Cultural Awareness in Global Projects

Terry Freedman from the UK always has a great meaning wrapped up in a laugh. His newest article: It's a Bird, It's a Plane, no it is super M'am, talks about the cultural differences in global collaboration.

One of my students is submitting an article in Coming of Age about social networking and as the winning Horizon Project manager, is writing an article for Terry's newsletter about global project management.

Terry says:

Recently, I've been working with a student called Casey, who is writing a chapter for the forthcoming second edition of “Coming of Age: An Introduction to the NEW Worldwide Web” based on her experience as a project manager on the Horizon Project. Casey comes from the southern states, and so tends to address people as “Sir” or “Ma'am”. Unfortunately, we are so not used to that in England that when she addressed me as “Sir” for the first time, I thought she was being sarcastic.”

He also talks about my male student who was just friendly to a female in Julie's class and made her feel uncomfortable. In her culture, “flirting” is a no no and although my student was completely harmless, it was still something that I talked to him about in terms of cultural awareness. After the project was over, the talked about the importance of being a “professional” with everyone even if you're a teenager. That was a great lesson to learn!

This is where a good relationship between the teachers is essential. Julie and I talked with one another often and stayed in tune with our student's feeling about the project as well as their work on the project.

Perhaps the greatest learning for all of us is the cultural learning, one that cannot be measured, and one that is not required on a standardized test and yet, the knowledge that not everyone is like you is perhaps a lesson for all of us to learn.

We also need to be good communicators — willing to clarify things — if Terry hadn't asked Casey about saying “sir” — Casey wouldn't have know that it could be a possible offense. Likewise, I have to be aware that “Yes” and “No” is what students say from other place in lieu of the “Yes m'am” and “No m'am” that I am accustomed to in my classroom. I do not think it is necessary to be homogeneous in our cultural mores, but rather more aware of our heterogeneity.

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5 thoughts on “Cultural Awareness in Global Projects

  1. In the UK, manners are not very high on the list of priorities and people are most unaccustomed to sincere displays of respect. I find the manners of the southern States charming and a breath of fresh air, and you can tell your kids that from me! Whatever PC rules come and go, good manners will still score high in my book.

  2. Vicki,
    you wrote: “Likewise, I have to be aware that Yes and No is what students say from other places.” Did I miss a blog post? What was the issue you had with this? Can you clarify?

  3. I added a clarification — it is cultural norm at our school to say “Yes mam” and “No mam” “Yes sir” and “No sir” it is what those of us who have a good upbringing do in the south and is considered good manners. I have taught my children to do this.

  4. This reminds me of one of the best (and funniest) presentations my students did about what they learned in a college level collaboration with a school in France. They made a video in which they were very frank about their impressions of the French students, the assumptions and prejudices they had to overcome to address problems the group was having. However, the best part was their presentation of what the French probably thought of them (which actually was very close to the truth according to their professor) including “Why must these Americans be so pushy?” or “Oh no, we got ANOTHER e-mail from those Americans. Must they be so obnoxious?” What I liked was that the group not only recognized their own prejudices but also the way their behavior might have been perceived by others. This was a very important experience for them.

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