Philosophy and intercultural relations do not stand far apart. Philosophy attempts to provide an account of how the world works. While there are no definite philosophical answers, there are countless different ones, some of which seem more significant than others.
It is just the same with cultures. Our great cultural diversity offers us an almost infinite spectrum of possibilities. We merely have to seize the opportunity – but always with respect and openness. That is exactly what I want to communicate through my intercultural work.
During my time abroad, I learned to recognize and appreciate cultural differences, and even accepted some as my own. I took along a lot from the countries I lived in.
In Prague, I experienced what influence a political system can exert on its people. I will never forget our neighbor, who – up to this point silent, almost dismissive – greeted us with a pitch-perfect ‘Guten Tag’ on the day of the velvet revolution in 1989 and from this day on supplied us with fresh Fruit from his garden.
New Delhi gave me my first opportunity to see the world from a non-eurocentric perspective, and I recognized how small and unimportant a role Europe played in relation to the rest of the world. At the same time I realized that this part of the world represents my cultural home.
In Brussels I was submerged into a hitherto unknown world – the francophonie – and I developed funded language skills which allowed for new perspectives in my professional life.
In Helsinki I underwent a massive culture shock, which subsequently had a positive effect on my future. It was there that I started to deal with intercultural subject matter, a foundation of my current professional career.
My most recent stays in China (Shanghai, Hangzhou, Beijing) made me aware of how it is to be surrounded by a culture, which I can neither read nor write. Communication does not necessitate speech and it is fascinating to realize how well our perceptive and non-verbal communication skills can work.
In South Africa I experienced myself as a white colored person – an experience I never had before. I learned a lot about the impact of Apartheid, which confirmed my efforts in mediating between cultures to increase mutual understanding.
Visiting recently the Arab World, Oman and the United Arab Emirates, I had an important intercultural insight: I experienced the meaning of waiting. At the same time my own ambiguity tolerance was profoundly questioned when plans were constantly turned upside down and I had to prove high flexibility. I learned a lot and became aware how important it is building up sustainable intercultural competence.
Japan, my most recent visit, I experienced as a very specific culture. I was deeply impressed by the high degree of politeness and gentleness when I interacted with people. I became aware how many non-verbal signals I am not even able to perceive when communicating with Japanese people. An important insight that I definitely want to share in my work as a cross-cultural trainer.
In my current work as a cross-cultural facilitator I focus on values and attitudes. These form the foundation for cultural different behavior. The core topic in my new publication is about values like honor, face-saving, respect, shame, and harmony – values, that we do not necessarily understand properly in their different culture-specific implementation but that we face frequently in our multicultural daily life. With this book I want to communicate cultural knowledge that I see as a core factor to develop intercultural competence.