Five Ways Cultures Can Learn From Each Other: A Presentation

*This Saturday I’ll be a panelist at Global China Connection’s Midwest Conference taking place at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs. Titled “Global Leadership,” the conference’s aim is to “build a platform to get students more involved, early in their college life, in the real world outside college.” It’s an all-day event with speakers from all over the globe sharing about leadership, networking, and cultures (which is where I come in.) Learn more HERE


Last month, I had the pleasure to present at a course for the National Consortium for Teaching about Asia (NCTA). This is an organization devoted to helping educators around the country learn the wisdom, ways, and history of the Far East. Dr. Richard Bohr, facilitator of this class, asked me to present my talk called “What Cultures Today Can Learn From Each Other.”

The topic makes for good social hour conversation. It’s also good fodder for an article…

I offered five general points of what cultures today can learn from one another, within which I also shared a specific example from my experience:

#1. There are different degrees of expression between cultures for a given trait

Example given: Femininity/masculinity between China and the US

Seeing the locals of southern China dress, fashion, and pose in ways I considered more feminine, it then occurred to me that perhaps this society wasn’t so feminine as much as the US–with its penchant for “dominating your opponent” and going to “war against drugs or poverty”–might, in some ways at least, be hyper-masculine.

​Trainers at my gym in Zhuhai
​Trainers at my gym in Zhuhai

#2. That concepts can be defined/expressed in different ways

Example: Freedom, as it is understood and expressed differently between China and the US

While the US is known as a freer country than China–with China’s restrictions on internet, politics, and religion–China had more freedom at the neighborhood level when it came to rules for smoking/drinking, driving/parking, and a more festive feel to its neighborhoods that had me rethink the term: freedom.

#3. Commonalities in Custom and Thought

Example: Political parties in Tanzania and the US

In my village in Tanzania, there were two parties vying for a vacated parliament seat. The descriptions of the two parties–their platforms and supporters–paralleled the two parties in the US.

​Candidate for dancing and waving
​Candidate for parliament dancing and waving

#4. Complements in Custom and Thought

Example: China’s mindfulness & presence compared to the US’s constant pursuit for bigger, faster, more

My experience studying martial arts on a mountaintop in central China revealed a stark, but complementary difference between my fellow students’ ability to perform the martial art (which I stunk at) and my ability to come up with ideas for making firewood retrieval from the valley floor an easier process.

7-15-11 Up Wudang Shan 053

#5. That the Different Cultural Expressions Reveal the Variety and Breadth of Our Species

Example: A slideshow of photos of folks I’ve encountered along the way…

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If you’re interested in discussing more about this topic, reading more about it, or having me present about it, let me know. I’m eager to share and happy to sign a copy of my book containing all these stories from China.



What say you?