Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Understanding Your Host Culture

What are the major differences between your culture and the one you're going to?

As we think about nurturing our knowledge, we'll look at five different dimensions used to help understand and measure cultural difference: time, context, individualism, power distance, and uncertainty avoidance. Many more exist, but these are the most helpful ones for nurturing knowledge cultural intelligence, particularly for short-term mission trips.

Event Time vs. Clock Time

In his book A Geography of Time, Robert Levine explores the role of industrialization in how a culture views time. According to Levine, industrialization promotes an ethos of producing and consuming. As a result, people in those cultures live by "clock time." Punctuality and efficiency rule the day. In contrast, less-industrialized cultures are far more interested in emphasizing the priority and obligation of social relationships. Levine refers to these cultures as "event-time" cultures. Events begin and end when all the participants feel the time is right rather than artificially imposing clock time.

What's the time orientation of people in the culture you're visiting on your short-term trip? Understanding alone can't prepare you for all the challenges that might come with opposing views of time, but it's a good start. If you're going with a team of people, spend some time anticipating how your approach to time might frustrate the locals who host you. How might their time orientation frustrate you?

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