Friday, August 12, 2005

Cross-Cultural Connections: Review

Please note: This is another book that I read and subsequently reviewed for work, hence the formal tone. It's really a good book, though, despite the absence of effusiveness in my review of it!

Cross-Cultural Connections: Stepping Out and Fitting In Around the World
by Duane Elmer
2002 InterVarsity Press 215 pages

The author opens with the story of a monkey and a fish:

“A typhoon had temporarily stranded a monkey on an island. In a secure, protected place, while waiting for the raging waters to recede, he spotted a fish swimming against the current. It seemed obvious to the monkey that the fish was struggling and in need of assistance. Being of kind heart, the monkey resolved to help the fish.

“A tree precariously dangled over the very spot where the fish seemed to be struggling. At considerable risk to himself, the monkey moved out far on a limb, reached down and snatched the fish from the threatening waters. Immediately scurrying back to the safety of his shelter, he carefully laid the fish on dry ground. For a few moments the fish showed excitement, but soon settled into a peaceful rest. Joy and satisfaction swelled inside the monkey. He had successfully helped another creature.”

Despite our best intentions, we often behave like the monkey when we interact with members of cultures. Our natural inclination is to do what seems right from our own frame of reference, although it might be inappropriate, ridiculous, or offensive in the context of the other person’s culture. A little education and preparation can go a long way when it comes to crossing cultures, and this book is a great place to start if you or someone you know is preparing to travel, do business, or minister cross-culturally. As I read, I wished I had been armed with the tools and strategies presented in this book before my semester abroad…or my last dating relationship, for that matter. I am sure both would have been even more satisfying (and less frustrating) had I been more aware of and prepared to deal with cultural differences.

This book is divided into 4 sections. In the first, the author helps the reader gain a perspective of culture and the concept of right, wrong, and different. In Section 2, Elmer addresses dealing with the new and different and the “shock” that often—if not always—accompanies life in a new and different culture. He then presents a map that illustrates both the high and the low road in dealing with the new and different, allowing that most spend time on both, but suggesting that proper awareness can help a person spend most of their time on the high road. Section 3 provides attitudes and skills for cultural adjustment, which include openness, acceptance, and trust. Section 4 sheds light on differences that confuse, including time and event, individualism and collectivism, straight and curved logic, and guilt and shame. Finally, Section 5 addresses the complexities of returning home after various lengths of time in another culture.

Activities are sprinkled throughout the book, and each chapter ends with a reflection exercise and discussion questions, making it an excellent book for a person to go through with his/her mentor, a couple to read and work through together, or a team to read and discuss together with their leaders or trainers. I believe this book would be a valuable tool for anyone preparing for or newly engaged in mid or long-term missions, international business, study abroad, local cross-cultural ministry, cross-cultural dating or marriage relationships, or anyone interested in improving the way they relate to and understand people of other cultures.

This book was recommended to me by Cheri Pierson, assistant professor in the Intercultural Studies Department at Wheaton College. The author, Duane Elmer, is professor of International Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, IL.

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