to imply that one of the reasons for Rose's perculiar disposition is that she is influenced by liberal cultures and apparently she comes across as liberal.

    America has a fairly liberal culture and both Mark and Dave hail from America and do not seem to have the same problems as Rose. Perhaps Mark and Dave are Republicans.

  2. Hi Idris,

    That was a mind-stimulating comment!

    With regards to your first point, I would agree that her personal issues might have interfered with her work. However, I think that this does not justify her almost-complete lack of effort in the groupwork. I feel that if she did not have valid points to contribute to the discussion, she could have paid attention to others' inputs and from there provide constructive feedback.

    I mentioned that I ever worked with her before. For me, I'd say that it was one of the most horrifying experience I ever had, doing paired work..Her attitude towards what we were doing at the seminar, that "it wasn't graded anyway", pretty much showed how much (or rather, little) she wanted to commit to it.

    As for Mark and Dave, I agree that they could have handled it more professionally. As for this, I would think that it has to do with their working styles. However, I do agree that they should have tried to understand her situation before putting her down.

    As for your last comment about liberal cultures, I would not think it is fair to pinpoint Mark and Dave as Republicans though. America is a huge country with lots of different subcultures. We had close to ten students from different parts of America and they were some way or other very much different from each other. What I meant by liberal influence would be more of that on personal conduct and perhaps moral principles; an example would be how Rose openly ranted about her "Japanese boyfriends".


  3. Haha! Interesting comments! Anyway, i share your sentiments about Rose's working attitude and i may most probably reacted with hostility if i am to be grouped with her. oops. However, openly downplaying her 'contributions' (whether or not it's constructive) will be very hurtful so probably what Mark, Dave and Hailey could have done is to have a good talk with her about her work attitude in a nice manner(ideally). =)