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Posturing Oneself as a Cross-Cultural Worker

Your palms are a bit clammy. Your heart is racing. Your eyes dart to and fro, searching the area for something or someone familiar. You are glad to be here, but this nervous feeling is unwelcome.

What is happening? You are stepping into something new. You know the feeling. First day on the job. First day of class in college or grad school. First day at the big conference. First time to attend this group. First time meeting these people.

You may be a typically confident and relaxed person, but you morph pretty quickly into this uncertain person when you are placed in a new arena.

The crazy thing is that you are hardwired for this feeling. You would prefer not to feel this way, but without any forewarning, your body is choosing its own response for you. Gee thanks, body. But let’s not be too hard on our internal wiring. Maybe we should thank it instead. After all, this mode keeps you from stepping into unintended danger too. This internal fight-or-flight response is your body’s way of protecting itself. It wants to get you alert to assess this unknown you are stepping into. Aww, thanks body.

Now that we are all grateful, let’s get to the point: What in the world does this have to do with posturing oneself as a cross-cultural worker? If you are crossing cultures, you are getting ready to take one pretty big step into the unknown, and it will require posturing yourself to be a recipient. You have the amazing opportunity to make a choice in advance to be open toward this new culture. How will you enter? Granted, you can’t really stop the nerves, but you can prepare your heart, mind, and soul for how you would like to enter.

Here are some postures to try:

  1. Learner - “I want to learn. I am going to lay down my ability to be the knower. I will choose the posture of a student.” How beautiful to be in awe and wonder of the new, to be curious about how everything works here! You have the privilege of learning. Embrace it.

  2. Humble - “I want to be humble. I am going to lay down my need to show myself capable.” You aren’t the capable one in your new arena, and that is okay. It’s actually more than okay; it is brave! Look at you stepping out there and being willing. Way to go! Accept this very new and awkward posture that says, “I am needy,” and asks, “Please, can you help me?”

  3. Listener - “I want to listen. I am going to lay down my need to be heard and validated because of what I say.” Your voice is valuable, and there will be time to speak. But choose to enter as a listener first so you can know how this culture would like to receive your voice. It’s respectful to the culture and the people around us to pay attention to what matters to them so that our voice is a contributor and not a clanging cymbal.

  4. Patient - “I want to be patient. I am going to lay down my desires for efficiency, assertion, and productivity.” These might be the hardest things to lay down. You like things to work well. Let me rephrase that: You need things to work well. Chances are high, however, that they won’t. Take joy in the little victories of each day, and don’t worry about the rest. Enjoy the journey.

  5. Kind - “I want to be kind. I am going to lay down my efforts to be the significant one so that I can see others first and value them most.” These people are treasured by their Creator; oh, how He loves them so! Only He can help you love them too. Lean on Him. Let the kindness He has shown you radiate out to others.

It’s respectful to the culture and the people around us to pay attention to what matters to them so that our voice is a contributor and not a clanging cymbal.

And the list goes on. You get the picture . . . or the posture. Have you tried these out before? Give it a go. I (highly) recommend that you try them on before you fly over an ocean. They work just as well in your own culture. Quite honestly, you cross culture more days than you realize. Different cultures exist all around you. And not just ethnic cultures, but social, economic, racial, generational, political, and religious cultures as well. Choose a posture and step out there, clammy hands and all. But prepare yourself: you are about to be changed for the better.


Susan McCrary is an East Tennessean living and working in Europe with her husband, Larry, for almost 20 years. When travel allows, they love spending time with their two married children and two grandsons. She is the Europe Member Care Coordinator for TeachBeyond.


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