Applying Your Intercultural Skills at Home

Geno and Deanna Wedding

My husband and I eloping 30 years ago, on a rowboat on Jamaica Pond, six months after we met. I thought he was speaking Spanish when we met. Turns out it was Portuguese…

I’m not sure which has made this question more pressing for me…an imminent holiday weekend away with my mom in Manhattan (as in my mom and me, tied at the hip, same hotel room…for four days) or my upcoming 30th wedding anniversary to my husband. My mom and I are presumably from the same culture (planet?), while my husband and I are intercultural (US and Brazilian) and interfaith (Jewish and Catholic/Agnostic).

Either way, I know there are times where I must conscientiously combine the mindfulness preached by Thich Nhat Hanh (I am inhaling positive outcomes. I am exhaling positive outcomes) with the key tenets of being an interculturalist: separating content from delivery; watching the knee jerk reaction, adapting my style to my counterpart, and letting things go if the “difference doesn’t make a difference.” And, most of the time, it works.

For me it stemmed from the old (outdated) image of the doctor who smokes, or even still outdated (2010), the fact that Steve Jobs never let his kids use an iPad.

As interculturalists, at the core of our being we should be really good at relationships, right? This led me to the question to some of my colleagues:

Does/How does being an interculturalist influence your personal relationships? Do/How do you actively apply your intercultural skills at home, and to what benefit?

Rather than adding commentary (I’d like to respect and empower each to express themselves from their own perspective), I’ll share their thoughts here, food for thought for others creating harmony in their lives and daily circles of influence…

We are intensely curious about each other.

“We believe that being interculturalists has caused us to be intensely curious about others’ experiences and perspectives and to communicate differently and listen more deeply to understand them.  Listening this way allows us to hear the other person’s real story rather than making assumptions or writing our own story about them.

This has resulted in a global network of colleagues and friends that is deep and authentic. One specific result is that we regularly have small dinner parties (Andy cooks; Donna cleans!) where we intentionally invite people who are different from each other so we can learn about differences over dinner conversation. We usually prepare one or two “trigger” questions that we want to ask during the evening.

Examples are “what were the important holidays in your family and how did you celebrate them?” or “what has been the largest cultural faux pas you’ve experienced?”  The latter question frequently results in great peals of laughter–everyone has done something embarrassing that we can laugh at.

Because we are a bi-racial, heterosexual couple who grew up in very different social class settings, our intercultural skills of curiosity, acceptance and the ability to laugh at ourselves has helped us navigate our differences in gender, racial, and class cultures.  For each of us individually, and for us as a couple, our intercultural skills have allowed us to genuinely appreciate our differences.  Our genuine joy in our differences helps us navigate the challenges those differences sometimes present.”

Donna Stringer & Andy Reynolds

I was able to support my child’s school to incorporate activities around identity and culture in the classroom.

“Being an interculturalist has definitely impacted my personal life. Recently, there was an incident at my child’s school where a negative racial comment was made from one student to another student. Even though this did not occur in my child’s grade level, I was able to offer support to the school administration and teachers about ways to address this and also how to incorporate activities around identity and culture in the classroom, to cultivate a more inclusive environment for all. I feel blessed to have the skills to volunteer this expertise to the school to make it a better environment for everyone – including my own children.”

Farzana Nayani
Director of Client Engagement
Language & Culture Worldwide (LCW)


(As an immigrant) “it was clear that those of us who were born outside the U.S. were parented differently than U.S. born kids.

I think it probably influences at least a bit who I click with.  That was certainly the case when I was younger and practically all of my friends were born outside the U.S.  Not sure that it’s because of something in me or something in others. Probably a little of both.

It was easier to pinpoint when I was a child and it was clear that those of us who were born outside the U.S. were parented differently than U.S. born kids. Now, my identity is less focused on culture and immigration status, but these still provide useful frames of reference in understanding politics and other cultural phenomena.

My life partner was born in the same part of the world as I was. It is hard to say how much of how we interact with each other and with the kids is “cultural” versus just who we are. I think it’s probably some blend of personality, culture and our interests in restorative justice and nonviolence.

Mikhail Lyubansky, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign []
Psychology Today blog 


3 thoughts on “Applying Your Intercultural Skills at Home

  1. Such an important topic! I find it can often be more challenging to apply our intercultural skills closer to home, where we expect others to be more like-minded, than it is abroad, where we expect and are curious about the differences. When doing IDI debriefs, this often comes up as a key challenge for folks in Adaptation. I know one of my biggest intercultural challenges has always been accepting and respecting the differences in opinion and ways of living within my own family.

  2. Resonate highly with your remarks, am a mother of two multiracial, wonderful women, have been an activist in the multiracial movement for years.

  3. Thank you Deanna. Important questions and interesting responses. It is especially helpful to simply reflect on the question.

Comments are closed.